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Reflecting for Meaning

Reflecting for Meaning

I found a great quote to use for the beginning of this post. It’s attributed to John Dewey and it goes like this, “We do not learn from an experience. We learn from reflecting on an experience.” The trouble is, no one seems to be able to find that quote in any of John Dewey’s works. So did he say it? The forum I was using did find and post a very long paragraph from one of his books in which the last three sentences seem to give that same idea. Here are those sentences from a 1933 Dewey book:

But information is an undigested burden unless it is understood. It is knowledge only as its material is comprehended. And understanding, comprehen­sion, means that the various parts of the information ac­quired are grasped in their relations to one another — a result that is attained only when acquisition is accompanied by constant reflection upon the meaning of what is studied. “

– John Dewey

I like the short quote better. Someone probably summarized his idea and attributed it to him as a quote. This now raises the question for me, “How many quotes out there are not really quoted?”

What is Reflecting for Learning?

You may have gathered that this post is about reflection and its place in learning. Reflection is making meaning of our experiences. It allows students to review their understanding, make connections, and draw conclusions about what they learned and how it applies to them. That’s big stuff. 

We’re going to look at three ways to reflect and how they can be used in an online course. Well, in a live course, too, but we’re staying focused on online courses in this blog. 

Reflecting the Learning to Themselves

The first angle of reflection is where students connect the learning to themselves. Anytime a learner can connect the learning to him or herself, the memory connection becomes much stronger. There are several ways to weave in this type of reflection throughout a course. You can ask students to pause and think about a time that something like what you described happened to them or someone they know. Just the act of connecting the lesson to something they know personally has strengthened the learning. You could ask them if they would have acted differently based on the new information. That’s going even deeper into reflecting and connecting. 

Another example is to post a quote on the discussion board and ask students to connect the quote to the current learning and to themselves in some way and share that. Another possible way to reflect is to pause and ask students to place themselves in a situation and think about how they might handle it. 

Reflecting on the Learning Process

Another angle of reflection is to have students reflect on their own learning process. What did they understand easily? What was harder to grasp? What made it harder to grasp and how can they reduce that blockage in the future? This type of reflection allows students to step back and look at themselves as learners. If they can see patterns in where and how they get stuck, the process of generating solutions will eventually lead them to real change in how they learn. And that comes from inside themselves. 

Reflecting On Growth

The third angle we’re going to talk about is reflecting on growth and improvement. Sometimes it’s really hard to see where we’ve made any progress when we are in the middle of learning. This type of reflection gives students a chance to see improvement. That can be very motivating. Have students compare current work to earlier work and reflect on the growth and improvements between them. The trick to this one is to not do it too early. If there are only a couple of small assignments in between the two that students are comparing then the growth may not be evident. In that case, the student reflection may feel negative and demotivating. Reflection on growth and improvement could be done mid-way through the course and then at the end of the course to give opportunities to really see differences. 

More strategies and Tips for Reflection

Reflections give students the chance to sort out their questions and feelings concerning their work. They can be written, video, or audio. 

You can choose to add a short reflection piece to the end of each assignment. Generally, an assignment reflection is about 150 words and has a specific focus. The student responses help you understand their thinking and how they feel about their progress.  

If you’ve given an assignment where students have to write a case study, add some reflection questions at the end. Some examples could be, “What was the most important lesson you got out of this case study?” “How do you think you’ll use the information from this case study in your future work?” Or “How does this case study connect to something in your life or your plans?”

Setting a minimum word count reduces the number of “This assignment was okay.” reflections. (Yes, those happen.) Asking open-ended questions gives students a place to start in the reflection. Pro tip: You may want to set a maximum word limit, too. I love writing reflections and could go on for pages. Protect yourself against the likes of me!

A Word of Caution

I do want to caution you on one other thing. If you require students to write regular reflections make sure they are very clear on the benefit of those reflections to the student. If students don’t understand why they are doing the reflections, you will end up with more hostile reflections than you expected. I’ve made the mistake of not being clear on the benefit to the student. The learners used the reflections as venting boards rather than reflecting. Lesson learned. 

The key point I want you to remember from this post is that reflection is a way to make meaning from experiences, and you can build in ways to make student learning more meaningful to them.

Your turn

Brainstorm five reflection questions that you might insert into your course. The first three are going to be the hardest to come up with but you should be able to flow after that. Feel free to brainstorm more than five. 

Community connection

Post two of your reflection questions in the comments of the video. Be sure to give us context so that we can give good feedback. Read the other responses and provide feedback as needed.  

Want More?

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Other posts you might be interested in are:

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