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How to teach your students reflection?

How to teach your students reflection?

Holly Melvin
4th Year Medical Student at The University of Manchester, Instagram account: @that.girl.medic
October 15, 2021

Reflection

Reflection is a critical process, invaluable in both the classroom and beyond. By empowering your students to understand the importance of reflection and helping them to develop their reflection skills, you’re helping them become more insightful learners and potentially facilitating access to their future careers. 

In this article, we will cover why it is important to teach students about reflection and some ideas about activities you can do yourself with the students to help them along their reflection journey. I would advise that you have a pen and paper to hand or a word document open to note down anything you find particularly helpful or useful so that you can come back to it later. 

Why do we need to teach students about reflection?

As a teacher, you will, of course, be very familiar with the importance of reflection in general. Reflection and reflective teaching is very important part of your profession. 

Many of the benefits and positives of reflective teaching can be translated over to the types of positive attributes your students can benefit from if they successfully engage in reflecting. 

In terms of the benefits of reflection in the classroom and in terms of their immediate learning, developing reflective skills allows students to not simply accept a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ mark in an exam/assessment/marked assignment etc., but to understand “why” this happens, and as such what to do (or not do!) in the future. By understanding “why” something has happened, students become more actively involved in their learning instead of passively receiving marks. This will lead to them becoming more independent and ultimately stronger learners. 

All of these skills around self-reflection, action plans and improvement are highly transferable to their future workplace. Of course, certain professions such as medicine, nursing, social work and teaching place huge importance and have specific requirements around the amount of reflection that needs to take place. However, reflection is beneficial for all professions and workplaces, as it will lead to them being more effective and better at what they are doing. It will also help them navigate their future relationships if they have more insight and ability to reflect on themselves and their actions.

Reflection sheet

How to practice reflection with your students

The important thing to remember when introducing reflection to your students is that it is better to do ‘little and often’ than to overwhelm them with writing huge reflective pieces from the outset. Most students, particularly younger students, may not be able to do this and may even be discouraged from or unwilling to engage in further reflection in the future. 

An easy activity is to print out little pieces of paper (no bigger than A5), maybe on coloured paper, with the following sentences:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What am I going to do next time?

Although these sentences may seem quite simple, these three concepts underpin most reflective writing and provide an easy, useful structure for your students to follow. The final sentence is the question that makes students reflect on “why” this has happened, as they won’t be able to write an action plan for next time if they can’t figure out what has gone wrong this time! This is a really good thing to hand out after you’ve given out marked homework or a recent assessment. These pieces of paper then need to be kept safe, e.g. stuck in an exercise book or in a special folder. As homework, you can ask your students to provide evidence that they have worked on their action plan (the “what am I going to do next time?”). 

It is worth remembering that not all students find writing and literacy easy, so they may struggle with writing a reflection, which may inhibit their reflection process. As such, a fun alternative is “reflect and sketch”, which is where students can draw their reflections. You can print out pieces of paper with a grid of 3 boxes, numbered one to three. Each box corresponds to the sentences above, so in the first box, they draw what went well, the second what went well, and the third what they will do next time. Again, they need to keep this somewhere safe so that they can come back to it and see if they did manage to work on the action plan and improve for the next time around.

Conclusion

In conclusion, reflection is a really important part of your students’ academic growth, and the benefits of reflective learning will stretch out into their chosen future career path as well as their personal life. These two activities provide a starting point to introducing reflection into your teaching practice but do be sure to read through the links below to learn more about different reflection techniques and ideas for your classroom.

External resources and information

This (link here) is a really interesting blog piece on reflective practice; it’s a really insightful and accessible. If you don’t have much time but would like to read a little more, I would definitely recommend having a quick skim through this article  

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