Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: 3 Key Ways Reflection Can Help Your Students Become Better Learners

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
3 Key Ways Reflection Can Help Your Students Become Better Learners

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 22,073 views

What do you think of at the mention of self-help books?

They tend to have a stigma about them. Only people with real problems need them. But in fact, those who read self-help books tend to be more successful in life than those who don’t. In other words, it is those we admire, who seem to have it all together who actually read books about how to make the most of life. It is possible that the books themselves hold the key to success, but I’d like to posit another possibility. What if the real success comes from the simple act of self-examination? What if people who are successful seem to do well at life because they look at their own life and examine how they are doing – both for better and for worse? If that’s so, and even if there is only partial truth to it, think about how much it could help our ESL students if they took the time to reflect on themselves and their English learning journey.

How Can Self-reflection Help Your Students?

For one thing, taking time to honestly assess yourself and your performance gives you a clear read on how you are doing. Have you ever looked at yourself in a picture and said, “I don’t look like that!” That’s because in our minds, we have an image of ourselves. The camera doesn’t lie, but it does sometimes cause friction between what we see on the photo and what we see in our heads. It’s the same for your students when it comes to learning English. Sometimes their perception of themselves doesn’t quite match up to what we see. Giving students time to reflect on their performance can help to dispel the false images they have of their own English speaking abilities.

Self-reflection is great for students because when they see themselves objectively, they can make realistic goals for themselves. It may not be a good idea for a beginning student to enroll for a college level class taught solely in English a mere two months after starting an ESL program. But with some honest self-assessment, that student can make some reasonable, attainable, intermediate goals on their road to enrolling in a university program, and it all comes with an honest look with where they’re at.

Another reason self-reflection in the ESL classroom is particularly helpful is because you are there to help guide your students. They may have trouble determining exactly what goals are reasonable or what steps it will take to achieve those goals. Taking time to talk to your students about where they see their skills and performance and then giving your two cents worth when it comes to setting goals will be another push to setting them up for success.

6 Steps to Making Self-reflection a Regular Part of Your Program

  1. I’m convinced, you say, that it’s worth it for my ESL students. Now how do I make it happen? Here are some simple ways to make room for self-reflection in your ESL class.

  2. Take time out after large projects or at the end of the semester to reflect on performance.

  3. 1

    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    An easy way for students to reflect on how they have done is what I call the good, the bad, and the ugly. Start by having students list what they did right, what was good about their performance or how they completed the project. Once they have brainstormed a good list for that category, move on to what was less than ideal, aka “bad”. What mistakes did they make? Where did they struggle? What problems did they encounter? Finally, have students take some time to list out what they would do differently next time. That’s the ugly column, though not everything on that list has to be something that went wrong.

  4. 2

    Grade Prediction

    Have students predict the grade they will receive for a given project or grading period. Give them some time to think about how they have performed on tasks throughout this unit and ask students to predict their own grade. You might be surprised at how accurate some predictions will be. Then give students the grade you think they deserve. Ask students to write down a short response to the grade they received and set goals for the future.

  5. 3

    Conference Grading

    Take grade predicting a step further with conference grading. Meet with students one on one and ask them what grade they think they should receive. If their assessment is more than one grade off from what you think they should get, offer some thoughts on their performance – either good or bad. Also welcome their reasons for why they think they deserve the grade they suggested. Then encourage students to rethink that grade and suggest another one. Continue this process until you both agree on the grade a student should receive.

  6. Make reflection a more regular part of class by reflecting on specific assignments.

  7. 4

    Explaining Mistakes

    After taking a test, have students do this simple reflective exercise. Ask them to take three questions they got wrong. Have them explain the mistake they made and give the right answer. With the correct answers, have them explain why this answer is the right one.

  8. 5

    Applying Rubric

    For written assignments, try letting students grade their own performance with a rubric. Type out the standards you are using for assessment in rubric form. Read each student’s assignment and write feedback on the page but do not assign a grade. Return the papers with a copy of the rubric and ask students to determine what grade they think they earned on the writing assignment.

  9. 6

    Peer Feedback

    Have students give each other some feedback after completing an assignment. This is particularly good if students worked with a partner or in a group. Have one person give their partner a positive thing they did during the project as well as one area they think their partner can improve next time.

Finally, model self-reflection for your students.

Take a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect back on things that went well or things that didn’t and ask students to share their ideas for a successful day tomorrow. Share your own ideas too. When you model self-reflection for your students, they will find it easier to make it a part of their learning process, and they will be more willing to reap the many benefits self-reflection has to offer.

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