The Personal Development Reflective Essay Assignment The reflective essay will become the primary component of the senior portfolio a few years from now, but the process begins here in PDP 150 as students learn to apply their new reflective skills in developing of an effective portfolio. The reflective essay provides the opportunity to describe and document one’s growth as a person during this time in a student’s life, and the key to understanding the task is to emphasize the term “reflective. ” In PDP 150, students learn that reflection can sometimes be confused with words such as “reaction” or “response. Through the many reflective exercises in PDP 150, students learn that to document their reactions or responses to experiences would be to merely document how they feel about them or to describe the emotional or practical impact the experience had on them; whereas critical reflection is something more than this. To critically reflect on experiences is really to engage in an intellectual activity whereby students review in detail what they know (what they’ve read, or learned, or observed, or felt, or experienced) and then draw some conclusions about the significance of those experiences in relation to the context of their lives as a whole.
We discuss this process by identifying the four basic steps of explanation, exploration, analysis, and synthesis. The personal reflective essay assignment isn’t something radically different from the other classroom assignments of the course, but in this assignment the focus of the reflection is the student’s own development. However, earlier assignments should help in a direct way in that when students discuss their intellectual development and discovery, they will probably include readings or films or discussions from either their PDP 150 class (or perhaps their History or Sociology class) that especially provoked their thinking.
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Or, perhaps they will recall some reading or film or discussion from their English or Religion class that made them challenge their ethical assumptions, or some discussion from their Political Science or Economics class that helped them understand their relationship to the community in a different way. All experiences at college, both in the classroom and outside the classroom are fair game for exploration as students document their growth and development in the context of the personal reflective essay.
To better document and illustrate these experiences, students are encouraged to submit at least four documents as supporting material for their personal development reflective essays. These documents should be academic in nature—papers written, assignments or projects completed, artistic work created, and so forth. The idea is to submit materials that you specifically discuss in your personal development reflective essay in order to better illuminate and illustrate your development over the term.
Depth and Breadth of Reflection To help insure that students’ reflection is as thorough as possible, and to encourage development of the whole person, one of the requirements for the personal development reflective essay is that it cover four distinctive areas, or dimensions, of students’ lives. These dimensions are intellectual growth and discovery; emotional maturation and physical health; ethical and spiritual growth; and citizenship and community responsibility.
Each of these areas should be explored and documented in the personal development reflective essay, and each of these areas should be examined using the reflective skills practiced in the classroom activities of PDP 150. Think of these dimensions as the measure of the reflective essay’s breadth, that is does it stretch to include all aspects of the student’s life? Reflection, using the same metaphor, represents the essay’s depth, that is does it go deeper and deeper into the meaning and significance of the experiences it describes?
Together, the inclusion of four dimensions and the process of reflection work together to give the personal development reflective essay its defining shape and quality. The Quality of Reflection Another requirement of the personal development reflective essay is that it span student developmental experiences in a comprehensive way, covering all aspects of students’ lives from their classroom experiences and educational development to their extra-curricular and co-curricular experiences, to experiences outside the classroom or playing field, considering events and experiences in one’s community or in one’s private life.
All of these discrete experiences should be integrated into a unified discussion of development, brought together into a single vision of where students are and where they wish to be. The personal development reflective essay should, on some level, connect students’ ideas, interests, skills, and values to future academic and/or vocational goals. This discussion doesn’t have to be well planned out at this stage, but some consideration to the future is expected even at the freshman level, even if by “future” we mean the next few years, or even next semester.
There is also an expectation that students should at some point reflect on their service learning experiences, perhaps within the context of one of the four dimensions, depending on where and in what way the experience contributed to students’ development. And as is the case with all college-level writing, there is an expectation that students will write with clarity, expressing themselves in a authentic sincere voice with a distinctive rhetorical style, avoiding cliches, generic expressions, and static or repetitive syntax. The essay is also expected to be coherent and well organized, without serious mechanical and usage errors.