Let’s come right out with it: Reflecting about learning is a commendable practice that should be embedded into any learning experience! For both teachers and
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
student reflection exercises
As longtime practitioners in our disciplines, we develop implicit skills that can be the source of some of the deepest learning for our students. In his book Experience and Education, John Dewey describes habit as “the formation of attitudes, attitudes that are emotional and intellectual…our basic sensitivities and ways of responding to all the conditions we meet in living” (35). Experiencing implies the sensing body, embodied learning, and Dewey does not shy away from the emotional dimensions of learning—both of which are often where the deepest learning happens, where students’ passion for a discipline ignites, and where experts’ best ideas originate. These often-overlooked dimensions of learning are also where empathy lives, and so it is there that knowledge might blossom not only into expertise but into wisdom.
Educators have long recognized the importance and applicability of critical reflection across a wide range of educational settings, yet in practice it remains a challenging and nebulous concept for many to firmly grasp. In education, the concept of reflection dates back to the work of John Dewey (1933), who defined it as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (p. 9). Dewey was the first to point out that experience alone does not constitute learning; instead, a conscious realization must occur for the experience to become a source of learning.
From the bold honors student to the timid learner in the back row, reflection can help students become more aware of themselves as learners. But because we often rely on writing as the primary mode of metacognitive reflection, some students, especially those who struggle with college-level writing, may not experience the full cognitive benefits of reflection. For such students, the stress of writing can compromise their focus on reflection.
There is little argument that reflective writing is a good way to foster critical thinking, encourage self expression, and give students a sense of ownership of their work (Chretien et al. 2012, Kennison and Misselwitz, 2002). This generation of college students has been doing reflective writing since elementary school so they are familiar with the process, even if not all enjoy it. Almost every academic discipline includes content on which learner reflection is appropriate; so the problem, typically, is not in creating the assignment but rather in assessing the work. How do we place a fair and equitable grade on an assignment that has so many variables? What are we looking for in our students’ work that we can reward and encourage with a good grade?
Promoting reflection is a goal endorsed by many faculty. They believe that students need to develop skills that will enable them to look at a piece of work they produce or an aspect of their professional practice and make accurate judgments about it. It’s not an easy skill to acquire, and practice is essential to its development. If teachers are giving students opportunities to reflect, they need to be able to assess how well students are reflecting and provide feedback that deepens the students’ skills.
When learners reflect, they thoughtfully consider (or reconsider) an experience. If the reflection is critical, it challenges the customary ways of understanding or explaining an experience. Critical reflection questions meanings and looks at assumptions. The opportunity to reflect on experiences develops critical thinking skills and helps students to learn things for themselves.