Teaching Self-Reflection

The early 2000s were good to me as I began my teaching career.  It was a service-learning or gifted program training, or probably both, that taught me the importance of teaching our students to be reflective about their own learning.  Teaching our students to self-reflect, and giving them time during class to practice this skill, helps them examine their learning experiences and internalize them. There are many people who naturally self-reflect, I am one of them, and so the idea of teaching our students to do this, opened my eyes to the fact that some people need to be introduced to this concept.  Just because I naturally self-reflect doesn’t mean that I am better than someone who doesn’t come by it like me. In fact, it’s like other areas of learning, for instance math concepts, that some people are naturally more inclined to be successful in than others. It’s our duty to share our strengths so others can learn and let it help them, too. Otherwise, we’d have few people in this world who knew Algebra…can I get an “Amen!”

As a professional, self-reflection helps me identify the strengths and weaknesses of my lessons.  It gives me a healthy way to examine my lesson delivery and improve or dump, as needed. It helps me examine others’ way of teaching and if I learn something from them, I can add it to my repertoire.  When I meet with my administrator, I find it empowering to look at areas of needed growth as a learning experience, I can accept critical feedback so much better and put it into practice as necessary. In fact, examining your own practices shows your employer you are coachable…and none of us is perfect, but having coachable people on your team goes such a long way!  

Teaching children to self-reflect can be a little difficult at first.  When we think about it from our adult minds and have a picture of what it should look like, we are often disappointed.  This is a natural reaction at the beginning of this reflective journey. As we teach our children to examine their thoughts, both positive and negative, we need to keep in mind that this kind of honesty is not as natural for them when they’ve been in trouble for voicing their thoughts in previous grades.  Some have never been asked what their thoughts are and have no idea where to even begin in this journey. They may know their multiplication and division facts, but do they know, have they learned, that the thoughts in their minds are just as valuable? Maybe even more valuable? Most have not, until they meet us, those educators who are trying to show our students that their minds are amazing and they are worthy humans.  

Here are some ideas that can help you help your students to self-reflect, and it’s never too late to start this journey!  Remember that we adults are learning and growing in our teaching practices, too!

  1. Model what you expect.  You can use an academic response frame with a word bank, and you can even use discussion about an experience to develop your bank, together.  
  2. Socratic Seminars are a great way to start reflecting.  Reflect on something that isn’t personal, so they can get used to the process of examining without feeling afraid of what others might think. Teach them that everyone has something valuable to share, and that listening to others is as important as sharing their own perspectives.  
  3. Disagree amicably, and if you are an AVID school, they have wonderful resources on this subject!  Teaching students it’s okay and natural to have disagreements, but to respond with respect, is a skill that gets us ready for our college and career paths, and helps us learn from others (which is even more important).  
  4. Switch up the types of reflections.  I use discussion and written work to reflect, and many times both.  After discussion, students can reflect using a quick write on a post-it note (an AVID skill that helps even our budding writers as non-threatening).  I also like to use a four-square method, where students divide their whole paper into four squares. Top two squares are dedicated to title and illustration of subject matter being reflected upon, and bottom two squares address learning prior to event and what they learned after said event. Questions they now have can also be part of their written reflections.
  5. Acknowledge your students’ thoughts!  Praise them for their honesty and growth!  Address questionable areas of confusion and bask in their social emotional learning as well as academic progress.  Our students have so much to say, and listening to them encourages them to keep sharing and teaches us how to grow in our profession, too.

Most of us teachers make it a priority to have high expectations, as we should.  But keep in mind that our students will grow in this area, and self-reflection is a higher order skill.  If we are too critical of our students at the beginning, we could lose them for the rest of the year because our influence is great in their lives.  It was a colleague outside of my class who was amazed at the honesty being shared by my students that helped me see this and get past initial disappointment. In my experience, the growth in the area of self-reflection, is something that takes time and will flourish when done regularly.  

Do you self-reflect naturally? Do you regularly use reflection as a tool in your class? What are your questions or things you’ve learned along the way?  Please share with all of us

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Published by Melody McAllister

Believer, Wife, Mother of 5, Educator, and KC Royals Fanatic! Garland NAACP Educator of the Year 2017 Follow me on Twitter @mjmcalli

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