Learning to reflect; reflecting to learn


Each New Year brings reminders to reflect on our accomplishments of the past and to set goals or resolutions for the future. A useful endeavour, one could argue – something I recently asked my class to undertake in their New Year’s blog posts. However in doing so, I began to question my understanding and teaching of the skills required to reflect and the importance of reflection to learners of all ages.

  • What are the skills needed to reflect?
  • What does it mean to be a reflective thinker?
  • Does the act of sharing our reflections with others – in person or in print – lead to deeper understanding of ourselves as learners and the world around us?

The BC draft curriculum outlines three core competencies – thinking, communication, and personal and social competencies – that cross all curricular areas and define the “set of intellectual, personal, and social skills that all students need to develop in order to engage in deeper learning.” Although a profile has not yet been outlined for a reflective thinker, an initial draft of the competencies describes reflective thinking as “the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking and learning processes, to ask what worked and did not work in a given situation, to make connections to existing knowledge, and to identify what one can do differently next time in order to learn more effectively.”

This reflective thinking skill set is required for all aspects of the curriculum and for all competencies. To be a skilled communicator, one must reflect on previous experiences, reflect while communicating, and apply the learning from reflections to future communication. The same can be said for thinking creatively and critically, as well as personal, social, and cultural interactions and understandings.

Kath Murdoch describes the inquiry process as two streams of inquiry happening side-by-side: an inquiry into the big idea or content and an inquiry into ourselves as learners. Reflection is essential for this side-by-side inquiry into ourselves not only as learners, but also for any inquiry into ourselves as citizens, friends, artists, teammates, colleagues, and teachers.

Reflection needs to happen multiple times throughout the learning process. Reflection while we are actively learning provides us with feedback that can alter our learning journey. For example, when shooting a basketball, I get immediate feedback that can be utilized. Not enough arc, I hit the rim. Next shot I think of the arc and overcompensate. I get immediate feedback again as I hit too high on the backboard. I try again and get the feedback of: Swish! Nothing but net. This kind of reflection-feedback loop should occur in our all of our classes.

Many classroom reflections occur at the end of the learning experience and have students sharing strengths and identifying ways to improve their work or enhance their learning in the future. A 2014 study entitled, Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance” demonstrates that reflecting on our thinking enhances our performance on future tasks and learning activities. While this seems very logical, the interesting part of this research suggests that the improvements in learning come from an increase in our self-efficacy: our belief in our own capabilities for the task at hand. Reflection allows us to see the positives and to “build one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal.” Reflection builds self-confidence, makes tasks seems more manageable and this is what leads to improvements in learning.

As teachers, we can model reflection strategies for our students by keeping journals, writing blogs, making connections to curriculum, and asking questions. However, as teachers who are exploring and learning new curricula, core competencies and instructional strategies, we can recognize that reflection is essential to our own professional learning. Taking time to reflect, with ourselves and with others, improves our personal confidence and self-efficacy –our belief in our capabilities and capacities with these new ideas — making implementation more manageable.

I hope to use this blog as a space to reflect as I learn more about learner profiles for the core competencies and their facets. By engaging in conversations with others, acting, reflecting, sharing feedback, and then entering the loop again, we can build capacity and confidence within each other.

Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts.

Here are a couple of links for teaching reflection in your classroom. Please add your strategies to the discussion.

5 thoughts on “Learning to reflect; reflecting to learn

  1. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for getting me thinking anew about reflection and the value of making space for it. It is always a challenge for me to make and create time and place for reflection. This will be a really interesting voyage for our students and teachers as we look critically at what it means to reflect on thinking skills. I know that I am guilty of “fitting everything in” and need to slow down in order to make space, time and place for this to naturally occur within the learning journey my students and I are on. It’s not a rushed process. What could/does it look like for a 10 year old? How do we scaffold this practice within our whole school so that by grade 7 it’s a natural practice. I’m excited but feel really uncertain what it look like. I kind of like that uncertainty. It’s the fuel to uncover the possibilities.

    Thanks for wisely crafted words probing our learning community down this path.


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