Most of us, when hear the word reflection, think about what we see when we look in a mirror, but it can also mean to think back on an event. For example, if I asked you to reflect on the food choices you made today, you would have to think back on the meals that you ate and evaluate the foods you selected. In this case, I did not prompt you to think about calories or nutritional value, just to think about your food choices. In your reflection, however, you may have chosen to think about calories or nutritional value. You may regret some of your choices or you may be proud of some others. You may have remembered the options that you had and wish you had made a different choice. Asking you to reflect upon them brought them back into your consciousness and may influence your next choices. This is precisely why those who want to change their diet are encouraged to keep a food journal.
Some reflection is conscious, like the example above, but sometimes it isn’t. When my nephew was about two years old his vocabulary was increasing exponentially on a daily basis. When he was laid in his crib it often took him a long time to fall asleep because he would rattle off words from his day. They were not necessarily in any logical sequence. Sometimes they were individual words and sometimes they were short phrases. His vocabulary grew because his mind reflected on his experiences.
Students who mindlessly perform tasks or who set out only to get right answers often miss the opportunities for reflection and, therefore, miss constructing rich concepts. Consider the following example:
Teacher: Imagine you have 17 baseball cards and you get seven more. How many would you now have?
Jesse: 17; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. Wait. How many more? Seven? OK. 17; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26. Ugh. (This time Jesse uses fingers to keep track). 17; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 (while sequentially putting up five fingers on left hand), 23, 24 (using two fingers on the right hand). 24.
Jesse stopped twice because he lost track. It was after reflecting on these two attempts that Jesse decided to keep track of the count and use fingers. In future situations like this, Jesse made the goal to keep track of the count from the very beginning. This was an advancement in Jesse’s thinking.
In Jesse’s case the reflection was self prompted. Ultimately, this is a goal we need to have for students because it makes them self-sufficient and they do not have to wait for the teacher to check the answer. But there are times when the teacher or a classmate may prompt a student to stop and reflect. Questions like, “How do you know that is the answer?” or “Do you have another way of trying this problem?” can help students reflect on their thinking and deepen their understanding.