Reflection Process and Insight | Steve Barkley

Reflection and Insights

Jackie Gerstein, writing in Where is reflection in the learning process?, shares an experience most teachers can relate to:

“I asked the students to get in small groups to discuss these questions. They got in their groups and just looked at one another with baffled looks on their faces while remaining silent. I tried rewording the questions and providing examples and still got blank looks when they returned to their group discussions.”

One of her questions was, “What can you take from the class activities to use in your life outside of class?” (It was a course in interpersonal communications.)

You might describe that what she wanted was to uncover her students’ insights.

According to Meriam Webster, insight is:

1: the power or act of seeing into a situation: penetration

2: the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively

Insight is often described as an “aha” moment. It might be communicated as inference, realization, overlapping pattern, connection, parallel pattern, or relationship.

Gerstein shares that she had insight concerning her students:

“They are products of a standardized system where they were asked to memorize standardized information and spit that information out on standardized tests. When finished with one unit of information, they were asked to quickly move onto the next unit. They were not given the time, skills, and opportunities to extract personalized meanings from their studies.  Reflection was not part of their curriculum as it cannot be measured nor tested.”

Little boy reading a book

I was approached by a high school teacher who was mentoring a student enrolled in her first “upper level” class. The student shared that she wasn’t “getting the connections” [my term: insights] that her classmates were making. The mentor asked me, “How do I teach her to have insight?”  Her question stymied me for a few minutes. I then realized that insight emerged from the questions we are asking ourselves during an experience or after an experience (reflection). This student was listening to information but not examining how it compared to what she knew or heard somewhere else. Teaching her questions to consider would build her connections.

Most often when we pose questions for reflection they come from Row 2 in Questions for Life: Insight, Appraisal, Summary, and Evaluation.


Questions for life chart

(Print a copy here.)

For students to build reflective responses, they need to ask themselves questions from row 1: Perception, Induction, Analysis, Same/Different. I describe for students that when you are asked a Row 2 question, “you do not know an answer”; you have to build one.

Don Clark, writing in Learning Through Reflection, identifies that:

“Reflection is thinking for an extended period by linking recent experiences to earlier ones in order to promote a more complex and interrelated mental schema or patterns. The thinking involves looking for commonalities, differences, and interrelations beyond their superficial elements. The goal is to develop higher order thinking skills.”

Initially teachers can facilitate student reflection by providing the building/exploring questions. With experience, instruction, and coaching, students should develop the ability to question themselves to enrich learning and insights.

A common place for teachers to request reflection is at the end of a more substantial assignment or project.

Write a refection about “What you discovered by completing the community service activity this month.”

The teacher may precede this question with these:

  • What did you think the experience would be like before you began?
  • How was it similar and different from your expectations?
  • What was the easiest part? The most difficult part?
  • Did you make any mistakes or have any unsuccessful attempts before succeeding?
  • What was your most satisfying experience?
  • Is there anything you are still wanting to accomplish even though the time for the project ended?

“What did you discover by completing the community service activity this month?”

The same process exists for teacher coaches and facilitators who are encouraging teacher reflection. Rather than starting a post-observation conference by asking the teacher to reflect or assess “how the lesson went” you might begin with:

  • When you planned the learning activity, what did you envision students doing as they engaged?
  • How did what transpired compare to that picture?
  • What decisions did you make during the lesson?
  • What led to those decisions?

What insights do you have to guide your next choices?

Take the time for the reflection process.  The payoff is well worth the investment.

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

– John Dewey

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One Response to “ Reflection and Insights ”

  1. Jan VanGilder Says:

    Wow! This is spot on and goes hand in hand with our questioning procedures! Being reflective does not come naturally to me; so, I do have to be “thoughtful”! And, whether it be students or adults, the process seems to be the same! Thanks! Your posts make me think!

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