Making Reflection Meaningful

Reflection can be an accelorator for learning. Deep learning asks for meaningful reflection. Meaningful reflection is metacognitive, applicable, and shared with others. But how can we make reflection meaningful? Let’s look at each of these characteristics.


Metacognition is a state of mind that can be useful for active and concious learning. Metacognition is essentially reflection on the micro level. It contribute to an awareness of our own thought processes. If students are metacognitive about inquiry, then they’re thinking about exactly how they are going to phrase that question. If they’re metacognitive about collaboration, then they’re considering how their introvert or extrovert personality will affect the group. So what does metacognitive reflection look like?
Do you like what you achieved?
Did you do a good job?
What did you learn from this experience/task?

Metacognitive reflection is not concerned with assessments, but with self-improvement:
What could be better? Which talents can I use? How? Which steps will I take?

main question

As a result, metacognitive reflection can be used to develop resilience in the face of a challenge. Many young children (and some students) will throw down their work when they become frustrated with it. They are unable to transcend the struggle. By contrast, a student who has learned the value of metacognitive reflection will recognize frustration as a signal to pause and think through the situation. The main question to keep in mind is: How is this reflection going to help me in the future?
And with the future I mean the time that is just a few minutes away.

meaningful reflection


A reflective question is a great way to get to know the student, but it doesn’t do much to actually serve their learning process. In many cases it’s completely divorced from the setting where the student actually did the experience. Besides that, many educators reflect with students as the project is already completed.

After-the-fact reflection dominates our understanding. These kinds of personal reflections contribute to the richness of life, because through them we are able to appreciate how our path has shaped our existence. But what about the life that is still to be lived and the work that is still to be done?

for the future

Unfortunately, academic reflections often take place at the very end of the course, when both the teacher and the students will be moving on to other courses and teaching/study loads. A clear notion of how a curriculum or course is build up is key to make reflection meaningful.

If this structure is revealed to students, then they suddenly have a framework for assessing how their past performance will influence their future work. By being transparent about future tasks and assignments, teachers remind students that they’re going to have to use at least some of these skills or knowledge again, so there’s no sense in making the same mistakes. Reflection suddenly has a real and immediate purpose: You know where this course is going, so how are you going to improve the quality of your own journey?



If we are really seeking to take action based on our reflections, then we will need some help, and that means we have to own up about what needs work. To make students comfortable with this practice, the classroom has to become a place where each student is recognized as being on an individual path of improvement.

collective support

Once that culture has been established, the classroom can become a place of collective support instead of individual competition. By sharing their reflections on their experience/work, students can both advise and seek help from their peers. Sharing their achievements helps those who struggled with that particular task, and sharing their weak spots helps them troubleshoot as they work through a problem.

digital support

Students who are not naturally inclined to stop and think need explicit practices to nudge themselves toward quality reflection. Keeping a log of tasks and habits can give students a rich source of data to use when reflecting on their progress. There are many apps that will collect and aggregate this information in accessible and attractive ways. Daily journals (e.g Stigma, Moleskine), goal-setting programs (e.g Full, Productivity wizard) and productivity apps (e.g. Pomodoro) can help to create a regular time and place for reflection. Students can use this for academic or personal projects.

If students are going to really benefit from their reflections and apply them to future work, those thoughts have to get out of their heads and into some form of documentation. Digital tools can provide different mediums for students to capture their thoughts—they can type or tag, or talk into the microphone or camera.

How is this post going to help you in the future?

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