One of the most valuable teaching moves we can make to help our students become more thoughtful, more self-directed learners is to build reflection activities into our instructional plans as frequently as possible. As educators, it is easy to focus so much attention on the “front-end” aspects of lesson planning, such as how we will capture student attention and how we will present new material, that we can easily wind up giving lesser emphasis to the closing stages of classroom activities. Time, of course, plays a huge role in this imbalance. Classroom minutes have a way of flying by, and even when we schedule end-of-lesson reflection activities, we sometimes simply run out of time to do them.
In this article I share three main types of reflection activities that I use in my classroom whenever I can. Finding time for students to reflect on their work is especially critical at the conclusion of math problem-solving exercises and other open-ended, higher-level thinking activities during which the children are required to employ different strategies or carry out a process from beginning to end. When we encourage students to reflect on the results of their strategies or their cognitive courses of action, we empower them to develop important metacognitive skills and get to know themselves as learners on a truly deep level. Regardless of how successful the kids may have been in a given activity, offering opportunities for them to reflect afterward increases the likelihood of success the next time around.
How to Incorporate Reflection Activities into Lessons
1. Written Reflections
On those rare occasions when we have 10-15 minutes remaining at the end of a class period, I ask my students to reflect on their work in writing. I have a collection of prompts that I like to use, and depending on the type of activity we just completed, I will employ the one or two that best fit the situation. Consider using such prompts such as:
- What was the biggest challenge you faced during this activity?
- What did you learn about yourself during this experience?
- Which part of this piece of work makes you the proudest?
- Which part of your work are you the most determined to improve in the future?
2. Oral Reflections
When 3-5 minutes are left on the clock, I like to gather my students on the rug in the front of our classroom and have them share their reflections orally. To maximize participation, I employ the think-pair-share strategy. If children have about 30 seconds of quiet “think time” to come up with a response to a reflection prompt and then another minute or two to share their thoughts with a partner, they are far more likely to volunteer in the whole-share conversation that follows.
3. Hand Signals
On those occasions when time is extremely tight, yet I feel the need to end a lesson with some reflection, I will incorporate the use of hand signals. Depending on the type of question I ask or the type of prompt I pose, the children can respond with a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down or show a given number of fingers that represent levels of a rubric or rating scale.
Students will grow mightily as thinkers and learners when we consistently give them meaningful opportunities to reflect on their work. Over time children will begin reflecting on their work independently and taking greater ownership of their learning.
About the Author
Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time and Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For weekly Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit stevereifman.com. You can also follow Steve on Twitter.