How do ‘I write a good personal reflection?’ Many students are riding intellectual waves, devoting hours of mental and emotional energy to examination preparation so, today’s post is a practical one inspired by a question from my year 12 students.
How do I write a good personal reflection?
First it is useful to clarify, ‘what is a personal reflection?’ As is the case with most reflective writing, a Personal Reflection is a response to a particular stimulus. Often, it is written by an individual to explore personal experiences, feelings and events. A personal reflection is an opportunity to reconsider events, thoughts and feelings from a fresh perspective. Many blog posts are written in this style. However you may also be required to write a Personal Reflection within an academic context.
In the English classroom, personal reflections are usually a response to what you're studying. For example, you may be required to offer a personal reflection during examinations. In these cases, examiners want to gauge how successfully you can interact with a text (previously seen and unseen). You need to show that you can evaluate ideas and draw a comparison between those ideas, and your own. At other times you may be required to reflect upon your own learning in order to identify then evaluate, which approaches have been helpful or unhelpful. You may also be asked to consider your own role in the learning process.
The key to writing a successful personal reflection is to remember that it is a personal response made by you. Therefore, your responses are usually different from someone else’s. Your response will be influenced by:
1) Your opinions, beliefs and experiences
2) Similarities or contrasts to your own life (i.e. experiences you can identify with)
3) How real or believable a subject / text is
4) Your emotional state at a given moment
5) Sympathy or empathy with characters
Even though you have been asked to provide a personal response you will still need to justify your opinion. This means you need to give reasons why you developed your ideas.You can support your response through:
1) Examples from the text
2) referring to specific events within a text
3) referring to specific quotes within a text
Remember when writing a personal reflection, you are offering your opinions. However you are also demonstrating that you have thought about the issue carefully and, from multiple perspectives. So you need to show the development of your thoughts. For example;
“I used to believe ..., however, after considering the effect of ... my perception has shifted .... Once seemed obvious that ... yet now it is more tempting to ask .... Perhaps .... is an assumption which relies too heavily on ... Therefore it may be more accurate to suggest...”
Did you notice that reflective writing requires personal language? Hopefully you also realised that, as much as possible, it is important to minimise the use of the word ‘I’. Instead, use connotation (the emotion or ‘vibe’ of a word) and modality (degree of meaning) to offer your opinions.
Remember a personal review is a critical piece of writing so it is important to write evaluatively. This involves asking questions and proposing reasoned solutions.
Finally, in many ways a writing a personal reflection is similar to writing a Critical Review. In fact, the planning and writing stages required to produce a successful personal reflection will incorporate many of the steps required for a successful critical review (I have listed these steps below). Perhaps the main difference between a personal reflection and a critical review is, when writing a personal reflection you focus on how you interacted with the text and how you changed as a result. Whereas a critical review focuses on evaluating the usefulness of the text (or a process) in general (or academic) terms.
Stages for Writing a Critical Review
1. Identify the audience, purpose
2. Identify the social, historical and/or cultural context
3. Identify the main or ‘controlling’ idea.
4. Identify the main ideas in each paragraph. Jot down notes and record your response to them.
5. Identify key definitions and question, 'do I agree?'.
6. Analyse the structure or organisation of the text. Is it clear?
7. Evaluate the controlling and supporting arguments;
i) are they based on assumption, opinion, belief or fact?
ii) how many alternative ways could the argument be considered?
8. Evaluate the evidence;
i) does the author rely on generalisations?
ii) how reliable is the evidence (research, statistics, hearsay)?
iii) is the research current, thorough and properly referenced?
iv) does the evidence relate directly to the main points or controlling idea?
v) have important ideas or facts been ignored?
9. Evaluate the language, is the writing;
i) objective or subjective
ii) personal or impersonal
iii) emotive or rational
iv) concise or convoluted
10. Final (overall) evaluation
i) Does the composer achieve their purpose?
ii) When, where and by whom could the text be used?
iii) What recommendations could be made to improve the text?