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Strategies & Activities To Teach Students How To Use Self-Reflection

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January 02, 2024


Reflection is a vital part of student learning.  If students don’t reflect, they can’t learn and grow. As with anything in life, if we don’t know what we are doing wrong or why we are doing it wrong, there’s no way to get better at it. Learning at school is no different. Here are some strategies to try with your students to help develop the skill of self-reflection.

The Foundation of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection can be a great tool for students to build confidence and improve in a variety of areas, but they need your guidance.

What should students be reflecting on?

Students need to learn to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. Not just academic strengths and weaknesses but also personality and character traits. Students should be encouraged to reflect on their effort and their motivation.

A great curriculum to help students develop grit is Making The Effort™ – a proven effective program that teaches students the value of effort in attaining success in work, school, and social settings.

Teach the Language of Self-Reflection
Empower students to self-reflect by teaching them vocabulary that lends itself to that reflection. Practice role-playing, and explicitly teach words that students don’t know that help students express their thoughts. Give students sentence starters to talk or write about, such as “I wonder….,” or “When ____ happened I felt ____ and I did ____.”

Activities to Stimulate Reflection

Here are ideas to help students remember what they did and evaluate their outcomes.

Sketch or Draw
Have students draw what they’ve learned or how they feel. Having a piece of art they can view is an excellent way to reflect on in the future. For example, if a child is very frustrated with a new concept, they could draw a picture of how they feel at that time. Over time as the concept becomes easier, they could draw another illustration of how they feel after making progress. They’ll see how far they have come and recognize how their hard work and effort paid off.

Make it Fun
Make reflection a game. Just like with any other skill, self-reflection takes a lot of practice, and kids are usually not very interested in rote memorization or repetitive drills, so make it fun! For example, you could put reflection questions on a dice, use apps, or play games to help students practice answering reflection questions after ordering or even before a lesson.

Portfolios lend themselves to student reflection. They have the added benefit of being available for parents to reflect on their kids’ work and to help their children reflect on their work. Things to include in a portfolio include student work samples or graphs that show anything from student behavior to growth in academic areas. When children look at their portfolio and see the growth they have made, it reinforces the value of self-reflection.

Journals have many of the same benefits portfolios except that they get into the heart of what a student is honestly thinking. When children journal, they can share their thoughts and feelings at the moment and then look back at them later. Even younger children or those who are unable to write independently can draw pictures, or they can have someone dictate for them.

Add Active and Collaborative Reflection Approaches

Students shouldn’t be restricted to only working alone for self-reflection, as peers can help. As can examples from leaders like their teachers.

Reflection buddy
Assign students a reflection buddy in the classroom. This is a student who they can talk with about their work or the progress in class. It could be a student in the class or a cross-age tutor. When grouping children in this way, be mindful of personalities and group children together in a way that they can build trust with one another. Also, give them a structure for answering reflection questions.

Model for students
Teachers self-reflect regularly. Good teachers know that their growth and improvement is never done. See our last article with strategies for personal reflection to improve your teaching.

Think out loud for students so they can hear your process.  Say things such as: “That’s not my best work, I could do better,” or “I worked hard on that. I’m proud of my efforts.” This helps show students that you’re using failures to growing and learning.

Come Back to Previous Learning
Don’t underestimate the value of spiral learning. Don’t just teach a concept one time and never talk about it again. Instead, review old ideas time and again. See something in the news or online you’d think would be relevant to an old topic? Try these strategies to use pop culture in the classroom to boost your students’ engagement. Doing this not only increases retention but also helps them to self-reflect and see their growth.

Growth mindset
Foster a growth mindset in your students. What is a growth mindset? It’s the idea that we are always growing and changing and improving. It’s opposite; a fixed mindset states that people are inherently smart or dumb. When your students develop a growth mindset, they can improve and increase their learning no matter where they start.

Give It Time

Be patient with your students. Self-reflection is a skill that even many adults have not mastered. It will take a lot of time, a lot of modeling, a lot of different activities, and a lot of practice. Some students will get it faster than others, and that’s OK. It’s a skill that takes time to develop, but well worth it!

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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