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In this video, Trina Harding trains internship directors and coordinators in the benefits of reflective writing with their students.
When educational coordinators mentor students in internships, they help them learn the essentials of collaboration, teamwork, and success in a professional field. With reflective writing in the mix, which can show a student both how they learn and how their learning applies to many contexts, internships develop mindsets and habits of lifelong learning.
“A quality internship can separate students from the pack in an employer-driven market” (Perry, 2018). This is even more true when the intern is guided by an educational mentor who builds a relationship with that student by offering guidance, support, and encouragement to facilitate positive and healthy development over a period of time (Perry, 2018). The primary purpose of an educational mentor is to clarify expectations and enable reflection for the student while communicating each participant’s role and ensuring no one is mistreated (Harding, 2021).
Trina Harding (BYU) argues that when a mentor pairs guidance with reflective writing, encouraging the student to step back and ask ‘what did I learn? What did I do?’, the student has the opportunity to expand their capacity for reflection and target goals of leadership, assessment, and awareness (personal communication, April 20, 2021). Harding adds that reflection allows students to craft their own experiences as personal narratives, taking them to a personally-owned place that deepens the purpose behind their internship (personal communication, April 20, 2021) .
Basics of Practice
Coordinators who manage large numbers of interns may be tempted to rely primarily on uniform questionnaires and surveys and other less time-intensive methods for communicating with students and evaluating their experience. However, urging students to reflect through conversation and tailored writing prompts can transform student experiences with an internship. The bedrock principle of experiential education is that experience without reflection is just activity, but experience with reflection can become meaningful experience.
While pure reflection can be helpful (How are you feeling about your internship?) an even more effective method is to urge narrative reflection—reflection in the context of action or experience. So questions such as, "What did you try last week that helped you feel successful?" or "What did you do this week to solve the concerns we discussed last week?"
Below are some of the main elements needed for a successful internship/mentorship. Note that many of these elements are recursive, meaning they should be repeated throughout the program, rather than perceived as a one-time, chronological step.
- Act as a Mentor: Mentor students during face-to-face interviews or preparatory classes. Craft bridges between the student’s personal objectives and their professional competencies. In addition, clarify the roles of those involved: manager, mentor, learner, and peer mentor.
- Set Goals: Guide students to create additional goals for themselves and the course. Mentors should set aside time at the beginning of the course to set goals both short and long-term, with scheduled reassessments to allow for customization and adjustment.
- Ensure Agency: Create an agentic atmosphere by allowing students to have a significant role in determining the focus of the course and the choice within class to emphasize those things that they find “most personally meaningful and situationally relevant” (Harding, 2021, p. 8). See "Prioritize student agency."
- Assign narrative reflection: Give students ample opportunity for written reflection through periodic or cumulative reflective assignments, whether that be weekly prompts drawn from the professional competencies or a final essay that incorporates elements of the entire experience. Make these prompts open-ended and design them to help the learner focus on the total experience. See example prompts below.
- Gather Feedback: During meetings, ask open-ended questions similar to writing prompts in order to understand a student’s present mindset and experiences, while also being prepared to provide the student with complimentary and constructive feedback. This can be done in tandem with goal-setting. See
- Evaluate: At the end of a course/internship, mentors, administration, and managers together create and gather student evaluations with tools such as exit surveys and written responses to evaluate both the student experience and the program itself. See "Design assessment tools."
Teaching Materials & Resources:
- Sample Writing Prompts for Interns
- Template for Internship Coordination and Support Using Reflective Writing (including prompts)
- Template for creating a writing-based curriculum
- Template for managing a writing workshop
- Self-efficacy questions to measure professional competencies gained from an internship
- Course materials for English 300 and 399--internship support courses taught by Trina Harding, English Department Internship Coordinator at Brigham Young University. These courses support students in their internships and give them university credit for the internship. The materials include
- Outline of purpose, theoretical basis, and methods for English 399, a professional internship support course.
- Internship course syllabus For English 300 (a course designed for students doing an internship in England. It includes assignments for readings in British literature, so students can get both internship and literature credit.)
- Sample student reflection paper #1 with teacher comments for English 399 (Internship course)
- Sample student reflection paper #2 with teacher comments for English 399 (Internship course)
- Agentic Design for Internships and Experiential Learning—Trina Harding
- Recording of a reflection workshop led by Dr. John Bennion, English Associate Professor, and Trina Harding, English Internship Coordinator. Fall 2020 Training Meeting for Internship Coordinators, sponsored by the Office of Experiential Learning and Internships, BYU.
- Template for creating a journal writing exercise for an experiential class or program—short form (for more info go to "Journals" in this website)
- Template for creating a journal writing exercise for an experiential class or program—long form
Perry, A. M. (2018, October 17). How work-based learning connects students with mentors and experience. Brookings.
How work-based learning connects students with mentors and experience
Schwartz, J. (2020, August 13). Mentoring can bring a personal touch to distance learning. EdSource.
Mentoring can bring a personal touch to distance learning
Petrick, D. (n.d.). 5 lessons learned from my mentoring experience. Wiley. https://www.wiley.com/network/instructors-students/teaching-strategies/5-lessons-learned-from-my-mentoring-experience
Harding, T. (2021). Agentic Design for Internships and Experiential Learning [Unpublished manuscript]. Department of English, Brigham Young University.