I’ve been heavily influenced by Georgetown’s Jesuit motto of cura personalis or care for the whole person. This is part of why I expend so much effort to blur the lines between the curricular and the co-curricular. Reflection papers are another important means for doing so. My work in Georgetown’s Engelhard Program (focused on student well-being) and my association with the Center for Social Justice first convinced me of the value of offering students time and space to really reflect on and articulate the intersection between course content and their day to day lives.
My personal experience having students write reflection papers confirms this importance, but it also leads me to believe that it is crucial to provide structure for this reflection. If you ask a student to merely reflect on, say, a field trip, they’re likely to fill the paper with mere description and perhaps a quaint thought or two. If, on the other hand, you ask students to (for example) reflect on their aesthetic experience with one particular work of art at a museum and the way this experience confirms, modifies, or contradicts the arguments of Alva Noe concerning the normative nature of perception, then not only are you going to get a more serious reflection, you’re also (and this is the critical part) going to facilitate a different experience for your students. They will see the art in a new way, and the themes of class will be brought into stark relief in their lives.
Here is an example of a reflection paper assignment from my Social and Political Philosophy course: