The Three Rules of Reflection

I was “himming and hawwing” (spelling suggestions welcome on that one) on how my exploration of portfolios as a means of teaching growth mindsets really enhanced / pushed forward 21st century learning in my classroom and then reading this Mind/Shift article called “What Meaningful Reflection on Student Work Can do For Learning” by Larissa Pahomov helped me see the forest for the trees again.

Pahomov has three clear suggestions for what reflection should be: metacognitive, applicable, and shared with others. Let’s start with metacognitive, shall we?


“When children are first learning to reflect on their work, their educators use simple prompts to get them thinking: Do you like what you made? Did you do a good job?Eventually, they are also asked to consider the process: What did you learn from this task? 

Metacognitive reflection, however, takes this process to the next level because it is concerned not with assessment, but with self-improvement: Could this be better? How? What steps should you take?”


This begged me to consider what questions are being asked of my students when they are looking at their own work. I see now, after reading this article, that the kinds of questions posed to the learner could be more explicit with generating metacognitive thinking. This is the template the students are using currently to think about their learning artifacts, which we adopted from what the grade 8 class used last year (why re-invent the wheel, right?). For the next round of portfolio entries, I think I will add these questions to guide the metacognitive process more:

– What did you learn from creating this work?
– Could this be better? How (be clear with what steps you would take)?


As teachers, we know where the class is headed in the learning journey and why each skill, knowledge set, or content piece is important for students to learn…but do the students know this?

“By being transparent about future tasks and assignments, teachers remind students that they’re going to have to use at least some of these skills again, so there’s no sense in making the same mistakes. Reflection suddenly has a real and immediate purpose: You know where this course is going, so how are you going to improve the quality of your own journey?”

There is a question on our reflection planning template that asks: “This (assignment/exercise, etc.) will help me in my life because” Students should be able to answer this clearly and directly. There shouldn’t be any guessing about it. So the point of why we reflect on these learning experiences should also be clear and understandable…or else the time spent processing could be an enormous waste. This reminds me that while we are learning anything really, I have to be exceptionally clear about why we are learning what we are learning. How this will serve them as contributing members of society and when this skill / knowledge will be applied in their lives. If they don’t see the point, you might as well not both.

Shared with Others:

“By sharing their reflections on their academic work, students can both advise and seek help from their peers. Sharing their achievements helps those who struggled with that particular task, and sharing their weak spots helps them troubleshoot as they work through a problem set or have a peer edit a rough draft.”

The beauty of Blogger accounts is that we can easily share with adults, other students, future teachers, and other important stakeholders in the lives of my students. Even stakeholders outside of the immediate learning community (Uncles, Aunts, Skating Coaches, Youth Group Leaders, Camp Directors, imaginary friends) could be invited to the blog and comment / share in the learning. When we return from the break, students will be introduced to their “Support Sisters” (think Tribes learning) that will serve as an audience and sounding board for portfolio entries. The importance of building trust, safety, and a supportive / non-competitive family within these support sisters is essential and something that I need to ensure happens.

So, based on this reading, my next steps are:

  • Add specific metacognitive questions to artifact reflection planner
  • Consistently be transparent about why we are learning what we are learning
  • Build time for trust building within support sisters groups
  • Make it a requirement to share the blogfolio with one other non-parent person outside of the classroom

5 thoughts on “The Three Rules of Reflection

  1. Love these different, levelled prompts. Such a simple shift, but a deep impact with each one. Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to pass this on to some of my teachers who are exploring portfolios, as these are great comments for them.

    thanks, as always!

  2. “Hemming and hawing” or maybe “hmming and hawing”.

    “I have to be exceptionally clear about why we are learning what we are learning. ” This is so true, particularly because the students, particularly the younger ones, know so little about adult life (and have so many misconceptions) that they often have to take the importance of a piece of learning on trust. I can tell them that when they’re grown up, a certain skill or piece of knowledge will be vital to their success, and they can repeat this back to me, but they will only truly understand it when they have lived it for themselves. I’m sure we’ve all had students who came back to visit, from university or even from some later point in their lives, to say, “Now I understand why you made us do so-and-so.”

    I love the idea of sharing. It might be worthwhile to pair up older girls with younger girls for this. In our school we could do this via the advisory system.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love the three part breakdown of goals for meaningful reflection, I will absolutely be keeping this in mind as I begin the action part of my action plan tomorrow!

    From the section on metacognition in the article, I love the way she phrased the need for “explicit practices to nudge [students] toward quality reflection”. I think this is something that my current way of asking them to reflect lacks and I’ll be looking for ways to incorporate it into my new method.

    Thanks so much for sharing this article and your thoughts on how to use it!

  4. I”m currently using portfolios in my Info Tech class. They are a great way to let students personalize their learning and add authentic, dynamic media to enhance and illustrate their learning. I’m curious about how you work with the privacy settings to promote sharing but also maintain safety. Another A+ blog….

  5. Celeste – you’re amazing! These steps are so precise, and I can see how the questions will lead to a much better idea of their own learning; which at the end of the day is a big win for us as educators.

    I do a lot of reflecting in my classes, and I look forward to adapting/adopting what you have here. Why re-invent the wheel right? My spouse Erica is going to love this!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.