Most agree that a necessary element of teaching
is to promote connections between what students experience and the meaning that they derive
from those experiences. One way for doing this is reflection.
Ancient sources suggest that reflection is multiform. For example, in the Old Testament,
the psalmist reported meditating on the law of the Lord by talking to himself day and
night. Elsewhere, in one of his fables, the Greek sage Aesop told of an old woman who
chancing upon an empty wine bottle, recollected the once fragrant contents of the remaining
dregs. In the Tao Teh Ching, the wise master Lao Tzu reminded the disciple that in order
to cultivate the mind, one must “know how to dive in the hidden deeps.” Yet again,
in the Bhagavad Gita, the hero Arjuna is advised to contemplate one action at a time in order
to avoid straying onto irresolute paths and innumerable distractions. According to these
citations, reflection could include activities such as meditation, recollection, cultivation,
and contemplation. A contemporary definition of reflection suggests
that it is thinking for an extended period of time about recent experiences, “looking
for commonalities, differences, and interrelations beyond their superficial elements.” John
Dewey defined reflection as “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or
supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further
conclusions to which it tends.” The Enlightenment philosopher John Locke defined reflection
as, “that notice which the mind takes of its own operations.”
Although there is no widely agreed upon definition of reflection, there is some consensus about
its general characteristics. Reflection involves time to thoroughly explore knowledge or skills
with depth. The corollary of having time to explore to achieve deep comprehension is avoiding
content coverage for its own sake, but rather covering the content according to student
learning progress. Another element is having students think about their own learning processes
and progress, which is often referred to as metacognition.
Like other instructional practices, effective reflection occurs when certain classroom conditions
are in place. Some conditions include and engaging curriculum, frequent use of informal
assessments, consistent opportunities to practice reflection, explicit instruction of strategies
for reflecting, and using verbal and written forms of reflection.
Metacognition provides a useful lens for integrating reflection as a learning activity. Metacognition
means thinking about one’s own thinking. The term itself derives from the Greek word
meta (after or beyond) and the Latin word cognoscere (to know or ponder). Students engaged
in metacognitive thinking consider subject matter and process, but they also consider
affective elements, such as importance, value, and meaning. It includes experiences, self-efficacy,
strategies, and comprehension of the goal or task at hand. It is not entirely divisible
from cognitions. An example of metacognitive thinking is feeling confused about a problem,
and recalling the same sense of confusion about a similar problem from some previous
point in time, then recollecting the set of strategies used to solve the previous problem
but applying them to the new one. Or again, a learner thinking in metacognitive terms
may say “I don’t get it… but I have seen this kind of problem before and I should…”
and then the learner takes steps for remediating his confusion. A learner who is not thinking
with metacognition may say “I don’t get it…” but then takes no further action.
Another model for understanding reflective activity is student voice. Student voice shows
evidence of learning from the students’ perspective. It includes a personal assessment
of learning process and performance. In this way student voice is similar to metacognition.
However, unlike metacognition, activating student voice depends on a learning target.
The content for reflection, according to the student voice model, is thinking about one’s
strengths, weaknesses, and where to go for help, with the learning target as the reference
point. For comparison, metacognition may include all of these activities, along with a broader
array of self-assessment practices, for example, open-ended questions which may be independent
of a learning target and therefore invite divergent responses.
A set of prompts for having students reflect according to the student voice model includes
Explaining the learning target in their own words
Expressing why the learning target is important Describing whether they have achieved the
learning target Analyzing their work to describe progression
across the lesson sequence Describing strengths, weaknesses, and at least
one way to improve, and Describing resources for improving performance
on a learning target. Some additional activities for promoting reflection,
which may be aligned with metacognition or student voice, include
I Learned Statements. I Learned statements are comments spoken or written by students
summarizing whatever they learned from the lesson. There are various ways to implement
I Learned, such as having students share their thinking with nearby peers, or writing an
Exit Slip. Questions for eliciting I learned statements include
What did you learn? What part of the lesson did you find most
interesting? What is the value of what you learned?
What do you think you will remember from today’s lesson?
Having students speak their I Learned statements aloud to a partner ensures an additional level
of engagement in the reflective process. During pair share of I Learned statements, the teacher
can circulate and listen-in to use information for deciding the next steps of instruction,
such as whether students need more instruction or practice.
A strategy similar to I learned is Key Idea Identification, which depends on larger and
broader unit-related goal statement, sometimes referred to as the unit focus, central focus,
guiding question, essential question, or big idea. Questions for engaging students to share
their thoughts about the key idea of the unit include
How does yesterday’s lesson relate to today’s lesson?
How do you summarize what you have learned from these last few days?
What is the key idea that explains our activities over the last few weeks?
Clear and Unclear Windows uses comparisons, rather than lesson or unit goals, as its subject
matter. Venn diagrams, tables, and graphs are visual representations of comparison.
A t-chart is a simple table comparing two or more characteristics of things. Marking
one side clear and another side unclear turns the chart into Clear and Unclear Windows.
Students use the chart for identifying parts of the lesson that make sense and those that
are confusing. Another step for engaging metacognitive thinking is to have students list a few resources
or strategies for clarifying confusing parts. Another visual learning activity is Learning
Illustrated, which many students find particularly engaging since most school work involves mastering
and manipulating numbers and letters. Images, pictures, diagrams, and other visual representations,
are just as important, and more readily understood by learners since most brain activity is occupied
with processing visual information. Some prompts for eliciting illustrations include
What picture can you draw to show your learning? Summarize your learning by illustrating a
graphic organizer. How can you represent this information as
a diagram? Assemble a flow chart to show the events or
steps. Another strategy is to have students switch
roles with the teacher and instruct a peer through I Can Teach. The Latin proverb, By
learning you will teach; by teaching you will understand, summarizes this strategy. Activities
for engaging students in I Can Teach are similar to those effective educators use for planning
lessons, and include Articulating the learning goal
Designing and deploying an activity Assessing the results, and
Reteaching if needed A final strategy is The Week in Review, which
is a summary of what students have learned at the conclusion of the week. The review
may be self-assessment of one’s progress on the learning targets, or simple descriptions
of learning activities. The summary may be completed verbally or in writing, independently,
or collaboratively. An outline or chart may be used to structure the review or clarify