During a summative assessment in traditional education, a student will usually do a test, write an essay, do an oral presentation, or complete an individual or group project to demonstrate their knowledge of the content delivered in the previous unit. The teacher then grades the assessment (with varying levels of feedback, depending on the teacher) and returns the assessment. The student looks at their achievement level (grade, percentage) and will maybe read through feedback given. The student or teacher then files the assessment, and the class continues on to the next unit at the end of which the process will repeat. Questions arise from this process:
- Did the students really learn from any mistakes or problems encountered?
- Can they identify what led them to those unsuccessful moments?
- Are the students aware of what habits and frames of mind they used to be successful?
- Can the students articulate and project into the future how they will use and apply the content and skills learned?
More often than not in traditional education, the answer to these questions would be “No.” In order to turn the answer to these questions to “Yes” a distinct and required reflection process needs to be put in place. Reflection is the process of thinking critically about one’s learning experience (both content and skills) and the thought processes used within the learning experience (metacognition).
Most students won’t reflect on their own. Reflection is a skill, so it’s something that needs to be taught and given time for in class. Many teachers are weary of giving time for reflection because it will take time away from covering more content; others just don’t see the value in it. There is incredible value in reflection, however, especially if one of our goals as educators is to develop life-long learners. Even if that means reducing the amount of content being covered, giving students time to reflect will benefit them more in the long-term.
The Atlantic recently published an article where an empirical research study about the importance of reflection was presented. The study found that participants who were given time to reflect scored 23 percent better on the end of training assessment than those who were not given time to reflect. If the process of reflection will improve a summative result by this much, it seems like a no-brainer to include reflection in the learning process.
Ideally, reflective processes would be done throughout an entire learning process and would be shaped by the mode of thinking taking place at the time. Reflection would go hand-in-hand with formative feedback the teacher is giving during the learning journey. Reflection could be both written or oral. It could be done in the moment alongside the teacher and/or it can be done in isolation where a student can sit and study her experience and thought processes more intimately, presenting her reflection through whatever medium is suited to the context.
Reflection shouldn’t be a burden for the learner or the teacher. It should be a natural part of the learning process and students should understand its benefits. When built into the fabric of the learning experience, students will benefit from the process and put them on the road to being life-long learners.