Student Voice


By Andrew Carlin

Reflection is fundamental to development, and in undertaking courses in higher/further education establishments, students are on a journey of self-development. Reflection, and the feedback facilitating reflection, is a socially constructed process, affected by the conditions in which it was produced, distributed and received [1, 2]. Reflection also allows students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses while acquiring a methodology for questioning and critical assessment [3]. Reflection, when transferred into explicit plans helps students create a directional strategy to support their long-term journey of self-development, creating deep, active learning [4, 5]. Reflection, therefore, requires a long-term strategy and structure if its true benefits are to be realised, and is fundamental to students journey in further/higher education.

Quinton and Smallbond of the University of Oxford realised the value of reflection and tried to better integrate it into their undergraduate courses [6]. Reflection and feedback come hand in hand, with the latter informing the former. Therefore, to realise the potential of reflection and feedback, feedback processes must be: accurate, timely, comprehensive and appropriate. Additionally, feedback must inspire students in their journey of self-development and have coaching value. Feedback has its greatest value when it is structured and integrated into a long-term development plan.

While the value of reflection is widespread and well established, it is not enacted to the levels it should be in higher/further education. With increasing class numbers, packed timetabling, part-time jobs and the modularity of modern degrees, feedback and reflection have become the pinch point for both students and educators in the continually evolving environment of higher/further education. Therefore, given the clear importance of reflection, classroom time should be assigned to reflection.

Quinton and Smallbond addressed this by giving students reflection sheets along with their feedback on assignments, to be filled out during classroom time. Students were given two pages of carbon-imprinted paper with three questions, each of which was designed to get a particular response:

  • “What do I feel about this feedback” - is concentrated on the students initial and emotional thoughts on the feedback. This question is designed to empower students, giving them a channel in which to voice their raw feelings on the feedback, while also helping them recognise their positive and/or negative response and emotional state at that moment in time. Further, this helps in later questions, having vented, and hopefully separated, their irrational/emotional thoughts from their rational/analytical response
  • “What do I think about this feedback” - focused on the student's analytical response to the feedback, designed to get a true evaluation of their grade and performance, and gather feedback, on the feedback
  • “Based on this feedback, what actions could I take to improve my work for another assignment” - this question reigns in on the critical reflection aspect, asking students to turn their feedback and self-reflection into defined actions so they can improve their outcome next time

The printing of the reflection sheets on two pages of carbon-imprinted paper allowed the students to keep a copy for their own records. This allowed students to aggregate their feedback across all their classes into a Personal Development Plan, with the goal that these sheets could be accumulated in a binder or something of the sort. With this in mind, the feedback should contain generic advice also, so students can, over time, across different classes, recognises their strengths and weaknesses in core, multi-disciplinary competencies.

The authors found that, for each question, the general responses were:

  • "What do I feel about this feedback" - responses such as: 'gutted', 'relieved' and 'happy'
  • "What do I think about this feedback" - responses such as: 'fair', 'constructive', and 'useful'
  • "What actions could I take to improve my work for another assignment" - responses such as: 'provide more evidence', 'better explanation of ideas' Recommended actions

Based upon the work of Quinton and Smallbond, it is therefore recommended that:

  • Students are given time for self-reflection during class hours
  • Self-reflection sheets are given out with feedback on assignments, with questions targeted to get: irrational/emotional, rational/analytical and actionable responses, from students
  • Feedback, and the subsequent reflection time, is given before the final examination so that students can implement actions and see the results of those actions
  • Feedback focuses on both module/assignment specifics, and also more general points, so students can address skills that are core competencies and transferable across different tasks
  • The process of feedback and reflection is continuous, across all years, with a structure and environment in place such that students can aggregate feedback across all classes, and implement strategies for self-improvement throughout their higher/further education


[1] Fairclough, N., Critical discourse analysis : the critical study of language. Language in social life series. 1995: Longman.
ISBN 13: 978-1-4058-5822-9

[2] Lea, M.R. and B.V. Street, Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in higher education (Dorchester-on-Thames), 1998. 23(2): p. 157--172.
DOI: 10.1080/03075079812331380364

[3] Moon, J.A., Learning journals: a handbook for academics, students and professional development. 2006: Kogan Page.
DOI: 10.1108/et.2000.00442fad.001

[4] Smith, R.A. and S. Pilling, Allied health graduate program - supporting the transition from student to professional in an interdisciplinary program. Journal of interprofessional care, 2007. 21(3): p. 265--276.
DOI: 10.1080/13561820701259116

[5] Marton, F., Dai. Hounsell, and Noel James, The experience of learning. 2nd . ed. 1997: Scottish Academic Press.
Available at: University of Edinburgh

[6] Quinton, S. and T. Smallbone, Feeding forward: using feedback to promote student reflection and learning - a teaching model. Innovations in education and teaching international, 2010. 47(1): p. 125--135.
DOI: 10.1080/14703290903525911

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