Building a Habit of Reflection Using Private Journals

Online journals in Canvas can provide a private space for students to build a regular habit of reflecting and for instructors to check their progress and provide consistent feedback.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

“Reflecting, simply put, is the act of thinking about something while seeking a deeper level of understanding” (Bard, 2014, p. 10). Students should spend time in deep thought about their own learning. They should think about what they have learned and the connections that exist between prior knowledge and new knowledge, between information learned in different classes, and between learning inside and outside of class. Online journals in Canvas can provide a private space for students to build a regular habit of reflecting and for instructors to check their progress and provide consistent feedback.

There are some crucial elements to consider when designing reflection assignments. Prompts or assignments should require students to ask themselves critical questions and develop self-awareness and honesty. Student reflections should be well-organized and thorough and include concrete examples. A critical reflection will synthesize different ideas together, to show the relationships between concepts, prior and new knowledge, classroom and real world experiences. A good reflection also shows the ability to analyze ideas and break them down into their component parts and put them together again in new ways (Muncy, 2014). For example, students can be prompted with specific questions about a current assignment. Below are some sample questions:

  • What exactly did I learn?
  • How have I changed as a result of this experience?
  • How did I go about making sense of the information/situation?
  • What parts of the experience were the most/least valuable and why?
  • How does what I learned relate to what I already knew about the concept?
  • How does what I learned relate to my other classes?
  • How does what I learned relate to my co‐curricular activities?
  • How does what I learned relate to me as a person?
  • What specific skills have I practiced/perfected in completing this assignment?
  • What specific skills do I need to develop to do an even better job next time?
  • What more do I need to learn about the subject/topic/concept?

There are several other considerations for creating an effective assignment. First, students will want to know how/if the assignment will be graded. How often should students engage in reflective activities and what is the criteria in terms of length, content, and quality? Consider using a simple rubric for graded entries. For example, you may have only three criteria: organization, connections to prior knowledge and experiences, and concrete examples. Be careful not to set up assignments in ways that consume too much time, but do provide consistent feedback and comments. Finally, be clear about the purpose of the reflection prompts. Sharing the rationale behind the activity can increase the likelihood that students will put forth significant effort during the task and keep focused on the course learning goals (Muncy, 2014).

Online journals offer a way for students to express their thoughts on what they are learning while they are learning it. Journals also help students activate relevant prior knowledge and make meaningful personal connections to content. Instructors benefit because they can review the journals online to gauge student understanding and adjust assignments as needed. If you are interested in creating an online journal in Canvas, follow the instructions below.

How to Create a Private Journal Assignment in Canvas

To create an individual space for each student to journal privately, follow the steps below. This set up allows each student to return to their private space and make entries throughout the semester. The entries will be time-stamped and can be viewed in Speedgrader if you want to make annotated comments. Canvas Discussions also allow students to include media such as images and links to videos.

  1. Use the Group tool to create a group space for each student. Create a group set in Canvas and name it “Journals.” The number of groups in the group set you create will be the same as the number of students you have in class. (How to Create Groups)
  2. Create a Group discussion called “My Private Journal.” (How to Create a Group Discussion)
    • This will create a “discussion” for each individual student where they can submit entries (this area will be their student journal).
    • Only you and the student will see this space.It will automatically date each entry they make.
    • You can make just one of these group discussions for the whole semester or break it down into weeks.
    • All of the entries for each student will show-up in SpeedGrader at once so it is easy to grade them.

If you want to learn more about setting up private journals in Canvas, you can always reach out to the Learning and Teaching Consultants!



Bard, R. (2014). Focus on learning: Reflective learners & feedback. TESL–EJ, 18(3), 1-18.

Muncy, J.A. (2014). Blogging for reflection: The use of online journals to engage students in reflective learning. Marketing Education Review, 24, 101-113.

Teaching Students to Reflect. Center for Faculty Excellence. 

Release Date: 03/30/2023
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services
Technology Services Contact Center Chat