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Insight Journals and Collaborative Learning, Part Two

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Encouraging the practice of self-reflection

Pamela Washburn was convinced to try out the use of insight journals (check out Part One on Insight Journals) in her class after seeing how effective they were in Dr. Anderson’s class. But as she was putting together her syllabus, she wasn’t sure how to let her students know how they would be graded. Again, she turned to Anderson for advice.

“I’m glad you asked,” Anderson responded. “I gave a lot of thought to my rubric for grading the insight journals. Here is a general statement that I gave students on the insight journals for the specific content we are covering in class.”

What I’m looking for in your journals is how you internalized the key themes covered during each portion of the class. I want you to identify the key themes. Basically, these are conceptual statements that summarize the essence of the content. Then I want you to share what these key themes mean to you personally. How did you apply them in your experience? What do you want to remember about these themes as you go through life? How might these themes impact your personal perspectives? I want your journal entries to be deeply reflective of the course content as it relates to you.

“I’ll leave the actual rubric up to you. But I think you will find it fairly easy to develop evaluative statements and related point values once you have the general statement written.”

“Thanks so much”, responded Washburn. “I would never have thought to include a general guidance statement prior to the actual rubric. Do you have any thoughts about the discussion reflection component of the insight journals?”

“You may recall that I send students messages each day after class that focus on some aspect of discussions. What I’m looking for in the insight journals is a reflection on five of those messages based upon their actual experiences in class discussions. I’m looking for three parts to their reflections:

  • Background – what was the context of the discussion?
  • Application – how did the message impact the way the discussion was handled?
  • Future Impact – what was learned from this experience that could be used in future discussion situations?

“I’m looking for students to become discussion change agents. Again, the point values and evaluative statements I’ll leave up to you.

“One more thing. I share a sample of one of the best insight journals with the class after each journal assignment has concluded. This also gives them a sense of what I’m expecting. The second journal assignments are much improved, and by the end of the semester, every student becomes pretty good at internalizing the course content and reflecting on their discussion experiences.”

In higher education, we often talk about developing the ability to be self-reflective. Insight journals can often be a great tool to encourage the practice of self-reflection, but students need guidance about what is needed. The guidance students are given about self-reflection can be one of the most valuable things they will learn in college.

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“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey (education reformer)


This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear Wednesday afternoons.