Reflecting on Reflecting

We can probably all agree that reflection in an integral part of the learning process. It is essential.

We can probably also agree that not all reflections are equal. Reflection is a skill. Students need to practice the skill of reflecting, and they need scaffolding with the basics of reflection. Reflecting on reflecting becomes a necessity to build that skill.

I see a lot of reflections in classes in my current role, and I have asked my students to do a lot of reflection in the past. There are many forms of reflection, all of which are valid, and all of which need to be practiced. Oral reflections with partners, oral reflections individually (via audio or video), written reflections individually, etc. One is not better than the other. They are different. Everybody has a personal preference on how they like to reflect. Many of our young students are still trying to discover their preference, and they need to be exposed to a lot of different possibilities.

That is not what I want to discuss in this post. I want to look at the quality of the reflective task.

I have noticed certain "levels" of reflective tasks:

In the first level, teachers are asking students to reflect in a very general sense. It is too wide open, and it leaves students (especially our young ones) lost. The space is too large, and there is no clear purpose. We want students to be more intentional in their reflection. The quality of the reflection (from the student) is thus influenced by the quality of the task (from the teacher).

In the second level, the teacher is asking the student to reflect on very specific aspect. We are asking them to think about their "approach to collaboration", which asks them to think specifically of the strategies employed. This is more specific, and occasions more thoughtful reflections on specific concepts and ideas. Yet, we are still not giving them a how. How do you reflect? What do I need to do to reflect? What is reflection?

In the third level, we are asking students to reflect on the specific strategies (or concepts or knowledge, whatever your goal is) but we are also giving them a specific tool to do so. The tool will focus them on a space, and in the space we can have purpose and intention.

Through our own intentional reflection on reflection, we can begin to notice and improve the quality of our reflection tasks. We can begin to move from level one tasks, and support our students up to level three tasks.

But here is the most important part....

Over time, we want our students to taking control of their own reflection, to be choosing their own tools, and to be determining the purpose and intent of their own reflections. After practice and explicit focus on reflection as a skill (reflection on reflection) students are hopefully moving back down the levels independently. In a reflective classroom, a teacher could say, "please take some time and reflect on your learning" and the students are taking that task and asking themselves "What is the purpose of this reflection? What am I being intentional about? (level 2)" and "What tool will I use to reflect on this? Which tool fits the purpose and intent? (level 3)".

Here are some ideas to put this into practice (and future posts I will get to, in more detail):

  • Make time for reflection, build them into every task you design as a natural part of the process
  • Don't use the word "reflection". It creates an otherness, separates the task of reflection from the learning happening in class. They are not separate parts. They are all part of the same provocation.
  • Be specific about your reflection tasks and ask your students to reflect on targeted aspects of their learning (level 2)
  • Be thoughtful in your choices of reflective tools and strategies (level 3)
  • Create a wall of reflective tools and methods, adding new ones as the year progresses
  • Ask students to reflect on which tool is the most effective for certain circumstances. Slowly introduce ways for students to choose their own tool.
  • Model reflection. Model quality reflection. Model poor reflection. Reflect on the difference.
  • Reflect on reflection.


What do you pass on?

Does your school have a pass along folder? Something that you record at several intervals along the school year, stick in a folder (digital or literal), and then it follows the student to the next level of their education?

Is it useful? Do future teachers look at it? Does it inform their practice? Why do you do it? What is the purpose of it?

During a brainstorming session with our school head, we wondered about what it would look like it we passed on strategies instead of work samples.

  • A rubric that really helped students write meaningful stories
  • A visible thinking strategy that they understand and are excited by
  • A list of verbs that help them design their own summative assessments

An artefact that became a tool that had influence over the group, and led to deeper and more meaningful learning. These ideas that we come up with, that really work, what happens to them in the long term? Are they forgotten? Are they lost? Does it continue to influence a students thinking and learning if it is no longer in their life? Are we trying to reinvent the wheel every year?

These artefacts need to grow, to expand, to be continually updated and improved, and they need to continually be part of our learning if they are going to have a lasting impact?

Isn't that what we should be passing on?