November 12th, 2014

Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning


smiling female student

One of the best gifts teachers can give students are the experiences that open their eyes to themselves as learners. Most students don’t think much about how they learn. Mine used to struggle to write a paragraph describing the study approaches they planned to use in my communication courses. However, to be fair, I’m not sure I had a lot of insights about my learning when I was a student. Did you?

Teaching Professor Blog Before the semester starts to wind down, now is an apt time for reflection. Here are some pithy (I hope) prompts that might motivate students to consider their beliefs about learning. The prompts ask about learning in a larger, more integrated sense, and also challenge students to analyze the effectiveness of their approach to learning. Some of these are course specific, others about collections of courses, and still others encourage a more holistic look at learning.

  • A friend asks if he/she should take this course. Would you recommend it? What would you say students need to do if they want to do well in the course?
  • If you were to take this course again, would you do anything differently? What and why?
  • Think about your first semester in college (first course in the major, required general education courses, course work in this major, extracurricular activities—lots of possibilities here). Identify the three most important lessons you learned, say how you learned them, and what those lessons will contribute to your success in subsequent courses and in your chosen profession.
  • Which course has been the hardest for you so far? What study strategies did you use that didn’t work? If you were to repeat that course or take another one like it, what other study strategies would you try?
  • How quickly do you give up on something? Say it’s a problem. How long do you work on it before you decide you can’t do it? What strategies do you use when you’re stuck? Take a problem on a recent test (or the homework last night) that you couldn’t do and list all the things you tried. If you could ask three questions about the problem (other than how do you solve it), what would you ask?
  • Say, for example, you don’t think you’re any good at math, or that you can’t write or draw, what happens when you have to do these things? Does what you believe about yourself as a learner have any effect on how you perform?
  • Have you ever learned something you didn’t think you could learn? What? How did you feel once you had learned it?
  • What’s the relationship between natural ability and hard work? Can you still learn things for which you don’t think you have much natural ability? Can hard work overcome natural ability deficits?
  • If someone asked, “What kind of student are you?” How would you answer? “What kind of student would you like to be?” Could you list three specific things you are doing to become the student you want to be? What would you list?
  • You are applying for your dream job. The interviewer says, “I see you’ve taken a course in ____ . What were the most important things you learned in that course?” How would you respond?
  • The interview continues. “Students learn lots of content in college. They also have the chance to develop some important skills. What skills have you developed in college? What courses and experiences contributed to that development?” What would you tell the interviewer?

How could you use these prompts with your students? You could select a couple or let students pick one or two and write a short paper, which they get credit for doing, not for what they end up writing. You could then take selected quotes or themes that emerged from these papers and discuss (even briefly) in class. Or maybe one or two of the prompts simply show up on a PowerPoint at the beginning of class and a bit of silence follows for reflection. You also could post select prompts on the course website and encourage an online discussion around them. Or perhaps incorporate some reflections on learning into course evaluation activities.

If you’ve used prompts or have activities that encourage student reflection on learning, please take a moment to share. Your contributions to this blog so enrich the conversation.

© Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

  • Margaret

    Thank you Maryellen for another thought-provoking post.
    I work with university student on their writing/study skills. Some students seek out our service, while others are required to work with me (as part of mandatory support programming). I'm fascinated and constantly frustrated by help-seeking behaviours.
    I enjoyed your post and feel strongly that we, as teachers, need to facilitate this reflection on learning. In postsecondary, students often have created an image of who they are as learners–often a "fixed" image. Helping students reflect on change and growth is essential if we want them to take initiative–to believe that what they know and what they can do is changing and developing.

    When working one-to-one with students, I use questioning to draw out students' observations (i.e., have them realize and come to their own conclusions how they are approaching something, the effectiveness, their growth, next steps etc.)
    In groups, I often use cue cards. Students answer a questions like, what have you found difficult so far in this course and how did you overcome this difficulty, and then I collect and then redistribute the cards amongst the students. (no names are on the cards)

    Margaret Groombridge, Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction, Brock University Ontario

  • Gardner Lepp

    I have enjoyed your blogs for awhile, and this one is no exception! I work in a Pharmacy school in which the students are laden with heavy doses of science lectures. (Coming from my background – BA in English and PhD in Education – this was a big shock.)

    One of the struggles we've had is helping learners see the connection between, for example, chemical structures and the care of a patient. I've been using a technique I call "Intention/Reflection" in which the students begin a course or class session by digging into how they will best learn the given content, and how it will help them become better pharmacists. In short, I'm asking them to state their intention for the experience. The course or class session ends with similar reflection questions that tie up their responses from the intention questions, and ask how they will proceed next time they are faced with a similar learning scenario. The idea is to help students, especially those who are accustomed to passive learning, become more engaged and invested in their own learning. I believe this may help them become better life-long learners — something they'll have to do as the profession continues to change and evolve.

    Thanks for the great post, Dr. Weimer!
    Gardner Lepp, PhD
    Education Specialist
    University of Minnesota, College of Pharmacy

  • Tamara GantzlerWoods

    In my practicum course I teach a lesson on critical reflection. We discuss what it is, what it involves, and read examples. I ask these students to write critical reflections related to their experiences in the practicum site, but students could also be asked to write critical reflections of their own learning.

  • Gardner Lepp

    I have enjoyed your blogs for awhile, and this one is no exception! I work in a Pharmacy school in which the students are laden with heavy doses of science lectures. (Coming from my background – BA in English and PhD in Education – this was a big shock.)

