Reflection in the Developmental English Classroom: Guiding Students to Become More Independent Learners

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Cyber CateReflection is a part of all sections of the developmental English curriculum at Tunxis.  At minimum, students must complete a final reflection with their portfolios.  However, in order to complete strong reflections at the end of the semester, students need to complete various reflective activities throughout the semester as they do in specific sections of the course.  These take the form of formal reflection essays, short in class assignments based on reading or writing progress, or assessments of specific assignments.  This consistent self-assessment makes them stronger students overall, as is evidenced in our higher success and retention rates of these sections. 

Authors: Jen Wittke, Assistant Professor of English, and Marguerite Yawin, Professor of English


Part I: Practice Step-by-Step:

Through the Spring of 2014, Tunxis has a multi-level, integrated reading and writing developmental English sequence of courses: Integrated Reading and Writing I (6 credits) and Integrated Reading and Writing II (6 credits) and Introduction to College Reading & Writing (3 credits). Students enroll in courses based on their scores from the Accuplacer test and then follow the sequence of courses as needed. We use the practice described below in Integrated Reading and Writing II and Introduction to College Reading & Writing.  The two courses have the same course abilities/outcomes at the end of the semester and successful completion of either course leads to Composition. Jen Wittke’s developmental course is often linked to Marguerite Yawin’s First Year Experience. (Please see our Social Pedagogy Practices for how we are making connections between the courses using ePortfolio.)

Because the developmental English course is usually their introduction to reflection, incremental reflective work is built into the course so that students can complete meaningful self-assessment by the end of the semester.  Long-form work: students complete a reflection essay in the beginning of the semester and at midterm as a way to prepare for the final portfolio reflection essay (see below for assignments).  These early reflections focus on past experience with reading and writing, and the setting of goals for the semester. Their final portfolio reflection has them look back on these earlier assignments so that they assess how they have improved throughout the semester.

In between the longer assignments, students complete multiple small reflections: always with an essay draft and based on feedback (post reflection adopted from George Sebastian-Coleman’s reflective practice), sometimes after a reading assignment, and at random points when they need to reflect on the class experience. They are reflecting in some way at least once a week, if not every class.

The instructor has a course ePorfolio with a section that models the students’ ePortfolio work.  There, the assignments are posted with links for the file download.  All of the reflections described are posted to their ePortfolios where they can read and comment on each other’s work. Each assignment has its own page with the title of the reflection.  Students use the comment feature in Digication to answer the following questions about what they read:

  • Is the plan reasonable?
  • What suggestions do you have for your classmate?  (Strategies, ways to make their plan more specific, etc.)
  • How does their reflection make you think about your plan and what does it make you want to change about your plan?

Finally, the pages are linked to an assignment in the Assessment Management System of Digication where the instructor comments and grades.

By reading each other’s assignments, they see other models of reflective thinking, which improves the quality of their own reflections.  (A caveat: students must share something on their ePortfolios but they are never required to share anything they are uncomfortable including with the entire class.)  By the end of the semester, students have a collection of reflective work posted to their ePortfolio. To prepare the final reflective essay, they review their past work and synthesize their experiences.  The ePortfolio allows students to grow as learners and to form a stronger community in classroom because they have the opportunity to read each other’s work.  They are able to complete these assignments in and outside of the classroom, and have a record of their classmates’ comments for the semester.

Using Dewey and Rodgers as guiding models in our practices, we focus on the immediate issues of the students and the classroom.  For this reason, we ask students to reflect on how they went about creating assignments, what their intent was, how they characterize the outcome of their work, what they will do differently or the same in the future.  We focus on getting the students to realize (through reflection) that they are at the center of their growth, that we value their thinking process, that we are their mentors and guides, but that ultimately they are the only ones who can do the hard work of finding themselves and moving to wherever it is they want/need to go.

Part II: The Role of Reflection in Advancing Student Learning:

By the end of the semester, students have improved their ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and be honest with themselves as learners. They are able to (usually) accurately assess their own work, apply course skills and strategies for improvement, and identify when they need assistance for further progress.  Ideally, students take their reflective skills to other courses so they know how to be successful in a variety of situations.

After many semesters of the developmental English-FYE learning community, Jen and Marguerite decided to have students write a final end-of-the-semester reflective essay that combines the work from both classes. In the past, students write one for each course, focusing on answering questions specific their experience for each subject. In order to improve the integration of their experience, we will have them reflect on their overall experience between the two courses, how they improved as a learner, and how they can apply the knowledge and skills from each course to future courses and careers.

Part III: Evidence of Impact on the Student Learning Experience

Visit our evidence page to see the impact this practice has had on our developmental students.  A significant amount of our C2L work has focused on the developmental classroom, so you will find our overall results on that page.

