Unit Three Major Assignment: Reflective Essay

Instructions | Prompts | Format | Roundtable & Drafts | Cover Sheets | Turn-it-in Checklist


Instructions: The reflective essay is one of the hardest documents to produce (well) because of the temptations attached to personal writing. When things get “personal” writers tend to push the envelope of being too emotional, too confessional, too confrontational, or too condescending (though the list goes on) to be really persuasive. The key here is to write a balanced, nuanced essay that coherently integrates observations about your writing process in a way that reflects your writing style.

If this seems too vague, I recommend undertaking the following steps to clear things up.

1.      First, read the Student’s Guide to First-Year Writing chapter 14. Also Andrew Mora’s essay in the back on pages 326-8.

2.      Then read Tilly Warnock’s essay, “How I Write” on our electronic reserves. This is the best reflective essay I’ve ever read about writing, so it’s good to use her as a model. Compare her essay to Michael Robinson’s “Recomposing Myself.”

3.      Now read two reflections on the events of 09/11 for comparison: Carey’s “Letter from New York,” and Kingsolver’s “And our flag was still there.” Note how even though they’re writing about the same event, they’re incorporating evidence, personal experience, and introspection that make the essays both informative and unique. Use these essays as “style guides” (instead of content guides) to establish the boundaries of what’s acceptable for reflective writing conventions. Remember that even though these essays are personal and informal, they are thorough, informed, and analytical. They’re not just meandering about life in general, they’re making an overarching point throughout the process.

4.      Having read these essays, write a reflective essay about your writing process throughout first-year composition using Warnock’s essay as a primary content guide (even more than the example essay in the SG!). The essay should contain a coherent theme about your writing process and a light argument about who you are as a writer.

5.      Your essay should look like a cross between Mora’s and Warnock’s.

The other possibility is to use the Reflective Essay to evaluate the curriculum of ENGL 101 and 102 in light of its stated goals. (See Approach #2 under the Prompts section)


Approach #1: The Traditional English Department Version

Use one of the following prompts as a guide, keeping in mind everything I said about reflective essays in the Instructions section. The key is that no matter which topic you pick, stay balanced in your presentation. The following prompts are mainly suggestions, and you should feel free to take the open option for this assignment.

1.      What is your greatest obstacle to writing academically? Time? Motivation? Fear? Ignorance? Intimidation? What’s been keeping you from being the writer that you need to be?

2.      If only I could write like__________. Fill in the blank and why you believe all your problems would be solved if you really were like this person. Obviously, the imagination is better than the reality, so it would also be interesting to see how getting what you wish for might make things worse

3.      When you revise, what do you spend most of your time doing? Does it really help?

4.      Shoot for the Moon: (This option is for students who love a challenge). Take a look at Niedzviecki’s “Introduction” [to Hello, I’m Special] and take a look at the reflective elements of his writing. Have you ever had a similar epiphany about your own writing that challenged your worldview the way that his was?

Approach #2: The Electrical and Chemical Engineering Senior Portfolio Version

A second approach to the reflective essay could work well as an evaluation of the First-Year Composition Sequence’s stated goals. According to ENGL 101 and 102, by the time that students finish, they should:

·         Be critical of their writing and situation; able to shape their writing to fit a variety of academic contexts

·         Critique and analyze the works of others, ranging from literature to argument using literary and rhetorical analyses

·         Use research selectively to formulate arguments

·         Read and respond to peers with constructive feedback

·         And lastly, develop disciplined writing and revision practices, where “good” writing is defined by meeting the specifics of an audience in a given rhetorical situation.

Here, the focus of your paper is to answer one question: how well did the curriculum prepare you for doing these? The curriculum in ENGL 101 and 102 specifically refers to the course texts, Writing as Re-Vision, The University Book, The Student’s Guide to First-Year Writing, and the various manuals assigned by Diana Hacker. If you decide to use this prompt, remember that the essay should be nuanced, that is, focused on evaluating a percentage instead of a fixed absolute. A good reflective essay then, will compare and contrast the materials against the goals and evaluate their correspondence. Do the chapters on rhetorical situation adequately explain what this means with enough clarity to write the essay—or was this a skill picked up later during lecture and office hours? Are you a more critical thinker when it comes to your own writing because of the advice the student guide gives about revision or because you compared your work to your peers during review and found it sub-par? While you do not need to use these questions exactly, this is the kind of question to ask using this version.


