Reflective Learning Journal Teacher Guide

What is Reflective Learning Journal?

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What is Reflective Learning Journal?

It is a piece of writing which allows students to record thoughts and insights about their own learning experience. It encourages students to review and consolidate learning, to evaluate performance, to plan future learning based on past learning experience. In such a way, students become capable to take charge of their own learning, and eventually to develop into independent life long learners.

The term “Reflection” has been used widely colloquially and in academic disciplines, such as psychology and education. Nevertheless, in both settings, it simply means the process of thinking deeply with one’s awareness and conscious effort on an issue or event. The product of such a highly engaged cognitive process would be informing insights, strategies, plans and predictions on the issue one vigorously ponders upon.
Psychologist and educators further differentiate two kinds of reflective thinking: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. The former suggests a simultaneous monitoring when performing or practicing a task; the latter suggests a retrospective evaluation after the task is accomplished.
With the meaning of the word “reflection” bears, writing something reflective becomes very meaningful and fruitful in the process of learning, which is one of the reasons why the use of Reflective Learning Journal in teaching has a rather long history. Reflective learning journal is well-accepted by many educators and teachers because it helps students to narrow the gaps between theories and practice, and most importantly heightens students’ felt need of constantly monitoring their learning progress. Learning should not be a passive process of simply in-taking information from teachers and lecturers, but rather an active process that requires a lot of personal thinking and questioning.
By encouraging your students to write reflective journal regularly, they will find in it a personal space for them to keep records of their own ideas and thoughts, and which these thoughts are useful for themselves to come up with solutions and novel approaches to get around problems encountered in their course of learning.
In this guide, we provide all necessary information you need to implement reflective journal writing in your course. Give it a try!

Positive outcomes expectable

  • Students can gain a clearer overview of their learning progress

  • Students can gain an insight of their own strengths and weaknesses as a learner

  • Students can realize learning strategies which suit their personal needs

  • Students will become more capable in planning for overcoming learning difficulties

  • Students will understand and appreciate the importance self-evaluation in the role of improving oneself

Designing a Reflective Learning Journal
The structure of reflective learning journal

A journal can be structured with guiding questions (see our Prompt Questions Bank) or unstructured, in which students are asked to write about anything related to the subject or to their learning. An over-structured journal prevents reflective thinking, while an overly unstructured one might not encourage reflection to be made either.

The example below is a highly structured kind of journal with specific questions that students have to answer in each entry. In particular, these questions aim at leading students to find out difficulties they encountered during the process of learning, also to provide themselves with plans and remedies in order to solve these problems.

This kind of reflective journal is suitable for courses with regular tasks of similar nature, like mathematics. This form of reflective journal is ideal and most effective for helping your students to realize their problems. However, it forgoes the space for them to have personal reflection, which also is an important component for cultivating a lifelong learner.

Writing your Reflective Learning Journal

This course composes of different teaching and learning activities, such as lecture, tutorial, discussion, take-home assignment, presentation.
In the entry, you might want to write something about each of these activities with the help of the following questions:

  • What points you’ve learnt from the activities?

  • How do I do in the activities?

  • Give one or two examples of your most successful acts in the activities. Try to explain what things you did that made them successful

  • Give one or two examples, if relevant, of errors or less successful acts in the activities. What did you do wrong or fail to do in each case

  • The next time you confront a similar situation, what if anything, could you do differently to increase your learning?


  • Although a structured reflective journal contains specific questions to be answered, this should be executed with a fair amount of flexibility to avoid trivial entries of little significance to the development of students’ learning.

  • Similarly, make sure your students understand that answering the questions is not the purpose of keeping a reflective journal, that things outside the area covered by the questions may also be included.

This type of reflective journal is characterized by little prompt questions provided, which gave students the greatest freedom to ponder upon things that had the greatest personal significance to them. This regular writing exercise helped students organise their thoughts, reflect on their work, identify problems, and find solution to them independently.

However, students often felt confused and uncertain about what to write in this highly unstructured piece of writing. Therefore, it is recommendable to give simple instructions and jump-start questions to give students a lift, but these questions do not necessarily confine the structure or intrude the personal quality of students’ writing. See the following template:

Writing your Reflective Learning Journal

This course composes of different teaching and learning activities, such as lecture, tutorial, discussion, take-home assignment, presentation.

