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Author: Chitra Iyer
Published on:
May 1, 2022

What is Reflection and Why is it Important for Effective learning?

Reflection as an effective learning technique is quite underutilized in our rush-rush culture where children are jumping from one topic to another and one subject to another in order to keep up with the demands of the curriculum. Here’s how parents can introduce kids to the concept of reflection for effective learning.
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In this article:

What is Reflection?

Why is Reflection Important for Effective Learning?

6 Benefits of Reflection for the Learner

What Reflection is Not: 6 Common Myths About the Reflection Process in Learning

What is Reflection? 

The dictionary defines reflection as serious thought or consideration about something. 

In the learning context, reflection is a powerful technique to help us understand, make meaning of and improve on what we have learned. 

Think of reflection as the act of squeezing out knowledge from a wet sponge, but not letting the water go to waste. Instead, harvest the water and use it when you need it. 

Parents can help children become more effective learners by using reflection techniques on a regular basis, especially in subjects that the child finds challenging or unpleasant. 

Defining Reflection in the Effective Learning Context

Reflective learning, or using reflection techniques for stronger learning outcomes, is well-known in science and by educators, but children themselves and especially along with their parents, severely under-utilize this powerful tool. 

In the learning context, reflection can be defined as a learner thinking about a learning experience - what they have read, done or learnt - and making meaning of the material or experience in their own context.

Reflecting about a learning experience means thinking deeply about what has been learnt, making meaning of it, putting it in context, connecting to existing knowledge and thinking about how to improve and grow it. 

Reflective practices are essential to effective learning and mastery over any subject.


Why is Reflection Important for Effective Learning? 

The role of reflection in the early learning process and in student learning experiences cannot be understated. 

However, schools often do not teach reflection skills or offer students enough time to truly reflect upon a learning experience. 

We get so busy with studying, that we forget to reflect, to identify our learning gaps and fix them, or even think thoroughly about the relevance of what we have just learnt - the pressure to keep moving is just so high! Even report cards do not prod us into reflection. 

When there is a bad result, we simply turn to more of the same - more tuitions, more studies, more hard work, instead of reflecting on the causes of under-performance and fixing those. These are all ineffective learning techniques in the long run.

6 Benefits Of Reflection For A Student’s Learning Process

1. Develop a deep understanding of the topic learnt

An effective reflection habit can help students develop, first and foremost, a real and deep understanding of the topic they have just learnt or the learning experience they have just undergone. 

This is because, by definition, reflection means making meaning of what has been learnt - turning information into knowledge by the process of meaning making. 

When we are able to ascribe meaning to something, we are actually learning it, because we are finding where it fits in our broader context and understanding of the world.

2. Improve engagement with the learning process

By reflecting on something and attaching real meaning for that topic or subject in our unique context,  we become more engaged learners, personally involved in the topic. For example, algebra by itself may be a depressingly dry subject to me, but when I find it in something I love: nature, in the form of sequences and patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence on shells and leaves, I become personally engaged with the topic and make more of an effort to understand it. 

3. Improves active learning outcomes 

One of the problems with passive learning is that we don’t actually absorb what we learn into our long-term memory and are unable to recall what we have learnt at will. Passive learners simply learn something enough to spit it out at exams and then forget all about it.

With reflection, students can  build long-term recall. It is a core element of active learning - thinking about what they have learnt, reflecting on why they learnt it, what they enjoyed the most about it, what it means to them to have learned it, how they can apply it, and how they can improve their performance.

4. Improves self-confidence

Reflection as a tool of effective learning is so crucial for young learners who are still figuring out their strengths in a high-pressure educational environment. 

When they are able to take charge of their own reflection process, they feel more in command of their learning process and learning outcomes. 

They realize that they can think on their feet and make the most of a learning situation with the reflection process, and that goes a long way in helping them become confident learners. 

5. Higher ownership of the learning process

Similarly, reflection helps children and students take ownership for their learning process, accepting responsibility for their learning and personal growth, asking for feedback, and becoming aware of their own metacognitive process: i.e. aware of their internal thinking processes (thinking more deeply about their thinking process). 

Reflection provides a more tangible link between learning input and outputs and helps students experience the outcomes of their learning efforts. 

6. Improves learning to learn skills

Reflection as a process improves the child’s critical thinking and decision making processes, which are so central for continuous learning and improvement. When students reflect, they are thinking about how their work meets a certain standard, analyzing the effectiveness of their efforts, self-evaluating their performance, and planning on how they can improve their performance in future efforts.

They are also thinking critically about the purpose of what they have learnt and where it fits in their world view- all key to learn skills which improve intellectual growth and academic performance. 

What reflection is not: 6 common myths and mistakes about the reflection process in learning

1. Reflection is not evaluation

Evaluation is typically about the content, whereas reflection is about the process, as well as improving the process in future situations and different contexts.

2. Reflection is not feedback

Feedback is about asking for specific information about a certain performance, and using it to improve performance. However, while objective and constructive feedback can be part of the reflection process, reflection is not about pinning blame on anyone or self-flagellating. Reflection is as much about interpretation and contextualization as objectivity.

3. Reflection is not superficial

Honesty and objectivity are key to the process, and it involves going deep into the questions. Question selection is very important in reflection sessions: one powerful question can lead to more growth than a long list of superficial or just descriptive questions.

4. Reflection is not hindsight

While reflection cannot be done before the learning event or experience has occurred (and in that sense, it is reactive), it is not hindsight alone. Reflection relates to what has happened (looking back) but also analyzing what happened, and projecting the insights into the future.

5. Reflection is not without context or in isolation

Any reflective learning has to be approached in the context of other learning events and experiences. Otherwise, the learner cannot ascribe meaning and connections to the learning.

6. Reflection is not an automatic skill

It's a learned skill that takes time and practice from learners.  With your help, and a regular practice of reflection around the dinner table, your young learners will no doubt master the art of reflecting on their learning journey - and perhaps, so will you!

Also read: 

Types and Stages of Reflection for Families with Tweens and Teens

Growth Mindset Myths and Misconceptions to get Rid of Now!

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