Reflections or Multiple Choice? Motivating Student Reading Comprehension

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

Come and join the conversation to learn how reflective journals encourage comments such as “this process makes me READ the material and understand it, as opposed to just looking for answers to multiple choice questions.” Discover a new way to assess reading comprehension in any of your online courses.


Ingrid Steiner is an Assistant Director in the University of Southern California's (USC) Center for Excellence in Teaching. Working in partnership with faculty, departments and schools on enhancing best practices in pedagogy, Ingrid has shared her expertise and passion for faculty development and student learning at national and international educational presentations. Holding graduate degrees in both humanities and online education, she also teaches art history and design history courses at the university level. She enjoys combining her interest in humanities education with both on-ground and online education, with particular focus on student motivation, relevancy, and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Extended Abstract

When students finish reading a required textbook chapter or essay, they close the book and focus their attention elsewhere. Often educators assess students’ reading comprehension via low stakes multiple-choice quizzes. In a reading heavy discipline, is there another way?

Reflective journals have been shown to develop relevance, ownership of knowledge, and innovation in perception (O’Connell, Dyment, & Smith, 2015). Reflection is an important component of reading, just as it is of life. In reading, however, it is often overlooked. When students reflect on the curriculum’s relevancy to their lives, they interpret, reassess, and ponder circumstances. (Ziegert, 132).

While there is a modest body of literature on the benefits of journal writing in higher education (Boud, 2001; Hiemstra, 2001; O’Connel & Dyment, 2006), there is little research using guided reflective journal writing for content comprehension. Undergraduate and general education courses, employ minimal use of guided reflective journals, although it has been proposed that they are a possible solution to facilitate students in developing a critical academic and personal voice (Hyland-Russell, 2014).

This discovery session showcases examples of using reflective reading journals in an online general education art appreciation course to assess student understanding. Guided questions were designed in relation to the student learning objectives. Open-ended questions such as “I changed my attitude about…”; “I became more aware of….”; “I was surprised about….”; and “This reminds me of…” inspired students to reflect on their own experiences and the course content. Benefits for the students included a place to share their thoughts privately with the Instructor. Students could confidentially comment on skills or concepts they needed help with and challenges facing them. They shared their own personal experiences and thoughts without being exposed to the rest of the class. Additionally, while there were challenges for the Instructor, the process inspired Instructor reflections on levels of engagement and feedback, assessment strategies, and balance of activities in the course curriculum.

The specifics of this session will cover prompts to encourage student reflections, a discussion of the benefits and challenges, assessment rubrics, and feedback from students. Student comments such as “This process makes me READ the material and understand it, as opposed to just looking for answers to multiple choice questions”; and “I’m glad you made such a big deal about these journals, because it helped me see things differently”, have provided valuable insight into the power of this approach. Attendees will leave the session energized (and with a handout) with practical ideas to encourage their students to begin and develop an ongoing process of reflection, as a “conscious exploration of one’s own experiences” (ed. Kaplan, Silver, Lavaque-Manty &Meizlish).