Reflective journals are a thought-provoking formative assessment method that can be in your curriculum ‘write’ now. Beyond its widespread acknowledgement in education circles, reflective journals stand as a powerful and creative tool to cultivate essential skills through the art of written reflection and self-assessment.

This #MedEdPearls highlights the significance of reflective journals as an embedded formative assessment method within the landscape of health professions education programmatic assessment.

What are reflective journals? Reflective journals are personal records of learners’ learning experiences, ranging from clinical journals focused on patient care to learning journals centered around skill development. Reflective journals provide space for learners to offer a creative and adaptable approach for formative assessment, enriching the learning experience in various dimensions:

  • Offer Personal Expression and Self-Awareness: Through reflective journals, learners have the freedom to articulate their thoughts, emotions, and insights in a creative and personal manner. This mode of expression can uncover a student's unique perspective and chart an individual learning journey. Implementation by the instructor is key. Consider integrating structured journals with predefined prompts, templates or guides for writing, and providing clear submission instructions to enhance the overall journal design.
  • Cultivate Critical Thinking and Metacognition Skills: In the scope of creating a culture of formative assessment, reflective journals serve as catalysts for critical thinking, prompting learners to assess and analyze their own learning experiences—assessment as learning. This practice bridges the gap between theory and application, fostering a profound understanding of the subject matter in both clinical and classroom settings for learning. Additionally, engaging in reflective journaling and metacognition, where learners reflect on their own cognitive processes, can enhance their ability to monitor and regulate their learning strategies, ultimately leading to improved self-directed learning skills.
  • Stimulate Creativity and Enhanced Engagement: The creative aspect of reflective journaling elevates learner and educator engagement alike. Providing the flexibility for expression through writing, drawing, diagrams or multimedia allows learners to choose methods that align with their preferred learning styles, transcending traditional written assessments. Delve into the realm of journaling possibilities by investigating different platforms for individual entries such as Day One, FlipGrid, Padlet, and digital portfolios. Alternatively, consider utilizing widely-used productivity and collaboration platforms to enhance the interactive and diverse nature of team-based reflective journals.
  • Encourage Continuous Improvement and Feedback-Seeking Habits: Reflective journals require personal high-information feedback loops between educators and learners, fostering continuous improvement and growth. Educators play a pivotal role in nurturing feedback literacy and self-assessment and crafting an atmosphere that motivates learners to initiate and sustain feedback loops. Educators can also guide learners toward mastery of their learning objectives, a culture that emphasizes the value of learning and professional identity formation. This is best accomplished by setting aside dedicated time for regular journaling activities along with constructive faculty feedback processes. 

When incorporating reflective journaling as an embedded assessment in your curriculum, aim for a creative formative assessment approach that not only enhances learning but also creates a more personalized learning experience for learners.

Join the #MedEdPearls discussion on Twitter to share your perspective on how you use reflective journals as embedded formative assessment process. 

#MedEdPearls are developed monthly by the Health Professions Educator Developers on Educational Affairs. Previously, #MedEdPearls explored topics including designing programmatic assessment structures, using classroom assessment techniques, and reflective practice.

Anna Lama, Ed.D., M.A., is a medical and health professions educator and Assistant Professor in Medical Education and Director of Assessment for Undergraduate and Graduate Medical Education at West Virginia University School of Medicine. Anna’s areas of professional interest include medical students as teachers training, professional development of clinical and research educators, and curricular design. Anna can be followed on Twitter or contacted via email.



#MedEdPearls Team:
Jean Bailey, PhD – Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Carrie Bowler, EdD, MS, MLSCM (ASCP) – Mayo Clinic
Kristina Dzara, PhD, MMSc (Educators ’16; Assessment ’16; HCE 2.0 ’17) – Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Shanu Gupta, MD – University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital
Jennifer Hillyer, PhD – Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine
Larry Hurtubise, PhD (HCE 2.0 '16) – The Ohio State University
Anna Lama, EdD – West Virginia University School of Medicine
Machelle Linsenmeyer, EdD, NAOME (Assessment ’07) – West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
Rachel Moquin, EdD, MA – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Stacey Pylman, PhD – Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
Leah Sheridan, PhD – The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Lonika Sood, MBBS, MHPE – Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University
Mark Terrell, EdD – Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stacey Wahl, PhD – Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine