Why Student Reflections Matter

Reflections help students deepen their learning.
"Reflection encourages students to step back and view their work in a big-picture way that challenges them to push past seeing school as a set of day-in-day-out routines and towards a meaningful understanding of how they learn and which knowledge acquisition strategies are most useful to them."

More and more, educators are thinking beyond teaching subject area content and trying to provide students with a functional skill set that will help them navigate and thrive in the adult world. One skill or habit many educators work to impress upon their students is reflection. In a K-12 context, reflection means setting aside time to continue to think about a lesson, assignment, project or learning experience after the point of submission or assessment.

Reflection is a crucial part of 21st century pedagogies, such as competency-based learning and personalized learning, because it helps students build, apply and learn from the self-knowledge and metacognitive problem solving skills that drive progressive approaches. Reflection encourages students to step back and view their work in a big-picture way that challenges them to push past seeing school as a set of day-in-day-out routines and towards a meaningful understanding of how they learn and which knowledge acquisition strategies are most useful to them. Without reflection, students are simply learning information. With reflection, students are learning how to contextualize their work, refine their approach and embrace what works for them to grow into a successful, independent adult.

Here’s the tricky part, though: students are often resistant to reflection, at least at first, because it delays being “done.” Students love being “done” with assignments or units because that means their learning can stop and their knowledge or recall of the content becomes less important. For this reason, transitioning learners toward a regular practice of reflection can provide challenges, at least at first. Often, teachers find that their students initially craft very short, shallow reflections and have little more to say than, “I liked this assignment,” or “I didn’t like this assignment.” Too often, these first responses can lead to teachers abandoning the idea of reflection in the classroom, but it’s actually productive to see this initial resistance as the first step in building reflective learners.

Reflective practice, like Rome, wasn’t and can’t be built in a day. It’s vital that teachers understand that helping students reflect requires time, opportunity, proper modeling and a safe, responsive learning environment in which students feel they can break out of the comfort zone, take a risk and push themselves to grow. Additional learning tools like learner profiles and student SMART goals can make this transition quicker and easier by providing learners with additional data and reference points to guide and inform their reflections. Although establishing the routine can take some time, the best and most meaningful learning takes place once reflection becomes a regular part of the learning cycle that students feel ready for and are looking forward to.