I developed weekly reflection assignments for Conservation for the 21st Century to assess student critical thinking. Through these assignments, students integrated the reading assignment, class discussion, and personal experience and applied it to a contemporary issue. I created reflection questions based on news stories and current events that were related to the topic for the week.
When I designed the assignment, I did so with reflective learners in mind. I assumed that active learners would be the biggest participants involved in class discussion, and I wanted to create assessment that gave reflective learners a chance to mull over material and put it together. This was my effort to create growth for all students, and because I am an active learner myself, I wanted to ensure that I did not have an active bias to the class that would make it difficult for a reflective learner.
These assignments were central to my course goals of critiquing conservation, but it was uncharted territory for both myself and the students. STEM classes generally do not assess reflection and opinions. However, the assignments were necessary as a way to apply the information we used in class to new material, therefore reinforcing higher order thinking skills.
Students had mixed feeling about them, however. I asked students in a survey on the last day of class which assignment they would absolutely keep and which assignment they would absolutely drop. Two out of 10 students would drop the reflection assignment (the most of any single assignment). However, another two students chose the reflection assignment as the one they would absolutely keep!
The students that really didn't like the reflection assignments were some of the biggest contributors to the class discussion. The reflections were more tedious because they had already done the work of critical thinking in class and applying to a news article did not add that much for them. But for students that did not speak much during class, the reflection assignment was their time to shine. I valued the assignment because it gave me an opportunity to communicate with students that didn't talk much during class, but still showed that they were engaged.