Practice Identifiers: Location

The practice is focused mostly within Jen Wittke’s developmental classes, notably the learning community section linked with Marguerite Yawin’s First Year Experience class. The reflective practice has been shared at department round tables, a professional development opportunity for full- and part-time members, so the materials are used to a various extent in other sections of the developmental courses. All of the materials are also posted on the department’s ePortfolio.

In the learning community, students also reflect regularly as part of the FYE requirements. FYE focuses on non-cognitive skills and how that affects their outcomes in classes or how they connect to their goals and plans.  The reinforcement of the self-assessment throughout the 9-credits further enhances students’ understanding of themselves. We consistently see the value of this practice based on our higher success and retention rates with these students.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development

Some components of the assignment were a result of working with others during ePortfolio Cohort series and departmental roundtables.  We find the scaffolded, integrated reflective practice successful and plan to build it into the course and upcoming professional development activities. Beginning Fall 2014, as per State legislation, we must revise our developmental program from a sequence to one, 6-credit integrated reading and writing course. During the summer of 2014, we will be working with full- and part-time faculty members of the department on how to improve the course.  Both ePortfolio and the reflective practice will become a required component alongside the changes.

Outcomes Assessment

Developmental courses do not assess for general education abilities.  We have a set of course abilities and models the philosophy of the college in our assessment protocol. The department uses a common rubric and final portfolio guidelines (ePortfolio is optional). Each semester, the department meets to share portfolios and norm.  By the end of the developmental courses, students are prepared for general education ability assessment.


ePortfolio enhances the practice, as described in detail earlier, by allowing students to read and comment on each other’s work. The exposure to a variety of reflective assignments from others improves the quality of student work, as well as the camaraderie between students.

Scaling Up

We regularly share the retention and success data with faculty and stakeholders on campus. ePortfolio sections of developmental English consistently have higher retention and success rates than non-ePortfolio sections. The upcoming curriculum changes will allow us the opportunity to scale up this practice and ePortfolio usage throughout the Academic Strategies Department.

Attachments and Supporting Documents

Course Materials

Feedback Rubric

Reflection essay  and Reflection essay 2 (midterm)

Learning Community Final Assessment (TBD)

Student Work Samples

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We do not have any public ePortfolios to share, but below are excerpts from student reflective work posted on their ePortfolios throughout the semester.

Final reflections

“This course, first year experience, has taught me the benefits on how to take proper notes and gave me information on how to study and prepare myself for tests in college. This changed my behavior by wanting to be a good student by receiving good grades and focused in school; by this I mean I put my schoolwork before any fun.”


“But now I am changing that old behavior to a new me, although high school was easier I prefer college and that’s mainly because of both of my professors Jennifer Wittke and Marguerite Yawin. They have mentally challenged me as well as encourage me to the point where I looked forward to coming to their classes. What I have learned in my FYE and ENG 075 classes will carry me on throughout my life. I now can control my anger or becoming overwhelmed about things. I can differentiate between what’s more important and urgent from what’s urgent but not as important; let’s just say I have reorganized my priorities when it comes to school and my personal life.”


“When it comes to my Reflections and my Writing Process in the beginning of the semester it was not that great. It was not that great because I always wrote about what we did in class and not what I did at home to improve the paper. Last semester I would always be afraid to hand in my paper because it was not complete until I had that reflection attached to it. I was never really sure what had to be done so I could make it better so I would be able to hand it in. But I did and them at the beginning of this semester I forgot about want I did. So the first refection for “How Ads effect Their Audience” was not at its best. I was missing a lot of pieces.  I learned that if I take my time to follow directions then it will come out a lot better and I will make it to the end of semester goal on the rubric. Which is exactly what I did and happened for the “Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue” reflection which boosted my confident it told me that even though I was afraid to hand it in that it is okay.”

Reflecting on reflecting

“Your plan is very reasonable. You seem to know what your problem is during a test, as for preparing for the test you said you need to find techniques. The only advice for preparing for a test is to use past homework, classwork, etc. Also you could ask the teacher to explain exactly what material the test will be on. Sorry can’t give you any good suggestion except for the obvious. Your reflection reminds me to always stay positive, which I need to because when I worry, then I procrastinate. So that is something I might need to change in my plan.”


“You’re plans seem highly reasonable and can be very effective I you choose to follow you’re guide, which also means that you have to go through with these goals all throughout college as they seem to be very helpful. One strategics that I would suggest that also works for me is using structural & informal outline note-taking, as we recently discussed in our FYE course. This specific strategy has helped me take better notes and even understand the material better. On the other hand I couldn’t agree with you more on studying notes over and over again before heading to a major test or quiz. Over all I believe you have a great plan , keep it up !!”


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