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How Reflection Helps Learning

Welcome back to The Curiosity Concept! 

I don’t mean to ruin the remaining days of the summer break but we can’t ignore it anymore – a new school year is slowly but surely creeping up on us.

You can consider this post as the first in The Curiosity Concept ‘Back to School’ series because it anticipates the start of the new school year by helping you to build on the successes and things that went well last year and to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

I know, the phrase ‘reflective learning’ might inspire an eye roll and sigh from you because it seems like the title of a piece of homework you were given in Year 8, but the point of this post is to explain why being reflective can genuinely improve the way you learn anything, beyond what you’re taught in class.

What does it mean to be reflective and why is it important?

Reflection is a process that involves taking a step back and thinking about an experience or activity after you have gone through or completed it. Finlay describes reflection as

the process of learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self

Linda Finlay

Reflection isn’t only backwards-looking, it also has forward-looking elements because thinking about past experiences can give insight into how to make the experiences better in the future.

A quick google search of ‘reflective learning’ shows how reflection is an incredibly valuable skill, for both personal and professional reasons. A lot (and I mean, A LOT) of different sources discuss the various benefits of being reflective, but the one I want to highlight here is that being reflective develops self-awareness. Reflection involves evaluation, for example thinking about the successes and challenges you have experienced, so it invites you to think critically about how you deal with different situations. In other words, reflection is important because it can help you to learn about yourself, to challenge your own assumptions, to acknowledge your strengths and to develop new ways of thinking.


How does being reflective help learning?

Reflection is a learning process in itself so when you apply it to whatever you’re learning, it’s like a power-up or add-on that strengthens your capabilities.

Reviewing the content of your learning, e.g. revising your class notes, is a good next step after being taught the information. Also taking the time to be a bit meta and review your actual learning process forms part of the whole concept of learning how to learn and of ‘life-long learning’, as Finlay points out.

Reflection applied to learning can give insight into several aspects of your learning process, such as:

  • How you behave/feel in class
  • The effects of new study/revision techniques on your ability to learn
  • The different effects that working independently and in a team might have on your ability to learn or work
  • How you deal with difficulties such as challenging concepts or tasks
  • Your motivations and what you find the most interesting or inspiring about your work

And much more.

The Open University explains that because reflection identifies where your strengths lie and where you face challenges it can essentially help you to determine your priorities, set goals and address issues such as procrastination and anxiety. This, in turn, can build your confidence in your learning process.

How can I be reflective in my learning?

There are various ways in which reflection can be incorporated into your learning. You could do a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis of yourself, or keep a journal/diary and make an effort to reflect on experiences regularly. This could be:

  • When you learn or try something new
  • After doing assessments, exams, presentations or reports, etc (you could also note your thoughts before and during the experience)
  • When you receive feedback on your assignments, exams, presentations, etc

If you’re like me and keeping an official journal starts off all sunshine and rainbows, with aesthetic layouts and pretty washi tape, but then becomes too tedious, you can keep the whole process really informal (assuming that these reflective notes will be for personal use).

I make notes on a page in OneNote whenever I have reflective thoughts. An example of this was when I read an interesting journal article whilst revising for one of my exams and I noticed that I really liked the style and structure of the writing. So, I made a quick note of it and basically gave myself pointers on how I can improve my own essay writing. It wasn’t anything super deep but it inspired a clearer explanatory writing style and it will be useful to look back on when writing in the future.

So, my advice is to try different methods of reflection and then stick with what works for you. This could mean using a physical notebook to jot down reflections throughout the day and reading them all together or scheduling some time on a particular day to reflect on what you have learned recently.

Hopefully, this post has given you some insight into how reflection can help to improve your learning process. A new school year is right around the corner. Why not take the time to think about how you’re doing so far and where you want to be, what you want to achieve.

It’s all about growing and glowing.

Me

Being reflective is ultimately like any other skill – it takes time and practice to get good at it, so don’t stress if your reflections don’t immediately reveal the mysteries of the workings of the human mind or improve your grades by 1000%. Something I’m learning as I’m trying to be more reflective is that it’s about discovering who you are and then getting at better at being you.

Onwards and upwards,

Anoshamisa 🙂

Sources used in this post:

‘Be aware of your habits – Skills for OU Study’ – The Open University

‘Reflecting on ‘Reflective Practice” – Linda Finlay

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