When teachers want students to gain more from an assignment than just a pile of facts, they often assign a reflective summary. The task requires an explanation of how a lesson improved your understanding of a subject or your skill at doing a job. The lesson might have been a research project or an activity that you engaged in outside the classroom. To write a reflective summary that stands out, use detail and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

Begin the summary with a paragraph that places the learning in context. Discuss your background in the subject and your learning goals. Then introduce the lesson, describing books you’ve read or the activity just completed. End with a thesis statement on whether the lesson was helpful. As you write the rest of the summary, your job will be to support the thesis statement.

Write several paragraphs that explain your preconceived ideas about the subject. Doing so helps you portray yourself as a learner who is going through a process. Discuss any false beliefs or confusion you had about the subject before engaging in the lesson. If you had doubts that the lesson was going to be worthwhile, explain those feelings.

Describe each step in the lesson, pointing out the logic behind the steps. Make it sound as though the steps are pieces to a puzzle and you are trying to make them fit. If you say that a teacher told students to research their family’s history, add that her purpose was to make the students see that world events can change common folks. Would you have been able to make this connection before the lesson? Explain why or why not.

Specify whether the lesson increased your knowledge or skills, backing up each statement with examples and details. Write in a deliberate tone to tell the reader that you are making conclusions. For example, write: “The lab proved to me that scientists must form hypotheses.” Write one conclusion for each finding you made.

Wrap up by reflecting on how the lesson helped or did not help you grow as a learner. It’s fine to restate your thesis, but add to it by explaining whether the lesson caused you to re-examine the subject. You can do this by comparing your preconceived ideas to the findings you made. Finish the conclusion with a few sentences that explain whether you will draw upon the lesson in the future.

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