George Lucas Educational Foundation
Special Education

The Benefits of Reflection for Students With Disabilities

By reflecting on their past work, students with disabilities can see how far they’ve come and their potential for future success.

August 25, 2022
PeopleImages / iStock

Reflection is one of the most important and powerful skills for anyone to engage with, and it’s important for educators to introduce this concept to all students. Far too often, students with disabilities are not afforded the opportunity to learn about reflection and how it can help them succeed in school.

Reflection encourages students to evaluate and understand their mistakes while supporting a growth mindset to develop either solutions or action plans to improve their skills in order to master a topic or standard.

First Steps

The first thing an educator must do to ensure that students have a valuable reflective experience is to share the goal or goals for learning tasks. Students should understand the why behind a specific learning task and how it relates to the overarching unit goal and objectives.

Once students have completed the task, they mainly worry about submission of the assignment but miss the important part: honing and reflecting on their learning. Completing the task alone, depending on whether or not it was differentiated, can be difficult for students with disabilities (SWD), who are often our most vulnerable students. Encouraging time for reflection can be particularly helpful after these students have completed a challenging task.

3 Reflective Activities to Try for SWD

These particular activities will work for any student, but I’ve found them to be especially effective for SWD.

1. Snowball reflection activity. The snowball reflection is a fun way to get students engaged and thinking about their work or progress without the anxiety of whole-class sharing. The activity involves students receiving a blank sheet of paper and reflecting on the questions presented by the teacher in terms of their progress or solution to a particular problem the class is tackling.

Students put their name in the right-hand corner of the paper. Then, they draw two lines to divide the paper into four equal parts and number the sections 1, 2, 3, 4.

The students will have the opportunity to answer four questions, providing an answer in each of the sections of the divided paper. You might start by asking them what’s the most interesting thing they learned in the last unit. The most powerful snowball reflection questions are open-ended, allowing the student to think and be free from restriction in a response.

Once the students write a response (these do not have to be in complete sentences), the students crumple their sheet of paper. Then, at the teacher’s direction, they throw these crumpled sheets toward some central location. It’s helpful to provide a target like multiple baskets and clear expectations to avoid any conflict.

Next, the students retrieve a piece of crumpled paper, read the first response, answer a second question in space 2, and recrumple the paper. This process continues two more times. The next question might ask students to explain what made it so interesting. For the third question, you could ask how they think this new knowledge will help them in the future, and the final question could be what do they want to learn next.

The snowball activity is a great way to have written discourse without the fear of being singled out. To support SWD, make sure to provide sentence starters on posters around the room:

  • “I disagree with you somewhat/completely.”
  • “I agree with you because…”
  • “In other words, you think…”
  • “Based on my experience, I think…”
  • “You/we might consider…”
  • “I have a different point of view, which is…”

2. Reflection partners. Students can pair up with a student of their choice to help answer reflection questions on how they feel their progress has been with a certain activity or with a particular goal they have set for themselves. The following are sample questions to provide students during their work with a partner or afterward:

  • What do you think you could have done better?
  • What are your thoughts on your partner’s point of view in the project?

The conversation can be structured with scaffolded questions and sentence stems to provide support. Often, students with disabilities struggle to put into words their thoughts about a particular project or ask the right questions to reflect on their progress. Sentence stems and scaffolded questions help guide these students to navigate their thoughts in a clear, focused, and concise manner, allowing their voices to be heard and their reflective thoughts to occur.

3. Reflection game. To help our learners engage in reflection, we can also try to make it fun. Reflection is sometimes hard because it can do the opposite of what it’s intended to do. It can create a negative mindset in a child based on their interpretation of their progress and what it may mean. This tends to be a particular issue for SWD.

At times, they may struggle to see any positives in the areas where they need to improve and feel like they have failed themselves or others. Helping them to reframe these areas as future strengths is extremely important. To help with this, create a reflection game. Hand students a pair of dice, one with reflection questions and another with positive phrases to help answer them. Have students roll the dice for several rounds, answering questions and thinking of solutions.

A second option can be to place reflection questions in a Kahoot game. Group students into teams so that they can reflect on their work but focus on collaboration in developing positive solutions.

Reflection can take on many different formats. It can be done in quiet sessions or loud gatherings involving discourse and games. The more students practice reflecting, the more likely they are to develop a sense of pride, grit, determination, and growth. For SWD this can be quite a task, but it’s not impossible. With the right support, all students can blossom under consistent, personal, and collaborative reflective practices.

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  • Special Education
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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