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How to HONE reflection

Posted on: April 1, 2015

Have you noticed how reflection is mishandled so that it becomes negative?

When I was a teacher educator at NIE, I would overhear student teachers complaining how their tutors would make them reflect in every course.

I have also noticed how some school teachers require their students to write reflections if the latter misbehaved or did not do as told. This has led children to associate reflections with punishment.

That is why I try to find out WHY teachers want their students to reflect, particularly if reflections they want are to be part of a “whole school” approach or are over-structured.

Reflections by Gryphes, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Gryphes 

I like to describe reflection as a learnt behaviour that one must HONE. It must be:

  • developed as a Habit
  • ideally Owned by the learner
  • a Natural process of metacognition
  • linked to Emotion

Good habits are often a result of disciplined practice. A teacher might require his/her students to reflect before, during, or after a lesson to start this habit. The teacher should persist with such an effort and be a model of reflective thinking as well.

There are various structures teachers can use and I shared some in the tweet below.

Teachers should be careful to prevent scaffolds from becoming crutches or even barriers to reflection. Counter strategies might include varying the reflection scaffold, media, point-of-use, and frequency.

However, those strategies do not necessarily create ownership of the process or product of reflection. The teacher is still telling students to reflect as well as when, where, and how to do it.

To create ownership, teachers might consider asking students what they think about reflection, what structures they might like to create, and where and how they wish to reflect. For example, simple structure might be to mention two takeaways (teacher-imposed) but to give learners options on whether to write, draw, photograph, audio record, video record, etc. (learner choice).

If the reflections are collated in e-portfolios, teachers might look into ways of encouraging students to use tools or platforms that learners are already comfortable with. The range of reflection spaces is huge: blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, Pinterest items, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, podcasts, online stickies, etc.

Giving students choice and voice is a step towards strategizing reflection. There are pros and cons of each platform, scaffold, or strategy. Getting students involved helps them realize how thinking about thinking (metacognition) is a natural process instead of a forced one.

The goal of this form of nurturing is to get learners to realize how reflection is a natural extension of who they are, what they do, and what tools they use. It bursts the bubble that reflection should only happen at the end of lessons or only in classrooms.

Mandatory, structured, and teacher-directed reflections can become dry quickly if they are merely academic responses devoid of emotion. There is no reason why reflections cannot be fun or funny. Next to odour-linked phenomena, emotional events are the most likely to be remembered.

Rising above my suggested framework on how to HONE reflection, it might be obvious that the first two, habit (or automaticity) and ownership, are relatively easy to describe and implement. They might even be formulaic because these are functions of teaching practice.

The latter two, naturalness and emotion, are not as easy to describe. These are functions of a teacher’s philosophy of education. Does the teacher believe that his/her students have a natural capacity to learn or must they be prodded constantly? Does the teacher value the staid objectivity of content or does s/he make learning personal?

It is immensely gratifying to see learners reflect on their own volition because it is has become an automatic habit of mind. Such actions do not always come naturally; they are a skill set that can and must be honed early on.

2 Responses to "How to HONE reflection"

Jeff Johnson : RT @ashley: How to HONE reflection via


CHAN Hsiao-yun 曾曉韻: RT @ashley: How do you hone your ability to reflect? How about your learners’? #edsg via


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