Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reflection; an important part of the learning process

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned, how they've learned it and why they've learned it is an important part of the learning process.

But who has time to set up that kind of reflection?! We hardly even have time to get through the actual lesson!

One teacher with whom I work has an answer. She has set up a reflection procedure with her students which allows them to meaningfully - and consistently - reflect on the learning they've done. Yesterday, I got to see the 
procedure first hand.

The class is currently digging into the idea that expansion transforms culture over time. During the unit, students are primarily exploring how European expansion into the New World transformed the European, African and Native American cultures.

During the lesson yesterday, the students were still exploring the concepts of expansion, transformation and culture but were thinking about these big ideas through a different context: the current refugee crisis precipitated by the violence, instability and economic troubles in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

To explore these ideas, the teacher lead the students through a Tug-of-War, a visible thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church & Morrison. She presented the dilemma, "Countries should be required to let refugees settle within their borders," and the students had to generate "tugs" or reasons that support one side of the dilemma or the other. Students then read through the "tugs" as a class, determining the strength of each.

As students did this work, wonderful thoughts and questions were shared and discussed. Connections were made to the push-pull factors the students had learned about when they studied the European Explorers. Students also made connections to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the treaty signed at the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the Ebola crisis last year.

At the end of the discussion, the teacher asked the students to reflect on how their thinking had changed, by inviting them to complete the thinking routine, "I used to think, Now I think," where students reflect on how their thinking has shifted and changed.

The teacher also required the students to respond to the following prompt:

front of the essential elements mat

back of the essential elements mat
Below are samples of some of the students' thinking.

These students simply answered the prompt, identifying two attitudes they demonstrated during the Tug-of-War discussion.

Another student was able to identify more than two attitudes demonstrated during the discussion.

The following students went beyond the requisites of the prompt and elaborated on their responses, explaining how they showed the particular attitudes they demonstrated.

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on their learning is an integral part of the learning process. After reading about how this teacher set up a reflection procedure with her students, how could you or do you give students the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned, how they've learned it and why they've learned on a consistent and daily basis?


  1. Hey Sonya - Melinda just directed me to your post because I used this VT routine in a staff PD yesterday! Great minds and all that...except you took it way further. I was cramming in three routines, connected to my workshop on feedback, and tugging against me: time (had to be done by 4:30pm), and timing (still two days out from our first break of the school year...) Fabulous post Sonya, as informative and inspiring as always.

  2. Oops - sorry Ryan - just realised it is your post! I have a new person to follow! Love it! Thank you Ryan!

    1. Hi Paula - I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the feedback! Where are you writing from? Who is Sonya & Melinda?

    2. Hey Ryan!
      Sonya is a teacher at Munich International School and she shared your post on her Facebook page which I then liked and re-shared with my principal, Paula, here in Phnom Penh because, as she said, we just used the tug of war VT routine in our meeting yesterday!
      Sonya (@terSonya) is an awesome educator/blogger ( and Paula (@paulabaxter67) is one of the best (if not the best) principals out there! :)
      All that being said, great post and thanks for sharing!! :)

  3. Melinda, Thank you for the explanation! My professional learning community just expanded to Germany and Cambodia. I will have to follow Sonya and Paula and check out Sonya's blog. Thank you for those tips. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm really just shining a light on a wonderful G5 teacher here at my school.

  4. Thanks for sharing, an important reminder to make room for authentic and artful reflection.

  5. Thank you for sharing this wonderful strategy for Reflection. I am in love with the way the MAT is being used.

  6. Really great - thanks for taking the time to share the student reflections.

  7. Your essential elements mat is great! Can you share?

    1. Charla: I can send you the PDF. E-mail me at and I'll send you it.