    We've struggled with making sure learners understand the connection between, for example, learning chemical structures and the care of a patient. To facilitate this connection, I use a practice I call "Intention/Reflection" which helps foster this connection, and also promotes learner engagement. Essentially, we ask the learner at the beginning of the course or class period to self-identify how they will be most successful in learning the material, and how it might make them better pharmacists. At the end of the course or class period, we ask similar questions to promote reflection on their learning, and how they might change their learning approach to be more successful in the future. So far, we've had good success and students seem to genuinely appreciate the time before the lesson/course to consider why they're there, and how it will help. Additionally, I believe this practice will make them better life-long learners, which is imperative as a pharmacist because of the continually shifting nature of the profession.

    Thanks for another great post, Dr. Weimer!
    Gardner Lepp, PhD
    Education Specialist
    University of Minnesota, College of Pharmacy

  • Pingback: Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning | My Educational Technology Blog: A Place of Resources and Tools for Educators()

  • Misty Maynard

    I have never thought to do anything like this. I really like this idea!

  • leahmccurdy

    You are right! I'm going to use some of these questions this semester for a holistic reflection. I always ask my students to prepare a reflection section as the last component of the research project reports due at the end of the semester. Those reflections are specific to the project: how did conducting archaeological field research relate to previous scientific research or experiments you have done? How can you use these skills in future classes or careers? What did you enjoy the most about the project? What was the most challenging thing? If you could continue working on the project, what would your future plans be? How would you improve the project?

  • swamiwilly

    On my final I ask
    1. What is the most important idea you learned in this class? Has it changed your beliefs or behavior in any way?
    2. What did you like best about this class? What did you like least? What would you recommend changing?
    I use the answers to change things in my next teaching of this class.

  • C. Douville

    Many of the prompts you suggest require a reflection that will provoke the emotional connection to learning. This perspective speaks to the confidence, enjoyment, stress or anxiety that a student may have with learning. Your post suggesting that a prompted discussion of the emotions connected to the learning experience is an opportunity for the student to reflect on how and under what conditions they have been most successful.
    Great ideas – thank you!

  • D. Eastabrooks

    I teach Research Methodology at a University in the Pacific Northwest. Just last week I posted a midsemester questionnaire on Survey Monkey to gather feedback from my online students. The survey was a very short 4 question format including 3 open-ended questions. My open-ended questions are based on the theory of Appreciative Inquiry. Survey Monkey analyzed the results and I will use the students' feedback to improve the course. I always try to have a midsemester questtionnaire for the students to help gauge student progress and gather constructive feedback.

    • D. Grantham

      What questions did you use? Thanks for sharing!

      • Sad'e Holley

        This help a lot. Thanks

  • faiz

    I am teaching computer in education courses at An-Najah University in Palestine. Since the beginning of the semester, I focused a lot on self-reflection process, challenging students to rethink why they choose faculty of education, besides on making them use the web 2.0 tools like Blogs to try to trace their own learning experience inside my course.
    But it did not work

    • Sad'e Holley

      Do you have another method to help the student with course

  • Sade Holley

    If you were to take this course again, would you do anything differently? What and why? If I could retake psychology over I would. I would read more into the chapter and study more. I didn't like the fact I only had the class once a week. If I had the class twice a week I believe the class would be more interesting and I could had put more focus to the class. By the end of the week I really don't remember what I learned. If you really want to get the full affect on psychology then take the class twice a week and not once a week. Most of all I wish I did good in my test. I did horrible with my test. I just couldn't grasp all the important information.

    • Faiz

      Hi Sade
      Well Of course there is a lots of changes related to the specificity of the students themselves. There is a problem in the curricula due to the fact that I found my self dealing with students without the minimum culture or awareness about technology and education, despite the fact i am teaching students whom will teach English language in schools, in the near future.
      Nevertheless, I tried to do so mi-course trajectory modification to work more on awareness, like making them think and re-think why they choose this specific career. I also worked with them on their first collective learning projects, making them work in groups, dealing with each other to organize their presentation, etc.
      Next semester I will probably have new incomers freshmen like the current one, so I will have to come up with a plan to work more effectively on self-learning versus self-reflection because they don't know how to study and how to communicate.

      voila voila 🙂

  • A Corrigan

    This inspires me to create an engaging cooperative learning activity around these prompts.
    One activity might be to have an inside-outside circle structure. That is, two circles of people facing each other. Provide one prompt so that pairs of students can share their responses then rotate one of the circles a few people in the clockwise direction so that the pairs are different. They could respond to the same prompt or a different one. You could have several rounds.
    Alternatively, you could have THINK, PAIR, SHAREs, particularly ones where participants are standing up in the room. You could have several rounds of prompts by asking students to find a new partner after each round.
    I like to use cooperative learning wherever possible because I think it ramps up the meta cognitive benefits, is engaging, promotes collaboration, makes thinking a bit more public, and is fun.

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  • Doaa

    I knew reflecting was important but i didn’t realize its huge importance until one student’s answet. I spent a long time talking about plagiarism explaining that it is a serious academic offense and that it should be avoided, we did projects, and we tested free plagiarism detectors., etc.

    In the reflection I asked my students to cover some questions among which is “what’s is changed in your knowledge of plagiarism? ”

    To my surprise one of my students replied i don’t know what is plagiarism!

    So i had to explain to him individually.

    In my opinion,through reflections may be the teacher can really test the students’ knowledge.