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The Importance of Self-Reflection in Learning

What happens when we allow students time for reflection? We empower them as learners. Not only does providing students time to reflect allow them the opportunity to build critical thinking skills, it also means they can develop their problem-solving skills and gain more independence in their learning.

We, as teachers, can deliver great lessons for our students, but without the right amount of time to reflect and assess, students may not have optimal learning or the chance to maximize their understanding.

What’s more, IB education promotes the development of reflective thinkers. It supports the fact that students should look back at their learning experiences, reflect on the content learned and identify gaps in their learning.

What is the importance of self-reflection….

Self-reflection influences learning in a significant way. This was recognized by the IB in 2018 as they took the step of removing reflection as a key concept and fully integrated the practice through all learning and teaching to strengthen ongoing inquiry. This proves the importance of self-reflection because it’s recognized as a more dynamic, continuous process.

Self-reflection is also ideal for metacognition – how can you be a better learner if you don’t consider your own thought process? When we learn passively, we don’t have enough time to reflect on our learning or the lessons, which means we are unlikely to draw upon the information again.

Additionally, self-reflection also means students have a chance to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and establish a path of positive self-evaluation that, importantly, includes speaking about any negatives. This helps students to track their own achievements and progress, promotes ownership over their work for growth and allows students to analyze their own learning.

After learning tasks, if students are encouraged to reflect on their own work, you’ll better retain their full engagement in class and also help embed concepts over a longer period of time. In this way, self-reflection helps us improve our memory and keeps our minds active, and it is ideal for looking back on learning.

Reflection can be done in a number of ways, but we’ve put together some ways you can encourage your students to engage more in self-reflection, as well as some suggestions on how you can gain qualitative data to inform your teaching:

Write goals

Make sure your students set goals (this can be done with or without your guidance) and then evaluate progress towards achieving them, remembering to note down progress and adjust any goals as necessary. SMART goals, goals which help in the setting of objectives, are ideal for goal setting and provide a clearly defined objective. You can see our blog on SMART goal setting which links to IB education for more information on this topic.

Self-reflect via exit tickets

Exit tickets are short activities that ask students a few questions about the lesson. For example, did you understand today’s lesson? Or what area(s) did you find most difficult today?

They are ideal for taking into account which students do or do not understand the lesson material and can help those that are struggling. This is also a great way to gain insights and qualitative data to help you as you can better understand the minds of your students by reading exit tickets.

Much in the same way, within Exact Path, EducationCity, and many of our other solutions, students can review their scores from activities completed, which means they can see what they may or may not have understood. This means that students can see their results immediately and even try to improve their scores in real time. This helps develop subject mastery but also means you as a teacher can gain valuable data for insights that will help inform your instruction.

Use cards to self-reflect

You can give students three cards – a green, a yellow, and a red card. Each of these cards represents something about how students feel about the lesson material. Green represents that students understand the lesson material, yellow means they need a small amount of extra help, and red means they don’t understand. (Don’t forget about one of our resource packs which can help you with this on page 27.)

You can ask your students to close their eyes prior to holding up a card and then raise which card they feel best suits them. You’ll gain an understanding of which students understand the lesson material and who does not – this is a great way to gain qualitative data to inform your teaching and really help you understand how students are progressing. You can then easily differentiate their attainment and set the green group extension work, the yellow group follow-up work for revision, and provide the red group with additional support.

Pair and share

With this method, students pair up and ask each other some questions about the lesson material. These questions are designed to get the students thinking and reflecting for themselves. Some questions to begin with include:

  • How did they do?
  • Did they understand everything?
  • What could be done better?

This method is easy to carry out in the classroom, and you can also listen to these conversations and gain qualitative data to determine any trends that may emerge which can help with adjusting instruction.

Make use of Journals or Diaries 

Another way of promoting self-reflection in the classroom is to give students the task of recording their feedback in journals or diaries. By filling in journals or diaries, you can encourage your students to focus on their own learning journeys and adjust their learning. By writing down ideas, students have an outlet to reflect on their thought processes, which provides them with insight into their progress.

By keeping a journal or diary, students can assume responsibility for driving their education forward, and this places them at the center of their learning. It also provides teachers with a working document of a student’s learning journey so they can better understand their abilities, feelings, and where any additional support may be required. This is a great approach for gaining qualitative data as you can assess the emotions across the class (you can use our IB Portfolio Reflection Checklist to help with this), and determine whether there are any students who are struggling, or whether they have a strong understanding of the work.

In Exact Path, we offer Mastery Trophies which are awarded to students each time they work on their individualized learning pathways. Afterward, you can see this data to help your progress monitoring and for informing teaching. Each set of up to four skills is then assessed via a short Progress Check to demonstrate mastery and reward understanding. For every skill that students demonstrate mastery on their Progress Check, they earn a Trophy. They can record their Mastery Trophies in a journal or diary to see their accomplishments and note down the next steps they have in their learning and anything they didn’t understand.

Self-reflection is an important aspect of learning, and when we allow learners the time to consider their learning progress and understanding, we are really providing them with an opportunity to evaluate themselves. This is why the IB focuses on self-reflection as an important concept that promotes inquiry at the beginning and end of a piece of work or unit. From it, you’ll achieve valuable insights to support the learning experience of both students and yourselves as educators.

For more information on promoting self-reflection, read our blog on assessments and how students should reflect on their assessment experiences to prepare them for success on future tests. We also have our student wellbeing and reflection pack, which helps students reflect on their feelings.

Questions about the importance of self-reflection in learning

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