When I was a kid, I used to fall asleep in the car every time my family took even a short trip. I’d settle in, close my eyes, and magically end up at our destination. My mom or dad was my driver and my guide. Once I got my license, I would often have to ask for directions to get to places that I had been many times before as a passenger. They would actually laugh at the thought that I’d had been to these places so many times, but I still didn’t know how to get there. You see, I had never been the driver. I never had any need to know how I got to a destination because I knew someone would make sure I arrived. The journey wasn’t important.

If we think about learning as a journey from a place of “not knowing” to “knowing” we can draw some parallels about what learners should be doing as they travel to the land of “knowing.” A teacher sets a student’s destination with clear learning objectives and goals. As the student progresses along the path to reaching that goal, they should be continually reflecting on where they are, and how they can get to the final destination. If a teacher grabs the student by the hand and leads them up a very specific path to the goal, they are very likely going to be asleep. In order to care about the journey, they need to be a driver, not a passenger. Reflection is what can help put a student in the driver’s seat.

Reflection is the intentional practice of thinking about and analyzing where we are on our journey. The act of reflection allows us to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, and how we get to our destination. This is a continual process during the entire trip, or else we get off course. We can think of the reflection process like GPS. Each time a student thinks about what they know and what they need to know, the GPS satellite tells them where they are and suggests a route on how to make it to the end. Reflection gives the student the ability to stay on a course that is right for them.

There are some keys to great reflection in the classroom. As teachers, we should be providing opportunities for kids to think about their learning and communicate where they feel they are not moving forward. These skills need to be learned, and in order to be effective, the classroom culture has to support students who can…

  • Think critically about what they have learned.
  • Describe what they have learned and what is still confusing about a concept or topic.
  • Evaluate what strategy helped the most in their learning and which were less effective.
  • Analyze data and other artifacts to clearly identify gaps in their own learning.
  • Articulate the progression they have had in their learning.
  • Set personal goals for their learning.  

It is so important for kids to think about what they have learned by understanding how new information relates to their own story. This can only happen if students are given the time and an opportunity to reflect on their learning. As teachers, it is critical that we make time for reflection or we might find ourselves in the driver’s seat with are car full of sleeping students.

Written by Adam Cole