When you ask people to reflect on their work or their learning, you get all kinds of excuses – “Who has the time?” “I’m too busy.” “This is a silly.” And then, probably, the real reason why people do not want to reflect – “This makes me uncomfortable.” When, in reality, we reflect naturally everyday. There’s no specific formula for reflecting on our thoughts and feelings about an activity, it just happens as we process our thoughts and feelings. Anytime you start a comment with, “Now that I think about it…” or “On second thought…” or “Looking back, now I think…” you are reflecting.
So, why does the process of reflecting on our work make us so uncomfortable? It requires us to think about what went well, and why. It makes us think about what did not go well, and we have to think about why. It requires us to understand what we believe and the reasons for those beliefs. And then we have to think about what is next.
If it makes us uncomfortable, why do it? A great answer comes from John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experiences.”
Profound learning, learning that lasts, happens when we reflect on our experiences.
Here are six benefits to reflection:
- Connecting Learning
Reflection provides opportunities for us to link new learning and experiences to previous learning. Most educators understand the need for scaffolding learning, and reflection provides opportunities for learners to think individually, or with a group, about those connections. Think of it like a chain – each link makes the chain stronger and more useful.
- Making Meaning
Reflection provides opportunities to construct meaning from new experiences. It is difficult to make meaning from an experience when you are caught up in the experience. Stepping back from the experience gives us an opportunity to make meaning from the experience.
- Higher Level Learning
Reflection provides opportunities for more complex learning. It requires us to think critically about the learning and to problem solve what will happen next – two beneficial skills for all learners.
- Review Your Work!
Reflection is simply a process of going back over the learning. We all learn more when we go back over the learning, and reflection requires us to think back on the learning, sometimes more than once, and process the experience.
- Do You Believe It?
Reflection allows us time to think about what we believe about the learning and what we are willing to admit about the experience. It is like looking in a mirror and seeing the learning or experience through different eyes and deciding how it fits with our beliefs.
One of my favorite reflection questions to ask when I am working with a group is, “What are you leaving here committed to do differently as a result of our work today?” A large circle, standing Shoulder to Shoulder, at the end of a day of learning, responding to that question, is the ideal way for learners to reflect and commit to what happens next.
We cannot allow our discomfort to prevent connected, meaningful learning that lasts. The ability to reflect is a skill that we develop by doing. How will you reflect on your own learning and experiences, and how will you make sure that students are given opportunities to reflect on their learning? How will you make learning last?