Critical Thinking

Encouraging Meaningful Reflection With Creative Digital Tools 

Tools for creating digital portfolios, video, and books can help teachers turn meaningful reflection into a critical part of the learning process. 

November 1, 2023
Johner Images / Alamy

Asking learners to reflect on their learning is a well-established practice for boosting student confidence and allowing educators to better understand learners. But did you know it can also improve critical thinking, help students develop a growth mindset, and support self-regulation?

During a typical busy class day, however, meaningful reflection often falls to the wayside. Luckily, students can gain both social and emotional and academic benefits through tech-infused multimedia reflections. Using digital tools, many of which are already popular in schools, students can utilize text, video, audio, and more to create a perpetual record of their goals and learning experiences. 

These practices fit into any grade level, curriculum, and time constraint, and learners are able to express their feelings and record their triumphs in a variety of mediums. Based on our experience as teachers and coaches, here are a few of our top tips for getting started.

Establish A Consistent Routine

In order to see the full, positive benefits of reflection, students should be doing it regularly. When reflection is established as part of the classroom repertoire from the start of the school year, students will be able to recognize their growth on a more consistent basis, and logistics will become second nature.

Formative assessments that may already be part of the classroom practice can be infused with multimedia reflection. Bell ringers and exit tickets can prompt students to wonder about their goals or what they have learned, and Padlet is a great fit for these types of activities. Padlet is a tool that can be used to create a virtual wall where students can post using text, images, pictures, GIFs, audio, and even video in response to your reflection prompt. 

These routines can also span multiple school years using Wakelet, which allows students to create multimedia portfolios consisting of a combination of learning artifacts and reflections. As with Padlet, students can express themselves using a variety of tools, but Wakelet is meant to be revisited and shared over long periods of time.

Individual Self-Assessment

The best way to help students reflect on their learning is to provide them with a process for structured reflection. This helps students evaluate their own learning and set specific future goals. These personal reflections can take the form of more abstract, open journal entries and general conversations, but established rubrics have benefits for both student well-being and content mastery.

Try sharing a combination rubric and feedback sheet via an online platform such as Kami, which allows students to assess their created work on their own terms. Kami lets students interact with feedback sheets by drawing, writing responses, embedding video comments, or recording audio. The rubric might ask them to assess their strengths, provide examples of where they did well, and choose areas to focus on for the future. One of the best parts of using a platform like Kami is the ability to look at previous rubrics and reflections so that students see and embrace their moments of growth.

Collaborative Peer Debriefing 

Sometimes it can be hard to engage students in a reflection process, because they don’t realize it is an important part of the learning cycle. And sometimes it’s hard for teachers to provide timely feedback on each reflection. By adding a layer of peer feedback to the process, teachers enable student to build soft skills such as communication, empathy, and teamwork, while putting closure on a learning cycle. 

When initiating peer feedback in your classroom, it is important to set the stage by creating a culture of support. Providing students with protocols and sentence stems that they can use when engaging with peers is essential in introducing feedback cycles and building academic vocabulary.

Padlet and Flip both allow students to respond to peer reflections. With Padlet, students can respond to each other using text or a star/thumbs-up rating, similar to “likes” on social media. With Flip, students post videos and then respond to one another via comments. (Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, which translates text and provides captioning, is built in to support all types of readers.) Both tools give students an opportunity to practice online discourse and digital citizenship on safe platforms where teachers can intervene if needed. 

Making Reflection Accessible

If we want all students to be able to experience a deep and meaningful reflection, we need to make sure we are creating activities that are accessible to all learners. Here are some ways to develop accessible reflection activities:

  • Using the same tool for reflection consistently. Removing the barrier of having to figure out the tool each time helps students get right into the act of reflecting. This barrier can overwhelm some students, such as emerging readers and Level 1 English language learners. 
  • Providing tools with language options. These include speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and language selection. 
  • Following the Universal Design for Learning framework. This allows students to communicate their reflections in the media that work best for them. Selecting platforms that enable students to choose between text, video, audio, and images promotes student empowerment. 
  • Scaffolding with templates or questions that can help students guide their reflection. 
  • Ensuring that your reflection prompts are culturally relevant. We must know our students’ backgrounds and use that knowledge to make reflection prompts that embrace their cultural and lived experiences. 

Book Creator is another of our favorite platforms for reflection. With Book Creator, students can create digital books, which can be downloaded as an e-book or shared with families online. These books are perfect for long-term reflection projects like portfolios or can be used to make interactive notebooks with embedded reflection. What we love most is that Book Creator is built with accessibility in mind, taking into account those using screen readers or emerging English speakers. 

Reflection is a highly effective educational practice, backed by research and demonstrated by the seminal works of John Dewey, David Kolb, and Donald Schön. In our experience, the relative ease and convenience of digital tools means that meaningful reflection practice can fit into any existing classroom environment.

Best of all, reflection isn’t just for students—educators can profit from it too. As you consider these strategies, try your hand at developing your own reflective mindset using the “3-2-1” method: What are three ideas new to you, two “aha” moments you experienced reading this article, and one action you will take using what you learned? Happy reflecting!

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