In the rush towards mid-terms, finals and deadlines, there seems to be little time for co-operative education students to reflect on their experiences. Without taking a moment to reflect, students are less likely to bring theory into the workplace and applied knowledge into the classroom. Indeed, students may struggle to evaluate the myriad of co-op events. By utilizing reflection they may be more able to transform their experiences into meaningful building blocks towards their professional development and as a result, gain maximum value from their co-operative education program.
Simply put, reflection is a process where students take time to think about their experiences and their actions. It is an activity that requires care, thought and deliberateness. And importantly, reflection requires an allocation of time.
Reflection can be incorporated into co-operative education curriculum, in some cases seamlessly, with minimal effort on the part of the instructor. Two excellent methods include “Journaling” and “Stop-Start-Continue”. Each can help to ensure that students bridge the divide between theory and practice and the multitude of co-op experiences. And in the process, students increase the possibility of gaining an understanding of themselves, their aspirations and what they can offer future employers.
Journaling is the simple practice of writing private thoughts to oneself. Used within co-operative education curriculum, the activity increases students’ opportunities to make meaning of their experiences.
Steps to Journaling
The instructor conducts a workshop activity. For example, resume writing or interviewing skills. Once the activity is complete, the instructor asks students to take 2 – 3 minutes to make a journal note to themselves.
To guide the journal entry, the instructor asks a question that relates the activity to other areas of the students’ co-op experience.
What meaning has the workshop activity had for you and your professional development? What elements of today’s discussion could you bring back to the classroom or the workplace?
What elements of today’s activity challenged you, your previous held ideas or perspectives?
While journaling can follow any workshop activity, it is most meaningful after a discussion where multiple views were revealed or old notions were challenged.
To increase students comfort level with the journaling activity, provide reassurance that their writing will remain private.
Stop-Start-Continue is a process to systematically review behaviours one wants to either stop, start or continue using. The value of the activity is that it addresses specific challenges, highlights areas for development and validates successes. While Stop-Start-Continue requires approximately 15 – 20 minutes to complete, it is time well spent given the proven impact on students’ professional development.
Steps to Stop-Start-Continue
The instructor provides students with a list of thirty or more positive behaviours. The list should be broad in scope including descriptors as varied as spontaneous, organized, caring and competent. Individually, students read the list of words and circle the ones that best describe them. The instructor guides students through this work by asking them several guiding questions.
When are you at your best?
When do you feel most proud?
What behaviours were noted by your work term supervisor, both positive and negative? Which behaviours do you possess that are both strengths and weaknesses, depending on the situation? For example, when were your strong organizational skills perceived as inflexibility?
Consider the words you did not circle. Are these possible areas for development?
Once students have finished selecting the behaviours that best describe them and have considered areas for development, the instructor asks the following three questions: “Which of the behaviours would you like to stop using? Which of the behaviours would you like to start using? Which of the behaviours would you like to continue using?” Working individually, students answer the Stop-Start-Continue questions. To close the activity, the instructor asks, “Now, what steps will you take to put these ideas into action? For example, could you implement your ideas immediately? Could you incorporate your ideas into your next set of work term objectives?” Again working individually, students make note of their action plans.
To better customize the list of behaviours, encourage students to add their own words. Encourage students to reflect on their past work term and, if appropriate, their work term objectives. Although it is necessary to look at both positive and negative behaviours, it is an area for caution. Keep in mind that the goal of the activity is not to make people feel bad about themselves but to create a better self. As such, discuss negative behaviours with care. Due to the personal nature of this work, the instructor should not ask for example responses out loud in class. Rather, the instructor should visit students on a one-to-one basis during the course of the activity.
Reflection can help ensure that students take time for careful thought and therefore, the opportunity to utilize the knowledge gained from their various experiences both in and out of the classroom. By allocating time for reflection, students are also rewarded for taking time to review their impact. As such, reflection helps ensure that students gain the maximum potential from their co-operative education experience.
Jeela Jones has incorporated both of these techniques into the University of Ottawa Co-operative Education Curriculum. For more on these or other adult education principles and practices please feel free to contact her at or 613-562-5800 x. 6884.