Wednesday, May 31, 2017

8 Ways for Students to Reflect on Their Learning

How do we know our students are truly learning? Teachers often use tests and essays to gauge student achievement. And although these methods are useful ways to measure student performance, they place most of the responsibility of analysis on the teacher. What if students were also involved in actively analyzing their mastery?

In my classroom, student reflection is regularly woven into each unit of study throughout the year. Below are eight ways I’ve found to encourage and promote this very important cognitive skill.

1. Blogging
All my student have their own blog, and in addition to writing on topics of their choosing, I often also ask them to write about what they’ve learned from  a lesson I’ve taught. My prompt usually includes variations of the following questions: After studying this unit, what conclusions can you draw? What do you think of the ideas and skills we covered during our lesson? What do you think about what you learned? Did you find these lessons meaningful or valuable? Why or why not? To learn more about incorporating student blogs into your teaching, check out my post “How to Inspire a New Generation of Writers Through Blogging.”

2. Websites
All my students also have their own website, which is  a great way to showcase the projects they’ve worked on in my class. For each assignment they add to their site, I ask them to write a short paragraph of explanation and reflection. Because I teach in a G Suite for Education district, my students use Google Sites, but there are also many beautiful website builders like Wix and Weebly that students might find equally easy to use.

3. Padlet
I love Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where students can share ideas and crowdsource information. If building a website seems a bit daunting, then Padlet is a great alternative — it’s very easy to use. Students can post their projects on a Padlet and reflect on what they’ve learned.

4. Google Slides
Google Slides is not just a tool for creating presentations, it can also be used as a digital book. Think of each slide as a page in a book, and you get the idea. Students can upload or import each assignment into a separate slide, and write a short explanation for each one. With lots of fonts, colors and layouts to choose from, a reflective paragraph never looked so pretty.

5. Google Forms
What better way to keep things quick and simple than by collecting reflective responses in a Google Form? I love that Google Forms populates all responses into one spreadsheet. No need to click on 175 different files to read 175 paragraphs. You can also use the same form throughout the year to have students reflect on different assignments, since all responses are timestamped. Below is an example of a form I use in my class for this purpose.

6. Google Classroom
When I want my students to write a short paragraph, I often turn to Google Classroom. Using its “Create Question” feature, I can quickly ask my students a reflective question, and they can post their replies. I can also decide if I want their answers to be viewable by only me, or if I want them to read and respond to each other’s ideas. What better way to promote reflection than to have students interact and evaluate each other’s responses?

7. Screencasts
Not only is screencasting a fantastic tool for reflection, it promotes fluency skills as well. Students can open a digital assignment on their computer and record themselves talking about what they’ve learned from the lesson as they show the project on their screen. Some popular screencasting tools include Screencastify, QuickTime, Explain Everything and PowerPoint 2016. This list includes both free and paid software. Some are Web-based or specific to Mac, iOS or Windows platforms.

8. Student-Designed Assessments
Since last year, I have given my students the option of designing their own assessments. I first ask them to consider what skills and content they learned from a particular unit. For example, after reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and Dolores Huerta’s “Proclamation of the Delano Grape Workers for International Boycott Day,” I asked them to reflect (in small groups) on their takeaways from the lesson. They replied: “We learned many rhetorical strategies and how they help make a speech powerful and convincing.” They also realized that “words are as powerful as actions,” and “problems can also be solved without violence.” After pinpointing the goals of the lesson, we craft a rubric together to identify the criteria that will be used to evaluate their assessment. Students have fun working on this project, and I love seeing their creativity.

A Reflective Classroom
As a teacher, I want my students to become independent learners and critical thinkers. I truly believe that in order to learn, one has to be reflective. If you have found ways to encourage reflection in your students, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Originally published on KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.


  1. How do your students use their Google Sites in a different way than their blog? Couldn't they be one in the same? I teach gr7 Humanities, use the G Suite of tools, and am trying to plan this out for this spring and next fall. Any insight you have is welcome. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kerri,

      You can definitely choose either a blog or a website to meet your needs. It’s really a matter of preference.

      As an English language arts teacher, I want my students to write prolifically. A blog is great for authentic audiences and peer feedback due to the ability to allow public comments on a blog. Their blogs are where my students share their thinking and their opinions. They are more works in progress. My students use websites to showcase their finished projects. It doesn’t invite interaction. Instead, their websites are published portfolios of their accomplishments - much like professional websites that companies or individuals might publish to advertise their products or services.

      Ultimately, I use both to give my students the experience with two different platforms. My suggestion is to start with one platform and see if it’s working for you and your students.

      Good luck!


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