Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Wouldn’t you agree?
So why is it that so many students fail to make changes to their routines and habits when they are disappointed, stressed or unimpressed when they consider their academic performance over the past semester?
You know I have an answer. It’s because they fail to reflect.
What is reflecting anyway?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines reflection as both (1) a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation and (2) consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose.
I like to think of reflection as a personal self-assessment. For me, it involves taking time out of my busy schedule to purposefully think about a particular event, experience, encounter or exchange. I honestly schedule in the time because that’s how I roll. I think about what happened, how I felt, how others reacted and if I would change my approach or actions in a future situation. And this my friends is the purpose of reflection.
So, why bother reflecting?
Reflection brings about awareness which can bring about positive change which is what continuous improvement is all about. We all should be taking more time to reflect in our daily lives. In fact if we did, I bet the world would be a better place.
Alright. How do I get started?
Reflection isn’t something you should do only “at the end” of a project; however, that seems to be the most obvious time to pause and evaluate the event, activity or work performed. At a minimum, students should be taking the time to reflect after receiving feedback (either in the form of a grade or actual written feedback) on each test, exam, paper, report or assignment. I recognize that some evaluators rarely take the time to provide written comments so if they do, consider it a bonus. Another even better time to reflect is before the feedback (i.e. grade) is provided. This timing will remove any bias that results from an unexpected good or poor evaluation of the work. Reflecting at the end of a semester or academic year is also an excellent time to pause and consider the timeframe as a whole.
If you’re not sure what you should be thinking about, here are some questions to get you started:
- How did this experience differ from your expectations?
- How did this experience make you feel?
- What was the best and worst thing that happened during this experience?
- What was your biggest challenge? What enabled you to overcome this challenge or what prevented you from overcoming this challenge?
- Was there anything which made you uncomfortable or discouraged during this experience?
- What helped or hindered you through this process?
- How did this experience challenge your assumptions and stereotypes?
- What you would change if you had the opportunity to repeat this activity?
- What skills did you develop or improve as a result of this experience?
- How will this experience benefit you in the future?
- What have you learned about yourself?
I highly recommend keeping a “reflection journal” which can take the form of a dedicated notebook or a simple Word document. The act of jotting down notes will help you internalize your takeaways and apply what you have learned to the next experience.
Now you know what to do and how to do it. Do yourself a favour and schedule in some time to reflect as this academic year comes to a close. If you seriously apply the learnings from this effort to new experiences (i.e. new coursework) you should see results.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/gemmabou/7226316180/”>Gemma Bou</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>