What are they thinking? 5 Reflective Practices for Spring

Throughout the year, it's important to engage students in ongoing reflection of what they are learning. One of the key competencies of social-emotional learning (SEL) is for students to develop self-awareness. It's also important for them to build skills in self-management as they work through the challenges that can come with learning, reflect on their growth, set new goals, and continue to make progress moving forward. There are many ways that teachers can encourage students to share their learning experiences. Whether students engage in discussions with classmates in class or use digital tools to share ideas in a space that is comfortable, there are many options available. What is most important is to get students to share what they are thinking and take time to reflect on their learning, as this is essential not only for academic growth, but personal growth and future professional growth. To best prepare students for the future, ongoing reflection is key. 


When students have the opportunity to reflect, they're able to better understand their thought processes, learn about their interests, and identify areas in which they need to improve and areas that they are strong in. When we create opportunities for students to share their learning with classmates and with us, it promotes collaboration and fosters a stronger sense of community in our classrooms. We create a supportive learning community for all learners.


In thinking about the five competencies of SEL, we also help students to focus on developing skills of social awareness and building relationships. Students can better understand their own thought processes and deepen their understanding of the content. However, getting students to share what they’re thinking and reflect on their learning can be a challenge. Here are five ideas for how to encourage students to reflect on their learning and share their thoughts, with and without digital tools.


  1. Think-Pair-Share: An activity that doesn't require much time at all to use and can be very effective. It encourages students to share their ideas, learning experiences, and thoughts with one another. The teacher can provide a short prompt or topic for discussion and then give students time to think individually before pairing up with a partner. Having those one-on-one conversations can help students to become more comfortable expressing themselves in class. After a certain period of time, each pair can share their thoughts with the class. This is a strategy that will work well without digital tools, however, there are some options to explore. 

    To randomly place students in pairs, use a random name generator so students build relationships with their classmates. To help students to build confidence, use a tool such as Padlet or even Flip, for pairs to post their ideas on a collaborative board, or with audio or video responses. Whatever way we have students “share,” it encourages students to engage in conversation and more active listening. Students can hear a variety of perspectives on a given topic, which promotes the development of social awareness and it is a great way to build communication skills.

  2. Journaling/Blogging: Even as a child, using a diary to capture thoughts and reflect was something that was a common practice. In my early years of teaching, I had students write responses to short prompts in my Spanish classes in a notebook that I would review and provide feedback in. What I didn't realize at the time is that I was having them blog, but on paper. I also didn't realize what the impact was on their learning potential and of course in building their confidence along the way. Whether journaling, contributing to a blog, or creating a digital portfolio, for example, these are great ways for students to reflect on their learning and share their thoughts with a larger audience. Some options would be digital journaling tools such as Google Docs, OneNote, or using Spaces EDU. These can be shared with classmates or beyond the classroom community to include families in the learning that is happening. 

  3. Exit Tickets: There are many benefits to using exit tickets in our classrooms. After a lesson, whether with paper or the use of a digital tool, exit tickets are a quick and easy way for teachers to gauge student understanding and encourage reflection. With a few minutes left in the class period, teachers can set aside time to provide a prompt or a question to respond to. Students can write their responses on a small piece of paper or post-it note, or submit their answers digitally using one of the tools such as Padlet, Google Jamboard, Flip, or another space just as YoTeach! The benefit for teachers is that they have immediate feedback on student learning and allow students to reflect on their own understanding of the material. Exit tickets are helpful for doing a quick formative assessment tool to better guide instruction in future lessons. These are helpful for students to build self-awareness and be reflective each day.

  4. Collaboration and Interactive Experiences: Sometimes students work well to brainstorm ideas together and be able to see and visualize, then process the thoughts of others. The use of collaborative documents, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word allow students to collaborate and share their thoughts and ideas. Depending on the age of students, teachers can create a document or a board using Padlet or even a Nearpod Collaborate board, to encourage students to add their own responses and comments. Pear Deck is a great tool to use for checking in on students to ask for reflections. It can be used with all students, regardless of grade level or content area, and offers a variety of options for engaging students in learning and tracking their progress.

  5. Video Reflections: Videos are a great tool for reflecting on our teaching practice and for students to share their experiences. In my classroom, students have created skits, interviews, and lessons they taught using videos that they created and shared. Whether it is a video reflection that allows students to share their thoughts and ideas in a more personal and creative way, by using a digital tool, it helps students to convey ideas, questions, and build confidence. Using tools like Buncee, Book Creator, Flip, StoryJumper, and others that include video options, students can tell a story, record themselves reflecting on their learning, and share videos with the class or with the teacher. Students can even choose to share their video with the larger school community! 

    Video reflections help students to express themselves in a way that may be more comfortable than writing or speaking in front of classmates. The authentic component of hearing the student speak about a topic, allows teachers to see and hear their students’ thought processes and then provide more personalized and meaningful feedback to each student, which is essential.

Equally important is the power of reflection for teachers. Learning about student thoughts throughout the year is important. Earlier last year I started exploring LessonLoop, which provides anonymous surveys that teachers can issue to students.  It provides feedback based on student engagement, SEL, comfort in the learning space, and more. Teachers can take the information and use it to reflect on their practice and involve students by showing their input is valued through the use of these surveys.   


Whatever method we choose, the goal is the same: Prepare students for the future with skills that enable them to be flexible and adapt to the changing look of education and work. Reflective practice is key to ongoing learning and growth.




About the Author:

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of seven books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU”, “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” and her newest book “Things I Wish […] Knew” is now available at bit.ly/thingsiwishedu.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915.


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