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The end of the school year--a time for reflection.

WHEN YOUR STUDENTS HEAR THE WORD REFLECTION, they may first think of what a vampire doesn't see when he looks in the mirror; but what they should know is that it can be a very valuable tool that will serve them well throughout their lives. Derived from the Latin term reflectere, reflection means to bend back or send back. When applied not to light but to thinking, it has a meaning that suggests further consideration, more thoughtful meditation or a deeper contemplation. It is a way of looking back on what has occurred, and as the end of the school year approaches, teachers often use it as a way to help their students look back upon what they have learned or still need to learn.


Many of the resources on reflection in education cite the work of John Dewey, whose educational philosophy included the principles that education should lead to personal growth, should contribute to humane conditions and should engage citizens with one another. The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse notes in its fact sheet on "Reflection in K-12 Service-Learning," that, "Reflection helps students gain a deeper understanding of what they learn, applying what they learn to real-life situations, and developing increased problem-solving skills."

It also notes that through reflection, students can improve basic skills, such as reading, writing and speaking, and develop higher-level thinking.

Reflection for Students

Writing is a common way to use reflection, and students may implement the process through journals, essays, narratives, biographies, interviews, case studies and documentation of projects or lab experiments. Reflective writing in career and technical education (CTE) may include reasons for choosing to explore a career, or an area of focus within that career. The student may reflect back upon how his or her perceptions of that career may have changed, and how his or her goals for the future may have been altered or perhaps more strongly reinforced. Reflective writing may examine how a student has been influenced by guest speakers who have come to the class during the year. It may require the student to look back upon a particular project and reflect upon what he or she learned, what skills need to be further developed, and what was successful.

Another way in which students may rolled hack upon the year is by using visual forms such as art, photography and computer graphics. Their classroom presentations might incorporate one or more of these different spoken, written and visual projects.

Reflection is most often an individual pursuit, and educators experienced in the practice say that teacher feedback is very important. However, reflection can also be utilized as a classroom group discussion, often in the form of a "reflection circle," with the teacher serving as facilitator. In the mathematical version, a ray is reflected inside a circle, but in the classroom version of a reflection circle, the ray is instead the spark for group discussions within the circle. CTE students who participate in service-learning may be familiar with this concept, as it is sometimes used as a tool in the evaluation process following service-learning projects.

The reflection process challenges students to test their assumptions, and teachers should initiate discussion in a reflection circle with questions such as: What did you learn? What did the experience mean? Then the discussion should move to the ways in which the lesson can be applied to future situations and in setting future educational and career goals.

For Educators

Active Learning Practices for Schools (ALPS) is an electronic community with a mission of creating an online collaborative environment between teachers and administrators from around the world, and educational researchers, professors and curriculum designers at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and Project Zero. On its Web site, ALPS has a reflection tool that offers a set of questions for general reflections on education, a set for classroom reflections and a set for self-assessment reflections.

The general reflection questions are about the "who," "what" and "why" of teaching. The classroom reflections include questions such as: How do I want students to interact in my classroom? In what ways is it important for students to interact with the community? What resources should be available to my students? The self-assessment reflections include questions about the most important things the students will learn during the year, and what the teacher learned from the students.

Reflection is also part of the certification process of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Teachers must submit a portfolio of classroom practice consisting of one classroom-based entry with accompanying student work; two classroom-based entries that require video recordings of interactions between the teacher and his or her students; and one entry that provides evidence of accomplishments outside of the classroom and how that work impacts student learning. As NBPTS notes, "Each entry requires some direct evidence of teaching or school counseling as well as a commentary describing, analyzing and reflecting on this evidence." Many teachers say afterward that the most valuable component of the certification process is the reflection.

The Roman philosopher Cicero said, "It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character and judgment." Character and judgment are valuable life skills instilled in students through CTE, so perhaps we should add reflection just to further ensure that they will achieve great things.

Explore More

To learn more about how reflection can be used by teachers and students, here are some Web sites to visit.

Active Learning Practice for Schools Harvard University

John Dewey Project on Progressive Education University or Vermont

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Reflection in K-12 Service-Learning

Susan Reese is a contributing writer for Techniques magazine. She can be contacted at
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Author:Reese, Susan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2011
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