Learning does not stop when the course ends, or at least I hope it does not. As instructors and course developers, many of us would like to leave students and recent graduates with an interest in lifelong learning. After all, at its best, learning is limitless and looping. There is no set end point. Yet, learners’ busy schedules often get in the way of continuing education. Frequently, there is little guidance on how to revisit core topics or themes. The process of growing one’s knowledge post-course may need to be scaffolded.
One way to support learners’ continued education after the course ends—or even after graduation—is providing a reflection tool. Reflection tools offer self-coaching prompts so learners can meet their own continuing learning needs and individuals can work on reflection in their own time. Such tools respond to the needs of time-pressed learners. Crafting a reflection tool may require some upfront effort but can have long-term impacts. It makes a meaningful parting gift for students as your formal time together comes to a close.
Strengths and needs assessment
To start designing a reflection tool, we first need to assess the cohort’s strengths, needs, and guiding values. We can synthesize that information to develop a list of desired practices for learners to work toward which build on their existing capabilities.
Basing a reflection tool on learners’ own desires enables them to take ownership over their own coaching process (Shannon, McLaughlin, and Snyder 2021). Besides, addressing learners’ expressed needs is core to caring relationships (Noddings 2012). Also, individuals may resist professional learning because it conflicts with their values (Knight 2021). Alignment between the reflection tool and participants’ strengths, needs, and values improves the chances that it will be effective.
To understand each class’s strengths, needs and values, we can analyze documents (e.g., their assignments and course feedback), leverage observations of learners, and interview students (Snyder and Wolfe 2008). Even informal conversations can provide data for a reflection tool.
Identifying desired practices
The next step is to specify the observable and measurable practices that learners would like to work on post-course. “Observable” means that the practice is seen or heard of in your field, while “measurable” means that—based on how the practice is written—two individuals can come to an agreement about when the practice has been enacted (Shannon, McLaughlin, and Snyder 2021).
To illustrate, I am an early childhood education instructor who runs a medium-sized (70 learners) class on food education and mealtime practices for pre-service preschool teachers. Our hope was to strengthen preschool teachers’ child-feeding practices, post-course, through a reflection tool.
Through class observations and conversations with students, I saw how learners’ had knowledge of cleaning up dining spaces (e.g., encouraging children to use tissue paper as placemats). I also saw and heard how they shared values like enjoyment (i.e., they wanted children to have pleasurable mealtimes) and awareness (i.e., they hoped the children would eat mindfully, with an awareness of foods’ tastes and textures). I synthesized these strengths (i.e., cleaning up) and values (i.e., enjoyment and awareness) into the desired practice, “I arrange the dining environment so that it is pleasant, clean, relaxed and free of distractions” (see Figure 1).
Another practice (i.e., “I learn from children about their dietary practices at home”) in the reflection tool derived from learners’ interest in bidirectional sharing of information with families, as well as their belief that children are diverse and have different needs (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Desired practices
Eventually, you will have a solid list of practices—five to 15 is ideal (Shannon, McLaughlin, and Snyder 2021)—for learners to reflect on. These can be arranged in categories or bins for clear organization. In my case, the reflection tool included 15 child-feeding practices (arranged across six bins: Reflexive Practices, Environmental Arrangement Practices, Interaction Practices, Assessment Practices, Learning Practices, and Instructional Practices).
Questions and response options
Besides the practices, it can also help to include some questions and response options to each practice. I added columns with three questions to the reflection tool (see Figure 2):
- How much do I know about this practice?
- Would I like to support this practice?
- Do I use this practice?
To respond to these queries, learners were provided with options like “yes” and “not yet” (see Figure 2). These questions and response options enabled learners to self-report their progress. As a finishing touch, a final column in the tool invited learners to share any “examples, evidence and elaboration” regarding each practice.
Figure 2: Questions and response options
Once you have drafted an initial version of your reflection tool, it helps to share it with a critical reference group of learners for input. These learners can comment on the wording, appropriateness, and clarity of the practices listed in the reflection tool. After a few more edits, the reflection tool is ready for sharing with your full graduating class.
I piloted my own tool titled the Child-Feeding Teacher Reflection Tool in July of 2023. Then, I sought feed-forward on the tool from preschool teachers. They shared how the tool helped them grow their knowledge in the following ways post-course and post-graduation.
- Knowing gaps between thought and action: Preschool teachers highlighted how the structure of the reflection tool—particularly the three questions—helped them chart their progress in moving from envisioning to enacting each practice. One learner explained, “First, it is about knowledge. Then, about intention to support. And then, the action itself. So, I thought this was a very interesting way to reflect on my own knowledge gaps.” A peer added, “Then…if there is a discrepancy between the two columns, like if one is ‘yes’ and the other is ‘no’, I can think about it. It makes me think about, okay, why is there this discrepancy…”
- Knowing how to hold yourself accountable: The tool asked learners to highlight specific instances from their own child-feeding experiences when filling in the “examples, elaboration, and evidence” column of the reflection tool. Just glancing through the 15 practices listed in the tool, it could seem to learners that each one had been fulfilled. However, that impression was complicated when they had to provide proof of their actions. One learner said, “When you asked about evidence…I had to think of all my very factual examples. I realized that it’s not that straightforward.”
- Knowing change is possible: The reflection tool imbued learners with the motivation to update their practices. They grew hopeful as they started to see how continued learning could be realistically integrated into their everyday lives. As one learner said, “It’s reading [the reflection tool] on your own, and so that is very convenient”.
Overall, the reflection tool left learners feeling more confident in their post-course work. One preschool teacher shared, “With the reflection tool, I can kind of go, okay, I know that this is the idea, but I also know that I am limited by this constraint. And I can feel more confident about what child-feeding decisions I’m making, because I know I’m thinking about the why.”
Continuing education not only has the potential to enhance professional practices, it is also intrinsically fulfilling, and can add to learners’ confidence and self-efficacy. I hope sharing my experience with facilitating post-course learning can help encourage others to develop reflection tools adapted to their students’ specific needs.
Hui Wen Chin is an early childhood education instructor and course writer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. She teaches the elective course “Introduction to Edible Education for Children.” In addition, she is an EdD candidate at Northeastern University.
Knight, Jim (2021). “Moving from Talk to Action in Professional Learning.” Educational Leadership 78, no. 5: 16-21.
Noddings, Nel (2012). “The Caring Relation in Teaching.” Oxford Review of Education 38, no. 6: 771-781.
Shannon, Darbianne, McLaughlin, Tara and Snyder, Patricia (2021). “Effective Practices and Strengths and Needs Assessments.” In Essentials of Practice-based Coaching: Supporting Effective Practices in Early Childhood, edited by Patricia Snyder, 180-217. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing.
Snyder, Patricia and Wolfe, Barbara. “The Big Three Process Components in Early Childhood Professional Development: Needs Assessment, Follow-up, and Evaluation. In Practical Approaches to Early Childhood Professional Development: Evidence, Strategies, and Resources, edited by Pamela Winton, Jeanette McCollum and Camille Catlett, 13-51. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.