Length: As long as a Scotsman’s kilt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting.

              Spacing: Double

              Style: use Modern Language Association (MLA) style for any citations, references, and pagination.

Research: There is no outside research required for this assignment.

Additional Requirements: All papers must be typed, neatly stapled, and complete


Roundtable & Drafts: This part’s the best way to get lots of feedback about your writing.

Dates and Deadlines:

04/24 –

All Group 4 members print a copy of their first draft and bring it to class.

Note: forgetting to print copies for your peers is a bad idea; irresponsibility on your part creates more work for them. Don’t count on them being too happy with you when you ask them to print off a copy of your paper from email if you forget! It is the responsibility of each student to bring the assigned draft on time.

Instructions for Roundtable Evaluations

Group Member Contribution Evaluation Form

Grading Rubric

           04/29 –

Group 4 discusses evaluations in-class; they pass back the draft with comments and the evaluation rubric.

           05/01 - 

Group 4 revises, and brings 2 copies of their second draft.

Groups 1, 2, and 3 bring their first draft for in-class peer revision. (2 copies)

All students print at least two copies of the Peer Review Form

Peer Review Contribution Evaluation Form

                      05/06 –

                                Final Reflective Essay Due (see Checklist below)


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Cover Sheets:

·        Purpose: What is the purpose of your paper?

o       Be sure to include your main point (as opposed to a thesis this time) and an explanation of your overall argument.

·        Audience: Who makes up your target audience and how will you persuade them?

o       Aim at your level and a little higher: you’re writing to your peers (college students) and to your instructor (a college graduate student), and potentially to professors as well. Use this space to discuss how you’ll have to “stretch” yourself to appeal to them.

·        Context: What factors about your particular time and place contribute to this writing? (Author, Audience, Text, Medium)

o       For a reflective essay, there are a number of contextual features you could address. To be really effective, you should narrow it to just one or two. Context basically means any detail about the author, the audience, the content, or medium of a message that affects the ways people respond to it.

o       Tilly Warnock provides a good example of reflecting on author features in her essay. Writing, for her, is the process of meaning-making, and it is neither easy nor immediate; therefore, she’s had to let the lawn die a few times in order to make the necessary effort in making a publication. Her essay uses a contextual feature of her writing (watching her lawn die) and uses it as a central metaphor for the writing process and the becoming process (i.e. as the lawn progressively dies its only a parallel consequence to her becoming an author—one thing ends, another begins).

·        Stance: How comprehensive will your essay be?

o       Since you’re analyzing your own writing, your stance should avoid self-deprecation (that is, beating yourself up on paper). Obviously there are both strengths and weaknesses to your writing, so the focus here should be on how you’ve changed your writing for the better.

·        Revisions Made: What changes did you make as you worked?

o       Here’s where specifics pay off. If you’ve been keeping up with the work, then identifying specifics between drafts should be easy. Since the cover letter will specifically ask for examples, use this section instead to contextualize your revisions as a whole, THEN provide specifics

·        Revisions I’d make with more time and energy: What didn’t you finish, or still wish you could change?

·        3 questions for a reader of my paper: If you could ask your new readers anything, what would it be?

·        Acknowledgements: Is there anyone that you’re indebted to for this assignment? (Tutors, peers, key authors, family, etc.)


Turn-it-in Checklist: As usual, students will need to submit this as a packet, bound together (preferably) by a single, large binder clip or within a pocketed folder. A single staple or large paper clip will suffice as long as none of the papers can shake loose. No paper binders, three pronged paper covers, manila folders/envelopes, or three ring binders!

·        Final Draft of the Reflective Essay

·        Peer Review Forms (1 from each reviewer of the Cover Letter)

·        1 marked-up draft from the Peer Review

·        Peer Review Contribution Evaluation Form

·         (Roundtable members only) Group Member Contribution Evaluation Form w/ draft rubrics