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The Cyclical Power of Reflection

Reflection is more than just an afterthought; it’s a powerful tool that can transform learning.

By Lani Aquino

Reflection is often deemed as an activity or process that one completes at journey’s end. When reflection becomes an integral part of the journey though, the personal and academic growth that can occur is increased exponentially. Rather than viewing reflection as a culminating activity, reflection should be viewed through a new lens as a continual or cyclical process. When reflection is utilized before, during, and after students engage with concepts, lessons, projects, etc., the takeaways and lasting learning implications can allow students to reach new heights.

The image called to mind when reflection is mentioned can often be one of canned questions at the completion of an assignment- What did I learn from this?, What did I do well?, Where can I improve?, and so on. Most students will race through said questions with the goal of completion in mind and then move on to their next task without looking back. By modeling and scaffolding reflection as a cyclical process, students can begin to see the value in their reflective efforts and make the bigger and more lasting connections between activities, concepts, cross-curricular components, personal learning habits, and more.

How does reflection become cyclically powerful? When it becomes a part of the learning process during all of its stages. As students see the value in embracing the process, it can become an ingrained part of their thinking that can carry over to endeavors inside and outside of academia. The best way to introduce, teach, and ingrain reflection is by modeling it and providing initial resources throughout the learning process.

Before- Graphic organizers, brainstorming, and think-pair-share discussions easily lend themselves to reflective thinking in the before aspect of learning. As students go to tackle a new concept or activity, they can use any of the aforementioned tools to reflect on what they are already bringing to this current endeavor. This can give them more confidence as they realize how their prior knowledge can be used and/or allow them to garner the mindset for how to access the tools and resources needed to forge ahead. When the reflective cycle is active, students turn to their previous responses from the after stage to inform how they broach the before stage with new concepts.

During- As the idea of the cyclical process is first introduced, teachers will want to create reflective checkpoints as students work. These may involve students adding to or revising graphic organizers, conferencing with a teacher or peer about progress and goals, self-assessing their efforts with a provided rubric, or any other tool that allows them to reflect on their progress and make any needed adjustments before moving forward. When students reflect during the learning process, they are building the ability to self-correct and gaining an understanding of the importance of making adjustments and revisions during the learning process. This alleviates the frustrations and defeatist attitude that can come from arriving at what one thought was the end of a project or activity only to find square one must be broached again. Reflection sheds an important light on the fact that all learning is a work in progress.

After- This previously exclusive reflective stage still carries a powerful impact. As students come to the end of one endeavor, they need to deem how this particular path taken helped them grow as learners and how its takeaways can be applied to their continual learning journey. These takeaways can be gleaned from a variety of methods. Rather than a singular reflective piece to be completed at the end of an assignment, students could post responses on a continual reflective document/journal where they can literally see the growth and changes (or possible stagnation) in key areas that may apply to subject matter, work habits, attitude, etc. Anticipation guides are also an excellent tool for reflecting on the changes that can occur in one’s thoughts and attitudes during the learning process. Adding to and revamping an initial graphic organizer or actively discussing how the approach utilized contributed to the level of mastery and what adjustments to said approach could benefit future mastery would also bring students to a renewed mindset on how to enter the next before stage in the cycle.

Cyclical reflection may not be life-changing for every student, but it will offer them the ability to spotlight their own behaviors, both positive and negative, that impact their learning. Is difficulty with mastery and success the result of procrastination, poor planning, conceptual struggles, content delivery, etc.? As students begin to shine a light on themselves as evolving learners, they can begin to see how their behaviors contribute to their ability to achieve their goals. When students begin utilizing reflection as a cyclical tool, it may just make all the difference in how they view their present and envision their futures.

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