In each journal entry, you might therefore want to write down your reaction, comment, personal feelings, suggestion to each of these teaching and learning activities. For example, you can start by thinking:

  • What’s my interest in the course?

  • What’s my interest in the lecture?

  • What’s my reaction to a particular topic in this lecture?

  • What’s my opinion on the content of the course?

  • How do I like the format of each of the above teaching and learning activities?

  • How can I relate other things directly or indirectly to things that I have learnt in the course?


  • This piece of writing should be highly unstructured, therefore it’s important that the guided questions provided should be very open-ended, so that allow students to carry deep thinking on course-related issues

  • Only a few guided questions will do, otherwise, students will be overwhelmed and divert all their energy in attempting all the questions instead of taking a quality reflection on their learning

The Prompt Question Bank
Facilitating reflective thinking

Asking students to write reflective journal seems easy at the first glance. However, students often get lost and frustrated, and simply resort to reporting as many events as possible. Students complain a lot and cry for guidelines to help them write good reflective journal.

We believe only when students can correctly understand and carry out the process of reflective thinking, they can become genuine independent learners. To facilitate your students’ reflective thinking you may include prompting questions in the Guide. This Prompt Questions Bank is a collection of questions for this purpose.
Organisation of the Prompt Questions Bank

In this Bank, the prompting questions are systematically organised according to the following dimensions:

Three elements of metacognitive reflection

The backbone of the Prompt Question Bank is a sequence of metacognitive reflections composing of the three essential metacognitive abilities for independent, reflective learners. They are:

  • Awareness of one’s learning experience

  • Evaluation of the experience

  • Regulation in attitude and behaviour for better performance and more fruitful experience

Focuses of reflection

It is sometimes useful to provide students with focuses of reflection. This prevents them from getting frustrated as a result of not knowing where to begin. It is also a means to direct your students’ reflection to areas you particularly want them to develop.

In the Prompt Questions Bank, we provide two sets of focuses: one explores the learning experience itself, the other thinks about the learning experience in relation to one’s academic, professional and personal development.
The first set “Explore a learning experience” deals with the specific and the immediate. This helps improve their performance. The focuses of reflection are:

  • Content - the ‘what’s of the learning experience

  • Process - the ‘how’s of the learning experience

  • Reasons - the ‘why’s of the learning experience

The second set concerns long-term issues and widening the perspective of students, helping them see the relevance of and appreciate what they are learning. It engages students to think of a learning experience in relation to their…

  • Academic development

  • Professional development

  • Personal development

The Prompt Questions Bank (Also known as ‘Reflection Menu’)

Area 1

Explore a learning experience…




Content (What)

What have I learnt?

Do I understand what I have learnt?
What else do I need to learn?

What can I do in order to gain a better understanding?
Where can I find more information?

Process (How)

How did I learn / do it?
What strategy have I used in learning this topic?

How effective is this strategy?

How can I make this strategy more effective?
Is the way I do it the best way?

Reasons (why)

Why learn it?
What is learning?

Why would I think so?
Is this the only purpose of learning?

What would be a more useful way to understand learning?
How could this learning experience be interpreted differently?

Area 2

Think of a learning experience in relation to…




Academic development

How does this learning experience contribute to my academic development?
What is/are my short-term / long-term academic goal(s)?

What does this learning experience tell about my choice of academic goal and path?
Am I making good progress?
Am I on the right track?

All things considered, is this goal a suitable goal?
Are there any other options?
What other paths can I take to achieve my goals?

What obstacles have I encountered?

What is the source of the obstacles?
Am I on the right track?

How can I remove those obstacles?
What other paths can I take to achieve my goals?

Professional development

Same as academic development, just that this time think about the learning experience in relation to your professional development instead of academic development.

Personal development

What does this learning experience mean to me?
How does it matter to me if I failed or succeeded?

What does this learning experience tell me about my potentials, and myself as a person?

What do I know about myself?
How am I living the most of myself?

Using the bank creatively

There are numerous ways to use the bank. Here are a few ideas that we could offer:
Option 1: Random selection

This is a quick and easy way to build in tips and prompts to your student guide for a more unrestricted kinds of reflective learning journal. Use a list of randomly selected questions to trigger thoughts in students when their ideas run dry.

Option 2: Choosing a focus of reflection

Choose the focus of reflection, which you might want your students to reflect the most on, then you can simply use the blocks of questions in that category as suggested in the Prompt Question Bank in order to guide your students through.

Option 3: Reflection Menu

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