A New Perspective on Student Self-Reflection

A New Perspective on Student Self-Reflection

Helping students create a habit of reflection is an essential step in teaching them how to establish and maintain self-control. But sometimes teachers with positive intentions inadvertently ask questions around reflection that add a layer of shame. For example: 

  • “Think about your work today. What could you have done to improve the number of math problems you solved?” 
  • “How could you have been a better rule follower this morning?” 
  • “What could you have done so that we ended up with more free time?”

Students respond to shame in one of three ways, according to a study by researchers Linda Hartling and Jean Baker Miller: by moving away from it, moving toward it, or moving against it. Students who move away in response tend to shut down and refuse to talk about it, while students who move toward shame often take a people-pleasing approach. Students who move against shame may use shame and aggression in retaliation, adopting the perspective of “Shame me, and I’ll shame you back.” 

Conversely, positive reflection can be a powerful force for constructive student behavior, and students who learn these habits tend to be rewarded with a more positive learning community, stronger goal-to-outcome connections, and increased independence – both socially and academically. Here are some strategies for helping students build self-reflection habits from a base of positive intention instead of shame. 

Use Interactive Modeling to Prepare Students for Success

Learners feel safest when they are clear about expectations. When learners feel safe, they are more likely to take risks. For true reflection to occur, safety and risk-taking are necessary. Use Interactive Modeling (for elementary students) or Interactive Modeling Demonstration (for middle school students) to create that safe environment.

Set an Intention for Reflection

  1. Before having students reflect on their part in a lesson, have them stop for a deep breath and quiet moment.
  2. Speak to the idea that the result of their reflection may not be what they had originally intended, and that is okay. 
  3. Trust the process. Proactively decide if you will have students share their intention or if you will have them sit with their intention quietly. 

Create a Habit of Reflection

  1. If you are following a scripted curriculum, use your knowledge of the content to fill in open-ended questions that match the intentions of the authors.
  2. If your curriculum is more open-ended, consider how open-ended questions can inform the lesson as you work with it. 
  3. Decide how often you will ask students to intentionally reflect on their practice and to what extent you will ask them to do that


Open-Ended Questions That Encourage Reflection

  1. I could tell you were working hard. Now, how can you put what you just read into your own words? 
  2. How could this work help you when you come across a multi-digit multiplication problem again?
  3. You just read a story about a kid who was stuck when handling a problem with a friend. You put thought into their decisions. How could this help you next time you get stuck? 
  4. Now that we have gone through some scenarios, how might you remember to use one of these strategies on your own?

*For more information on open-ended questions, see The Power of Our Words or The Power of Our Words for Middle School

To grow as a person, experience alone is not enough.  The metacognition that follows, encouraged by our gentle push for positive reflection, is the difference between a seed and a mighty oak. 


Written by Gina Castelli

Tags: Positive, Reflection, self-care

4 Replies to “A New Perspective on Student Self-Reflection”

  • Thank you for your suggestions about how to better center reflection as an essential component of learning. I had not considered it before, but I realize that my questions are often framed for students to consider what they need to improve, and I think this can promote a negative mindset where students are overly critical of themselves or doubt themselves. Moving forward, I need to consider how I can push for positive reflection so that students consider their strengths and have more confidence in my course. As I reconsider how to integrate SEL better into my instruction, I will consider reflection as another way to do this. Thank you for your suggestions!

  • Hi Gina! Your post had many insights that made me realize I need more reflection with my students. I love that you added some open-ended questions that help develop self-reflection. I feel that self-reflection is a huge part of SEL in classrooms. By asking our students to self-reflect, we are also supporting our students to teach them how to solve problems and develop skills to self-regulate themselves. I have been learning about classroom climate and culture and I have been thinking more about how to incorporate more SEL in the classroom. It is important that students develop skills to self-assess and self-regulate themselves which not only helps the students, but it also helps the class climate. The course that I am currently taking has talked about responsive classrooms and how teachers can help students develop new skills like building relationships, learning to problem solve, etc. Again, I really enjoyed reading your post and I look forward to using your strategies for more open-ended questions!

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