Reflecting on the work that has just been completed is one of the most valuable steps in the learning process, but it’s a step that is easily neglected in school. Students who take the time to look at what they’ve done and think about what they could do to improve are the students who make consistent, visible progress in their learning. Reflection is a competency that should be a routine activity in every student’s school day. Teachers know that students need to reflect, but time constraints make it easy to drop this relatively passive step that is already at the end of a learning experience.
Helping students develop positive learning habits is one way that we ensure that students are prepared to be lifelong learners. Thoughtful reflection has to be one of those habits, otherwise students are just engaging in the skills of the moment and aren’t building on previous learning. Getting students to take the time to ponder what they have learned helps them deepen their learning by connecting the various steps in their process and comparing them to previous experience.
One of the most useful results of reflection, in my middle school art class, is that it provides students with a way to show that they understand a concept, even if they haven’t been able to demonstrate it artistically. I ask students to write a reflection every time they create a product, and I provide prompts that target the learning goals. So, for example, if a student’s learning goal is to demonstrate that he or she can create an effective composition and use the Elements of Art to communicate, I will ask the student to reflect on the composition and on how the Elements were intentionally used. The resulting response helps me understand the student’s thinking and can provide evidence that they understand the concepts, even if they made some errors in their artwork.
Students are programmed to take on information at a shallow level and then discard it when the next lesson arrives. Providing time for them to consider what they’ve learned helps ensure that they aren’t just trying to finish a project, but that they finish a project with their focus on the learning standards.
I know that classroom time is at a premium and that many teachers feel the pressure to move students through their work as quickly as possible, but there doesn’t have to be a lot of time set aside at first. Begin by asking a simple question that elicits thinking about the key learning target at the end of a lesson. Students become better at reflecting as you prompt them to do it more often. It might even help if you practice reflection as the same time as your students, but posing your own question. This is one skill that you want your students to see you practice, because we know that students copy what we do.
Reflection is a part of learning that is too valuable to neglect. It’s a practice that supports students and teachers. It reinforces skills, understanding, and connections. Find a few minutes to reflect on that!