Using Reflection Activities in the Field to Deepen Student Learning

This page authored by Holly Hughes, Edmonds Community College, based on activities developed with Dr. Hans Landel while team-teaching the learning community "Exploring Natural History in Word and Field."
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This activity offers one of the reflection activities we developed in our learning community "Exploring Natural History in Word and Field." In this class, the students learn about natural history by reading natural history essays and participating in field trips. In this activity, we use reflection before and during a field trip to an Old Growth Forest to help our students clarify their own stance for a Position Paper on whether and under what conditions logging should be allowed in Old Growth Forests.

Learning Goals

Add specific outcomes from Biology Field Trip instructions here: TK

In addition, we have some general learning goals specific to the Reflection activities:

1) To give students the opportunity to reflect on their previous experience in old-growth forests and their role as consumers of forest products.

2) To give students the opportunity to experience the old growth forest through several senses: seeing, listening, smelling, touching.

3) To give students the chance to experience directly the difference between the younger age forest stands and old growth forest.

4) To give students the opportunity to see the forest that's been written about by natural history writers like John Muir and William Dietrich.

5) To give students the opportunity to reflect on the different stances represented in the course readings and clarify their own stance on preservation of old growth forest.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for first or second year college students and is conducted in the field. Specifically, students need access to an old-growth forest and ideally, several hours in the forest. For this reflection activity, they need to be able to spend at least a half hour in silence in the forest, including the time spent freewriting. This activity takes place the 3rd week of the quarter, after the students have learned to identify native species and have been introduced to basic ecological concepts such as ecosystems. (See the Survival Handbook for a full list of class outcomes). We've also introduced them to the process of freewriting in class before doing this in the field. This activity could easily be adapted for use in other natural settings.

Description and Teaching Materials

Introduction/Context –provides an overview of the course and the rationale for using this activity
Pre- Reflection (Reflection #1) provides the questions we ask before visiting the OG Forest to assess the students knowledge, experience and values regarding old-growth forests and forest practices
Forest Reflection (Reflection #2) -provides the instructions for a contemplative freewriting activity in the forest to help them clarify their own views for a position paper

Position Paper Assignment gives the specific instructions for writing the position paper, including the list of readings we assign.

Sample Student Reflections gives examples of student responses.

Introduction/Context for Reflection Activities (Microsoft Word 43kB Feb29 12)

Pre-OG Forest Reflection Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 70kB Dec30 11)

OG Forest Reflection Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 113kB Dec30 11)
Sample Student Reflections (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 160kB Dec30 11)
Position Paper Assignment (Microsoft Word 40kB Dec30 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The value of this assignment is in being able to give students a direct experience of an Old Growth Forest so they can better formulate their own stance regarding its best use. The contemplative reflection activity give them an opportunity to value not just outside research/writing, but their own subjective experience. Of course, taking students into the field often requires filling out waivers of responsibility–be sure to check with your college's Field Trip Policies before doing so.


Students receive up to 10 points for posting their Forest Reflection in a Blackboard discussion board forum and responding to two other students' postings. They also receive 5 points for completing the Pre-Reflection. We usually assign this during class, then use it as the basis for a short discussion so students can share their knowledge of OG Forests and forest products they use. For the Position Paper, we use a formal assessment grading rubric that's handed out to the students when we pass out the assignment so they know exactly how they'll be assessed. We make it clear that they won't be graded on their position, but on how effectively they state and support their position, using evidence from the class readings, lectures, and their experience in the forest.

References and Resources

To come

Evergreen State College