User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Where is reflection in the learning process?

with 23 comments

Today, we finished the second week of an interpersonal communications course.  The students in the course are first term college students, a few fresh out of high school.  As is my common practice, I end my week of instruction with reflective questions for the students:

  • What was your significant learning this past week?
  • What principles for everyday life can you extract from our class activities? (Note: The activities are experiential).
  • What did you learn or what was reinforced about yourself?
  • What can you take from the class activities to use in your life outside of class?

I asked the students to get in small groups to discuss these questions.  They got in their groups and just looked at one another with baffled looks on their faces while remaining silent.  I tried rewording the questions and providing examples and still got blank looks when they returned to their group discussions.

Products of a Standardized System

I began to get frustrated by their lack of response until a major AHA struck me . . . They are products of a standardized system where they were asked to memorize standardized information and spit that information out on standardized tests. When finished with one unit of information, they were asked to quickly move onto the next unit.  They were not given the time, skills, and opportunities to extract personalized meanings from their studies.  Reflection was not part of their curriculum as it cannot be measured nor tested.

Critical Reflection in the Learning Process

There are those who believe as I do that deep, meaningful, long-lasting learning is left to chance if it is not a strategic, integrated part of the learning process.

Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity — like viewing a reality TV show — which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time.

Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation — an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration (

Educators as Reflective Practitioners

When I entered my doctoral program, I was quickly introduced to David Schon’s Reflective Practitioner (in an adult learning course), and was immediately drawn to to importance of reflective practice.  Later, as a counselor and teacher educator, I have held tightly onto the belief that good counselors and educators need to be engaged in ongoing reflective practice.

The critically reflective habit confers a deeper benefit than that of procedural utility. It grounds not only our actions, but also our sense of who we are as teachers in an examined reality. We know why we believe what we believe. A critically reflective teacher is much better placed to communicate to colleagues and students (as well as to herself) the rationale behind her practice. She works from a position of informed commitment. She knows why she does and thinks, what she does and thinks.  Stephen Brookfield

The only way that educators can teach and promote reflective practice by their students (of all ages) in their own classrooms is to engage in, embrace, and fully understand this process themselves.

It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield

I fear that many educators and educators-in-training are not reflective practitioners. There are several resources to assist educators in gaining knowledge and skills for reflective practice:

If reflective practice is not encouraged within one’s teacher education program or school work environment, then it becomes that educator’s responsibility (verging on an ethical responsibility) to do so on his or her own.

Reflection in the Classroom

Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect.

Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team

Reflection in the classroom can begin at a young age.  Reflection during instructional time can be facilitated through:

  • Structuring lesson plans to support reflective thinking.
  • Providing lesson components that prompt inquiry and curiosity.
  • Providing resources and hand-on activities to prompt exploration.
  • Providing reflective thinking activities that prompt students to think about what they have done, what they learned, and what they still need to do.
  • Providing reflection activity worksheets for each lesson plan to prompt students to think about what they know, what they learned, and what they need to know as they progress through their exploration. ETE Team

There are specific classroom activities that can assist students in engaging in reflective practice.

I further discuss reflection as part of  the learning process in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Photo Credit:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 16, 2011 at 1:32 am

23 Responses

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  1. Great post, Jackie! Reflection requires one to stop, look inward, observe, and express those thoughts and observations via writing. This is so foreign to students from the standardized test mills we call schools today. It is one of the reasons that Senior Project® and other capstone projects are often considered ‘too hard’ by students and parents. Each step in the process of completing a rigorous, multi-component project requires reflection through journaling, e-portfolio compiling, and self-assessments that most students have not encountered before. It is also why these projects are recognized by so many schools, districts, and states as necessary to prepare students for the skills of college and work.

    I’d suggest that your college freshmen most likely fall into two camps…..those who completed senior capstones (of merit and rigor) and those who did not.

    Kathleen Norris

    August 18, 2011 at 12:26 am

  2. Sounds great and smart. I wonder how many students of any age could possibly handle anything so…radical…as stopping to think about what it is they have learned (and why) and where (if at all) it fits into their life and set of skills.

    It is not clear from your blog where you live and work, but in the U.S. I imagine teachers outside of a very few classrooms would have a tough time asking students to do something — albeit important — that the larger culture derides and devalues. The U.S. wants students who are docile, obedient and ready to fit into the corporate/capitalist model. Questioning and reflecting are deeply at odds with this aim.


    August 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    • Yes – sadly, I agree with your comment regarding the state of affairs in the US . . . but doesn’t mean those of us involved in educational reform have to agree and accept it.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      September 5, 2011 at 12:00 am

      • Hi Jackie, I am Luciana Allan from Instituto Crescer ( – Brazil. I am following your blog and I love. Your ideas has a lot of sinergy with my ideas about education and teacher’ love. I would like to talk more with you and see the possibility to develop some projects toghether. Here, in Brazil, I am an expert in teacher’trainning process. Can we organize a skype?
        In this moment, I am writing one article to one educational magazine and I would like to include one thing that you said but I didn’t find the referente anymore. Could you help me? It is about the 7 points of attettion that don ‘t allow the teachers holls a learning model based in process. Could you help me to review this reference? Thank you very much! And I hope see you soon. ;<)

        Luciana Allan

        May 29, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      • Hi Luciana – would love to do a Skype with you. I am not sure what reference – could you give me a little information?

