Learning Reflections – are they really the “mind’s strongest glue”? 8 ideas for the classroom

[by Alice Lee, April 2017]

When students reflect on the teaching and learning process, they are strengthening their own capacity to learn and to think about their learning. Central to this is the principle of metacognition, where students are aware of and can describe their thinking in a way that allows them to close the gap between what they know and what they need to learn.

(Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell, 1996)

How can we help students to reflect? …8 ideas for the classroom

  1. With the Year 13 psychologists, in a revision lesson, Katy Jacques arranged the desks into tables which represent an essay title/area of Psychology. Students then walk around the room (without notes) writing all the things they can remember about the topic directly onto the table using whiteboard pens. “It allows them to physically see how much they know about each topic and therefore allows them to identify which topic areas they are less knowledgeable about which helps them understand that they should invest more time into revising this topic. Seems to work really well in terms of consolidating knowledge and they love the fact that they’re actually allowed to write on the tables!”

 2.  In Physics, Pete Wilson mentioned providing the students a key when reflecting on their work, to evaluate why they didn’t get things correct, such as:

1= lack of prep

2 = didn’t use correct terminology

3 = didn’t understand the question

4 = messed up the maths

5 = thought I understood the topic but didn’t etc.

Then the class evaluate which issues crop up the most (each question could have more than one reason of course).

A similar system is used after tests in the Maths Department.

3. Phil Heath in Biology uses concept maps a lot, completing one before and after revising a topic and looking to see how many extra links between concepts they can make.  Although hard to quantify, if used properly it is a quick way to show them how the revision has helped.

4.  In Year 5, a common reflection tool is using ‘2 Stars and a Wish’ (2 things you did well and one improvement for next time) :

or DIRT (Directed Independent Reflective Time):

5.  Reflective writing instead of homework.

Literacy researchers (Charner-Laird, Fiarman, Park, Soderber & Nunes, 2003) have argued that ‘critical  thinking, especially reflection, should be considered a basic skill’. They describe reflection as the ‘mind’s strongest glue’ for making ‘connections essential to understanding any subject’.


6.  Blogs place a natural focus on reflection and George Mayo finds that ‘technology rich strategies lead to deeper reflection’. “It’s powerful stuff,” Mayo writes here: https://www.edutopia.org/student-reflection-blogs-journals-technology and http://abud.me/reflective-learning-blogs/

7. Video Confessionals

Ruth Farmer made a makeshift recording booth in the corner of the classroom equipped with a stool and a video camera on a tripod, which she then surrounded with a curtain for privacy. When students had a free moment from their engineering investigations, they could duck behind the curtain, hit the Record button, and talk about how it felt to learn and what they learnt.

It can be done in pairs as a news reporter, standing or in the ‘studio’ with a set of prepared questions.

They could include:

  • What did you learn?
  • How do you know you learned it?
  • What got in the way of your learning?
  • What helped your learning?
  • How did you feel?

8.  Tech-Savvy Tools That Prompt Student Reflection

There are more ideas on this page:


And finally, some points for reflection!:

  • How might we structure a reflection?

  • Would peer-feedback help to embed the learning and help to ensure that students move on rather than repeat the same mistakes?
  • Would a digital portfolio help, so the students record their thoughts and learning, with evidence of what they have achieved?
  • Would blogging or video confessionals help to develop metacognition and therefore embed their learning?




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