What is a Reflective Log or Reflective Diary?
A Reflective Log (or Reflective Diary, as it is sometimes called) is a common requirement in UK university assessments. For many courses, it is essential for students to be able to effectively analyse their own progress and apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. This will enable them to become strong, independent practitioners.
A Reflective Log is the perfect way to encourage this approach alongside with reflective reports. It is essentially a log or diary that contains regular entries by the student, detailing their experiences and emotions with regard to their learning process. It also includes references to relevant theories to connect the student’s academic knowledge with their practical work. The log can be used to verify a student’s intellectual engagement with the course material or practical assignments, as well as their independent work outside of lectures and seminars.
How to Write a Reflective Log
It is normally expected that students will maintain a Reflective Log or Diary throughout the duration of a module or module component, with entries made at regular intervals. Some courses will require students to hand in their entries periodically throughout the course, while other will simply set a final deadline for submission of the log as a whole.
Students often have the option of entering their reflective notes in online format, which many find quicker and easier than a traditional hand-written diary. For others, the physical process of writing something by hand can help stimulate their reflective mindset. Furthermore, some courses provide structured log entry forms that students must use.
Regardless of which format is chosen, the Reflective log should be kept diligently and students should aim to include as much critical reflective material as possible, often supported with reference to academic resources and lecture materials.
What to Include in your Reflective Log or Diary
The specific content requirements of a reflective log vary depending on the course and subject matter, but the overall approach is always the same. Typically, students are asked to note down their personal responses to lectures or training sessions. This involves a brief summary of the activity and a serious and detailed account of the student’s exploration of it. Unlike other forms of academic assignment, in Reflective Logs students are encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions. In many ways, a Reflective Log provides a self-analysis of the student and their skill development.
You should also be sure to provide some kind of evidence to support your claims, such as references to particular achievements or mentions of theoretical course material. This will ensure that your log or diary is not too informal or casual, but meets the academic standards expected at a higher level of study.
In addition, special attention should be paid to any activities where the student was particularly challenged, or struggled to complete tasks effectively. This is an essential part of the learning process and examiners want to see that a student was resourceful enough to apply their acquired knowledge to eventually overcome any initial failings.
Keys to Success
Be Critical – Although a Reflective Log requires a slightly less formal approach than essays or exams, you should still be sure that it is a serious and critical piece of scholarly work. The best way to do this is to focus more on the analysis of events than their description. Although you need to state what actions were undertaken, this should be brief and to the point. Save the extended descriptions for your analysis of those descriptions.
Be Specific – Also make sure that you are very specific in your language use. For example, it is not sufficient to write that you felt anxious or worried during a particular task. Instead be very clear about which aspects of the task concerned you and why, and how you dealt with that anxiety. Similarly, if a found a task very easy, be sure to consider why you felt that way, and how you could improve even more. Also be sure to write about the ways that specific elements of tasks were useful to your skill development, or in helping you to understand the theoretical content of the module.
Be Thorough – A Reflective Log normally requires students to write about all the processes surrounding their practical experience. You are expected to include thorough discussions of the planning stages, the tasks themselves, the outcome of tasks, your critical reflection on them, and a subsequent plan for your future development.
Use Evidence – The log or diary should also include a good amount of supporting evidence to back up your reflective claims. Most obviously you can refer to concrete examples of your actions or experiences. In other words, rather than simply stating that you became confident using a certain method during a session, instead describe precisely what actions you undertook and what elements of that action helped you to become practised at specific skills. You can also use evidence from established sources, such as scholarly journals, theoretical texts, and industry publications. These can be used to support your assertions of your own development, both through reference to relevant theories and to common approaches to practice within your field.
Develop a Structure – Writing a Reflective Log will be much easier if you develop a consistent structure that can be used for all the entries. Some students find it helpful to divide each entry into the stages of the task (planning, action, reflection, etc) and write about them separately. Others prefer to divide the entries according to the thematic content of the writing (description, reflection, evidence, analysis). Having a consistent approach like this makes the actual task of writing much quicker, and it also ensures a clear format for readers and examiners.
What to Do if you Fall Behind with your Reflective Log or Diary
While students are expected to maintain the log as an ongoing activity throughout a course, sometimes circumstances prohibit this. Although neglecting to maintain a Reflective Log is not something that should be encouraged, it is possible to catch up if you’ve failed to make entries on a regular basis. In actuality this makes the task of writing a Reflective Log much more difficult, but it IS possible.
If you fall behind, the easiest way to catch up on Log entries is to review your notes for each date and try to remember the experiences and emotions you felt at that time. If you are writing several log entries all at once, it is important to try to recollect your feelings about the subject matter at the date of the entry. Part of the expectation for Reflective Logs is to track a student’s learning process over the course of a module, so when writing overdue log entries it is very important to demonstrate an evolution of knowledge and confidence. You can do this by remembering your feelings at various stages of the course, and expressing some concerns about your abilities early on. In later entries you can use a more confident and self-assured tone.
Writing a Reflective Log is a very useful experience for most UK students because it helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses. It is a relatively simple assignment and a good opportunity to improve your course marks overall!
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Pete Watton, Jane Collings and Jenny Moon, 2001. Reflective Writing: Guidance Notes for Students. Available: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/fch/work-experience/reflective-writing-guidance.pdf Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.
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