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Author: Chitra Iyer
Published on:
April 30, 2022

Types & Stages of Reflection in Effective Learning

Get familiar with the various types of reflection so you can choose the way that works best for you and your child. Whatever method you choose, always practice reflection through all 3 stages.
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Reflection -or Reflective Practice -is a scientific technique for effective learning. Many famous educational theorists and scientific leaders have developed their own reflection models. Some of them include Gibbs, Johns, Driscoll, Dewey, and Schon.

This is not a technical paper so I won’t get into each one - but at the core of all their theories, which consist of different stages and approaches, is the capacity to reflect on a particular learning action or experience in a way that leads to continuous learning and improvement.

The essence of reflection is to strengthen and improve learning, and take the most out of a learning experience. Reflection can transform a passive learning experience to an active one, and elevate both - the performance and the strength of the learning.

3 Stages of the Reflection Process for Effective Learning

Reflective Learning Stage 1: What

Descriptive stage to set the context of what happened in the learning experience

Stage 1 of the reflection process is the descriptive part of the process. It simply consists of stating the facts of the activity, experience or topic, in order to set context. Essentially, the learner will ask herself WHAT questions. What happened? Who was there? Where did it happen? 

Reflective Learning Stage 2: So What

Analytical stage that helps build hindsight and insight into the learning experience 

Stage 2 is the analytical part of the process. In other words, the part where hindsight kicks in. It involves asking deeper questions about the learning, feeling and possibilities. However, it must be done without evaluation or judgment - simply stating the feelings before, during and after the learning event. For example, questions such as: how did it make you feel, why did you do it this way and not that way?

What was challenging for you? What was easy? What made you frustrated or what made you think? What can I control in this situation? What is out of my control? What mistakes am I repeating? What do I need to do to stop making them? What small changes and improvements can I make?

Reflective Learning Stage 3: What Next 

Projection stage for improvements and committing to action for future change

Stage 3 is the projection part of the process. Taking the insight from the hindsight and turning it into foresight for future similar events or future different events where this learning may be applied. It involves asking questions such as how can you do it differently in the future? In what all situations can you apply this? I learnt something, so what? What can I do with that learning in different contexts?

How does it help me? How does it help anyone? How can it be applied to similar situations but also adapted and translated to other situations?  Especially situations beyond the immediate problem I learnt this in? What was I able to accomplish with this experience? How does it relate to other things I know? What are the next steps I want to take? What options are available to me and what resources can I use to improve the experience?

Types of reflection

1. Self-reflection

A useful tool to explore our own personal practice, motivations, attitudes and beliefs on a daily basis. Self-reflection makes us aware of how we are learning. In fact, learning without reflection is learning blind. 

As John Dewey, the eminent psychologist says of reflective practice, self-reflection is the key to driving personal engagement in learning. Without being personally invested in learning, there can be no real learning outcomes. 

2. Documentation

A key part of reflection is to go through the process. Once the thinking process is done, the documentation is a crucial follow-up to cement the learning and insights. Documentation can be verbal or written, and entails a critical analysis of what one has learnt from a learning experience. 

3. Journaling is a popular method for self-reflection

Learners can keep a journal in whatever way they are most comfortable with - video, audio, journal, art, dance or anything else that works including tweet and blogs, music, photography, or other forms of visual reflection. 

4. Active or critical reflection

The practice of deliberate and active ownership in the reflection process, by thinking about what has been learnt, asking questions, challenging assumptions, discussing and debating, making meaning of the information in order to connect and apply it to different contexts. 

Active reflection leads to active learning -  a process of ‘decide - do - reflect - improve’. 

It is the opposite of passive learning, which is really a process of ‘memorize- giving exams- forget the information’.

5. Guided reflection

Needs a trained coach or mentor for structured reflection between 2 people. Typically, in the case of students, it would be the teacher and student, but can also be the parent and student if the parent is trained in guided reflection practices. Guided reflection in a classroom setting can be 1:1 or one to many group reflection as well.

6. Distilled reflection

Typically, this is a process of reflection based on multiple learning experiences, perhaps at the end of a term or at the end of some long-drawn coursework, especially something that the student found challenging.

It consolidates a lot of reflections over a few days into a single entry, and enables a student to reflect upon the reflections over a period of time.

7. Co-reflection or 1:1 reflection 

This is the kind of reflection technique I use at home with my children. It is when the two or three of us reflect on a learning process together. This is especially useful for parents of learners who want to inculcate the practice of deliberate, active, critical reflection for optimal learning outcomes. 

Reflecting by thinking alone (self-reflection) may not be enough as the young learner may end up reaffirming their existing and often limiting beliefs and thoughts. To get the real benefits, nurturing a culture of conversational reflection at your home is key, and that is where a parent-child or family-reflection practice can be really useful. 

Reflecting everyday in the daily context leads to mastery over the reflection process

With early learners, it is often recommended that parents deliberately create reflective conversations in casual settings, and coax the young learner to move from the first (easiest) stage - which is the descriptive stage, towards the stage of thinking about how the learning experience felt, and what they would like to change about it.

Start with non-’study’ related experiences and make it about learning, careful to steer clear of your own opinions, judgments and commentary during the process.

Infographic about reflecting on reflection

Get this infographic as a handy one-pager by clicking on the PDF icon below

Also read:

Learning Techniques to Learn Anything Better

3 Effective Learning Skills They Won't Teach at School (but Every Student Needs to Learn)

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