How to Include Reflection in the Learning Process

One of the most vital, yet (as is the case in my own teaching) most overlooked, element of the learning process is embedding meaningful reflection throughout the journey. 
Personally, I have always battled to just fit my curriculum into the time allotted (anyone relate?). Therefore engaging, authentic student reflection (and even my own personal reflection), has often been neglected. 

This is a disservice to my students and their learning process. 

As Jack Mezirow, the American sociologist, points out: “A defining condition of being human is that we have to understand the meaning of our experience. ” Indeed, students need to be able to reflect on their classroom experiences, their own learning journeys, their strengths and challenges. 

This is definitely a hot topic these days, and I know that here in British Columbia, reflection is a large part of our new curriculum. Indeed, with the insightful work of people like Carol Dweck, the concept of growth mindset, it is vital that students are encouraged to be aware of their own areas of growth and development, and that they are able to articulate them clearly and coherently. (Side note: if you haven't checked out Carol's TED talk about growth mindset, do yourself and favour and watch it here). 

So, this year I have been making it a priority to embed reflection throughout my classroom, from just the verbal questions I ask, the physical displays in my classroom, and the tasks I set, I have been focusing on helping student reflection on their own progress and educational journeys. While I am (reflectively) aware that I have a lot more work to do in this area, I thought I might share some of the ways I have been doing this, and having success. 
1) Ask the Right Questions: Be aware of the types of questions you ask students throughout the process of an assignment and deliberately ask questions which are intended to prompt them to reflect on their own learning. Questions such as, "How did you come to this conclusion?" or "What sparked this idea?" will help them be more self-aware of their own process. 

2) Hold Mini-Conferences with Students: This is something which I have seen on Instagram that Jackie (Room 213), my friend and fellow coffee shop, is so great at: hold mini-conferences with students throughout an assignment process, making the time to verbally help them reflect, and prodding them to reflect on their own areas of strength and growth. (Read more about this process here.)

3) Video Blogging During an Assignment: Next time you give students a large project, essay, or assignment, instruct them to take at least 1 minute videos throughout the process, to document their thoughts. For example: in the first one, they reflect on the brief and their initial thoughts; in the second they identify a challenge they are having; in the third they talk to an area of pride, something they feel they are doing well; in the fourth they speak to something they have really learned in the process; in the fifth, they speak reflect on the whole process, their thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to integrate technology into the process, and employ a medium which students are using in their daily lives (e.g. Snapchat-style!) 

4) Responding after Grading: Don’t just give students back their grades and assessment without proper response and reflection. This is such a vital time in the learning process, and you want to make sure that students don't just fixate on the grade they received, but that they actually reflect on the whole process. 

[FREEBIE 2 - Grab this free worksheet to hand back with graded work]

5) Reflecting on Self-Identified Goals: Have students set their own goals at the start of a unit, and then come back to them at the end and assess whether or not they met them. If goals are set by the students themselves, they are far more invested than if they are teacher-set. 

6) Quick End of the Lesson Reflections: It is great to get into the habit of always prompting students to reflect at the end of learning session, on what they learned. This can be as simple as a 2 minute think-pair-share, or class discussion. Similarly, exit slips and bell ringers are a great method for this. Check out The Superhero Teacher’s recent blog post for more on this. 

7) Have Students Write Report Cards for Themselves: Obviously, these aren’t real report cards! However, a valuable exercise for students, in any class, is to try and write their own report cards. I usually give them a structure to follow – for example: an opening comment on general class behavior; a comment on an area of strength; a comment on a particular task completed that term; an area for improvement; a comment on class participation. This is a wonderful way for students to reflect holistically, and can be extremely insightful reading (especially pre- parent-teacher conferences!)

8) Use a Scale as a Tool for Reflection: I regularly ask students, on a scale of 1 to 5, how do you feel about ____? We then, as a class, decide what a “one” would look like and what a “five” would look like  (always good to co-create criteria). Then, as I call out, “one, two, three, four, five” students put up their hand when it resonates with them. This gives students a great tool for reflecting of their learning, and seeing it as a progressive journey. 

9) Have a Growth Display: Set up a classroom display for students to write their own reflections. Have them write up their areas of growth, to note their successes and challenges, to write up things they are struggling with, to jot down their tips for their peers etc. This visual reminder in the classroom is a great way to keep students mindful of being reflective and valuing the process, and not just the outcome. 

[CLICK to download this quote poster to remind students of the importance of reflection]

10) Create a space for vulnerability: This is vital. In order for students to be able to truly reflect meaningfully and openly, they need to feel safe. You need to foster an atmosphere in the classroom where students feel open to sharing their weaknesses and reflecting on their challenges. This does take time, but it is integral for creating reflective learners. One of the best ways to start this process if for you to model reflection, being open and honest about your own vulnerabilities and areas of growth. (If you haven't yet read Bonnie's post about Building a Positive Classroom Community, pop over there for some real gems!) 

I really do hope that these tips will inspire you, and help you think about simple ways to integrate reflection in your own classroom. Why not try one of these tomorrow? 

Looking for more resources for incorporating reflection in your classroom? Check these out: 

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