Incorporating reflective learning in the classroom in ways that encourage disciplined thinking.

by Leslie Nicholas

Grades 9-12


One of the best ways to push students to better understand their own thought processes, is to use reflective thinking and retrospection. Reflection allows students to make connections between experience and prior knowledge and then to make meaning from it. Introspection forces to students to not only gain knowledge – it also causes them to create knowledge. That’s a much more exciting processes. It’s meta-cognition.

Because most kids don’t come into the classroom with a disciplined practice of reflection, it has to be taught to avoid superficial responses and discussions. Group reflection is most effective in cultivating skills like cooperation, flexibility, and collaboration among students – skills they will take directly into the world they will inherit.

In my classroom, reflection takes at least two forms:

-Students deliberate alone to develop an internal voice meant for introspection,

-Students reflect in groups to develop an external voice to build confidence, develop empathy, and learn to cooperate.

In my opinion, one of the jobs of education is to produce a citizenry that fully participates in the democracy and skilled reflection is a crucial part of that.


What I did well…

I thought the lesson with the students was effective in causing them to think and justify their stances with good reasoning. I also liked the fact that students shared their thoughts readily on some very difficult topics. I appreciated that students felt comfortable changing their minds, a sign that reflection is actually taking place. I believe the topics, while hypothetical, were relevant (abortion rights, elections, social media).

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

Upon reflection, the lesson was probably too teacher driven. If I were to do it again, I would encourage the students to discuss their ideas with each other more. I drove the discussion too much. I should have allowed the students to discuss with each other without my input.

Instead of providing some of the information, students should have been asked to find it in advance of the lesson. For example, students could have researched if scholastic journalists have First Amendment rights. They could also have investigated the areas of unprotected speech. They then could have used this information to formulate their opinions.

I also don’t feel I provided enough wait-time for students to reflect when responding to my questions. Next time I would ask students to reflect for a bit on their own and then incorporate group discussions with an emphasis on justifying their decisions.

I still want to grow this practice by…

I would ask students to generate a question from our discussion that still puzzles them. A reflective journal entry might also be appropriate.

I would want students to apply the concept of reflection to failure in their own lives. As adults, we know that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes, but only if we analyze why we failed. This would be an important skill for students to learn. Failure without reflection is foolish.


About Leslie Nicholas

Leslie Nicholas received the 2013 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence at a gala in Washington, D.C. considered to be the Academy Awar...

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