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        May 29, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    • I most certainly see your point, here. However, I think the key is for those of us to “get” this to make it happen in spite of the system and society within which we find ourselves. The US may want students who fit those characteristics, but I can assure you that many of the teachers in US classrooms do not.

      For clarification, I teach public high school in small rural school district in northeastern Pennsylvania. There are no bells-and-whistles, here. Budget cuts are killing us and at first glance, it would seem we easily fit the mold you describe above.

      On the other hand, there are many teachers down in the trenches who really care. It was ironic that I came across Dr. Gerstein’s blog this morning, via a bookmark in my Diigo educator’s group, as here is the lesson that was ‘taught’ this morning in my 21C Global Studies course

      Great post, Jackie! I’m right there with you on the importance of reflection and trying hard to teach my high school students this now.

      Suzie Nestico

      February 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      • Teachers who care “get” it and “do” it – no matter what the climate. Thanks for the response, Suzie.

        FYI – I grew up in Kingston/Wilkes-Barre, PA – where do you teach?

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        February 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      • Yes, agreed, no matter what the climate… it’d be nice, occasionally, though if the climate were better. It would just make it less of an uphill battle to help our students ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’.

        I teach at Mount Carmel Area High School… a bit south of Scranton/WB, but not terribly far. 🙂

        Suzie Nestico

        February 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  3. […] opportunity to sit, think, and connect their knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them.  This Jackie Gerstein post talks about how we often lose focus of giving students the opportunity to just sit and reflect on […]

    Reflective Solitude

    November 9, 2011 at 10:32 am

  4. Great article. And yes we have “taught” our students to be passive recipients of their education and we will have to teach them to become more self-directed. Can’t be upset with them.

    Thanks for the collegiate insights.


    Buddy Bauer

    February 21, 2012 at 12:42 am

  5. Great post Jackie! Reflection is the key to improvement – both as an educator and as a learner. You are correct in saying that perhaps we don’t spend enough time reflecting.

    My blog helps me reflect as a learner and an educator. As a trainer, I consciously try to include reflective practices and activities through out the training. But I can’t say it is easy. It takes time, effort and interest.

    Your list of resources for educators and learners can help people appreciate ‘reflection’ and find ways to indulge in the activity with or without a formal system enabling them to do so. Here is my attempt at sharing the importance of reflective practices…

    Taruna Goel

    February 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm

  6. […] few weeks ago I read this blog, Where is reflection in the learning process? and bookmarked it so I could return to for a blog post of my […]

  7. Great article Jackie! How much of this do you think is embedded within the education system? Everything is focused on standardized testing and achieving “base” education, but the rub is no one understands why they are learning a concept and can relate to why it’s important (or should be) important to them. In the workplace we’re often asked “why something is important” and without having experience to reflect and consider those questions to justify and backup a viewpoint you’re not going far.

    In K-8 the reflective process can be reinforced with simple blogs asking “What I learned today.” In higher grades more reflection on why the believe something is important or even challenging a specific viewpoint. The who creative process could be documented in an ePortfolio (or some other method) when creating an essay and why they chose certain resources over others. In Math we’re often asked to show how we achieved a solution in order for partial marks or where the instructor can find out where you went wrong and maybe even award extra marks for creativity. This can be applied to almost every subject (I think I may do this with my kids when they’re old enough to start typing sentances!).

    It would be nice to take an ePorfolio system and have it live from the start of your education career until you’re in the grave so you can continously look and reflect throughout your life.

    Angus Chan (@gusmaru)

    March 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm

  8. […] We often speak about the need for reflection in the learning process. Here’s a thought-provoking blog post that addresses it: […]

  9. Love the way you are thinking. HAve you ever noticed how bad we are as professionals with our own professional education? Most professional training opportunities are so full of input that I often hear delegates suggesting they need another day just to sort out what they think about the training they have received.


    March 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm

  10. This is an interesting introduction to reflection as an educational concept but takes it more in its common-sense meaning. Reflection perhaps is much more than that. But this is expected in a short piece of writing. I am finishing my PhD from a UK university shortly on the concept of reflection in teaching and teacher education and so far have found reflection as an extremely complex and elusive concept which is often turned into a slogan for good practice. What, therefore, is needed is its understanding as a highly complex concept with multiple interpretations and models.

    MI Khan

    April 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    • I agree that “good” reflection is complex and difficult to acquire skills and strategies to gain the full benefits of the process. But having spent the last few decades working with pre-service and in-service teachers, I find that many engage in very limited or no reflection what-so-ever. As such, this is my call-to-action to have educators and their students at least think about what they are doing and learning on a meta-cognitive level.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm

  11. […] I found the following post by Jackie Gerstein recently, and wanted to share it with you – “Where is reflection in the learning process?” […]

  12. Reflections are good if guided by good questions, at least at the beginning. It is a great way to reinforce learning and engage the student in some critical thinking at the same time.

  13. Reflection will lead to diversity of thought! And diversity of thought to personalization of learning. Education will (thankfully) never be the same! Thanks for your thoughtful post. 🙂


    May 25, 2014 at 11:22 pm

  14. Reflection is inherent part of Drama education – including reflection on practice, reflection in practice, reflection on role, reflection in role, etc…


    February 8, 2017 at 11:32 pm

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