Looking Back, Looking Forward: Promoting Student Growth via Reflection

A lot of teachers like to encourage reflection among their students. After all, taking the time to reflect on experiences is integral to the learning process.

Reflection helps students become more engaged in the learning processIdeally, reflection lets students consider current ideas and explore how their knowledge is evolving. The key to effective reflection is to make sure you’re considering why your students are reflecting and what they hope to achieve.

You can assign reflection time anywhere in the learning process — before, during and after a lesson. Here’s a look at the essentials of reflection in each of these learning phases:

Pre-assignment reflection

Reflection helps before, during and after the teaching of new material because it encourages active rather than passive learning. Students who reflect before engaging with new material can activate previous knowledge and cement it with new information, which ultimately encourages overall retention. This process, often called scaffolding, lets students create crucial links that enable them to access and build upon information as they learn.

To promote reflection at the beginning of a lesson, reading or assignment, teachers can ask students to consider:

  • What they know about a topic before engaging with new material
  • What they think they will learn based on the title, images or information presented
  • What they want to know

Answering these questions early gets students actively engaged with the material before learning, strengthening the bonds to things they learned in previous lessons.

Midpoint reflection

During the middle of a lesson, ask students to take time to think about what they’ve learned and what they still need to know. Encourage them to consider:

  • What they knew before this lesson started
  • What they feel like they know now
  • What they are struggling to understand and where they need more learning support
  • What interests them and what they want to learn more about
  • What processes and methods have helped them to learn best, and which ones haven’t worked as well

Post-assignment reflection

The most common type of reflection happens after a lesson, when students are asked to consider what they have learned and how effectively they’ve engaged in the learning process. By reflecting after the fact, students can figure out precisely what they know now and contrast it with what they didn’t know before. And they can assess how the learning process could have been better. Teachers can ask students to consider:

  • What they learned best
  • What learning methods worked best and which ones didn’t work
  • Where they struggled to learn and what they could have done to combat those struggles
  • How their knowledge has evolved throughout the process

The goal of post-assignment reflection is to get students to think about what they learned and how they learned that information.

Ultimately, the reflection process encourages students to better understand content, cement the pathways that connect current to previous knowledge, and actively consider how they learn. When students take time to reflect, they become active participants in their own learning and they develop study processes they can use on their own to increase their academic success.

Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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