Updated: Aug 10, 2021
I hear you loud and clear — you don’t have time to reflect on that last piece of assignment because, hey, you gotta go and study more.
Putting jokes aside, many students often skip the reflection stage of learning because it may feel like an unnecessary step for learning. However, self-reflection can become the most powerful opportunity for your growth and development. A reflection is an analysis of your performance. This helps you to delve into the core skills and level of understanding you have. Remember self-efficacy — the feeling that you’re capable of succeeding — from the lesson on motivation? Well, reflections can also boost your sense of self-efficacy. When you reflect, it gives you control over the process. This helps to understand how certain outcomes came to be.
Don’t just think of reflections and self-evaluations as a way to confirm that you’ve done something wrong. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. If you take time to see what strategies work or don’t work for you, it will make future studies much more effective. Knowing exactly what you have to do in a certain situation gives you a lot of confidence (Butler and Winne, 1995; Bercher, 2012). If you feel lost, not knowing what step to take next, it can be hard to improve your skills.
Keep asking questions about why you might have gotten the results that you have (good or bad) and get a sense of what it is that you actually know. It is much more effective to pinpoint concepts that you’re unsure about and start from there instead of trying to learn everything all the time. This might be hard to do in the beginning because it means that you’re acknowledging that there is a gap in your knowledge. People quite often study materials they’re already familiar with so that their self-esteem can stay intact. Yet, this won’t get you far in learning.
Reflections are also an essential part of metacognitive thinking. If you think about your learning as a cyclic event, you’ll assess the task to understand what it asks and what you already know about it. Then you will evaluate your understanding to see what you need to learn and what skills you can use. After that, you plan how you will be approaching this task. From there, you can monitor your process. Lastly, you can reflect on whether or not you’ve met the goal and ask yourself what you can do next time. The flowchart below might help you visualise this cycle.
▲ model of self-regulated learning and reflecting (Ambrose et al., 2010)
Let’s take a look at a very common example of when to use reflective strategies. Students often focus on the scores instead of understanding how their approaches impacted that score. This is where you can implement a strategy called ‘exam wrappers’ (Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning, 2013). This is a tool to help you focus on three main areas related to exam performance:
preparation prior to the exam
mistakes made on the exam
what changes should be made before the next exam
This activity allows you to make connections between your behaviours and the outcomes so that you can use the knowledge to influence future learning experiences. Even if there isn’t time in class to go through your work or exam paper, take some time to look over them yourself.
Even though there are hundreds of thousands of skills and strategies to help you learn, what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. This is why reflections and evaluations are so important — when you try out something new, there is a way for you to see whether it helps you move forward. I hope that’s the case for you now after going through these lessons.
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
Bercher, D. A. (2012). Self-Monitoring Tools and Student Academic Success: When Perception Matches Reality. Journal of College Science Teaching, 41(5), 26–32. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ988859
Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and Self-Regulated Learning: A Theoretical Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–281. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543065003245
Rhem, J. (2013). Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning: Across the disciplines, across the academy. Stylus Publishing, LLC.