Encouraging Reflective Learning in the Classroom

Reflection is something we do every day, often without thinking and without structure. For example, if I eat an entire packet of biscuits in one sitting, I may on reflection think it was a bad idea because I’ve consumed a lot of sugar. For some people, they use this as a learning experience. They reflect, decide it may not have been a good idea in the first place and learn not to do it again. For me, well, I’m short-sighted when it comes to biscuits. My point is, we all have the capacity to be reflective to do what’s best for ourselves, so why wouldn’t we use this in learning?

What is reflective learning?

Reflective learning as a topic is broad and multifaceted, and cannot possibly be covered in one blog post. However, it is an important skill which can help learners become more enriched from their learning experiences. By formalising the process, we can help learners to hone a skill that they may already be using naturally without even realising it, like the logic they use to avoid the biscuits.

Reflective learning is a form of education where learners purposely and critically evaluate and analyse a learning experience, with a view to using it for self-development and/or learning. Reflection helps learners build self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and helps improve decision making; skills essential both in the classroom and in everyday life. By questioning their own experiences and thoughts, learners can build the confidence to critically evaluate their learning, make connections across contexts and begin to identify areas for development.

Gibbs’s (1988) reflective learning model is a six step cycle which can be used to help learners put this into action:

  1. Description – learners describe the experience
  2. Feelings – learners explore thoughts and feelings they had throughout the experience
  3. Evaluation – what worked well? What didn’t work well?
  4. Analysis – learners can extract meaning from the experience – why did it go well? Why didn’t it go well?
  5. Conclusion – learners summarise their learning and highlight ways to improve the outcome
  6. Action Plan – how can a learner deal with a similar situation going forward?

The above steps serve as an example of how reflective learning can look in certain contexts. I’m by no means suggesting that we overhaul sessions for 14 year olds to be purely reflective but we can start to look at how to embed elements of reflective learning into classrooms, to encourage learners to acquire this skill earlier.

Resources to support reflective learning

NCFE’s V Cert delivery packs are a great example of resources which encourage reflective learning without losing sight of the aims of the session and at a level suitable for the learner. These packs can be found on individual V Cert qualification pages on QualHub under teaching materials. Each guided learning hour is structured in a way which enables learners to reflect on previous units or sessions and make links with the work being undertaken in the current session. Each classroom activity is afforded some feedback time where learners can reflect on how they felt doing the task, what they are proud of and what they may improve. The learner, therefore, has the chance to describe the experience, talk about how they felt, and evaluate and analyse it. As the units progress, learners should become more at ease with this and tutors could use this time to encourage learners to make conclusions or create action plans.

For example, our Level 2 Technical Award in Interactive Media draws upon real life examples for its project briefs, to help learners make connections with their everyday lives. Throughout the unit, learners use these project briefs to build an interactive media product through a process of reflective learning, which helps them continually improve on a previous sessions work. Learners are learning how to reflect and make informed decisions about how to better their own work.

Our Level 3 Certificate in Mathematics for Everyday Life (Core Maths) takes reflective learning a step further by encouraging a new kind of lesson structure. The sessions in our classroom packs are based around a 4 phase problem solving structure where it is the tutor’s role to encourage learning by doing. Learners on the course are presented with a problem which they have to solve, however the progress is made through discussion and collaboration, trial and error, and reflection. As our developer says, ‘the maths is being created by the learners’. Rather than being taught a prescriptive way to solve mathematical problems, learners are encouraged to reflect on what they have already been taught and how they might apply the problem to everyday life scenarios; no method is off limits and a method of reaching common understanding is encouraged.

In addition to this, learners are encouraged to keep a learning journal which not only is a place to store assignments and classroom work, but a place in which learners are encouraged to find and comment on news articles, make general comments about their work and ask questions. Learners can then evaluate, analyse, conclude and make action plans for their own learning.

In conclusion…

Overall, reflective learning is a fundamental skill and the sooner we can introduce it (even in small ways) into our classrooms, the better it is for learners. We want to build a generation of engaged and critical learners, and embedding reflective learning from a younger age helps learners have the confidence to continually better themselves. It’s important to remember that reflective learning is an ongoing process and once learnt, it’s a skill for life.

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