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Are we missing reflection in learning?

February 12th, 2010 by Jo Turner-Attwell

I have recently been looking into reflection within learning and was writing out some notes on this when I found myself tying in Vygotsky. Reflection within learning is something I do not feel is currently supported by the current education system, and when looking at the reasons why I found myself referring to the model of the Zone of Proximal Development, which is where Vygotsky comes in.

The ZPD is seperated into three stages:
1.Learning through assistance
2.Repeating without understanding
3.Repeating alone and understanding

Stage number three is what I understand to be the reflection process, the thinking through something you have learnt initiating full understanding. This is a bit like when learning something, running through the key points in your head so you dont forget important information. This running through information in your head is an active process: reflection, and its the most important part because its the part that makes sense of everything you have done. This process needs to be something that is supported and integrated to learning.
However within school education I feel this reflection stage is restricted to individual revision outside of class. As a general rule, particularly at higher stages of school education where the aim is for students to pass exams, maybe due to limited time for a large amount of content, information is presented but not analysed. Students get information and processes thrown at them to achieve the results required, whilst the most important stage where students understand and truly learn in a way that will stay with them is left for home revision. In school I remember being given many information sheets that when it came to revise I struggled with as I did not truly understand. Reflection to initiate true understanding is pushed to one side if you like.
For me this is clearest from my maths classes. The teacher would show us how to do a sum, and then we’d do it ourselves and she’d support us in this process. Often what was missing was summing up the key points, ie. what we had learnt, and the theory behind the mathematics. That was left to us in revision or in seeking our own understanding and we’d move onto the next topic and repeat the first two stages. In my mind this is not a flaw in the teaching but in the curriculum of maths in particular as we were simply required to answer questions not understand the reasons for the answers.
There are so many easy and interesting ways that reflection can be integrated into education. Discussion, debate, or simply summarising can contribute to the reflection process. In addition this process can be encouraged by Technology Enhanced Boundary Objects. A good example of this is the example of Video Editing explored in the Tap Into Learning newsletter Action+Reflection=Learning, as editing work requires not only revisiting the work done but cutting it into key information. In addition social networking and forum discussion systems when used in an educational context can allow students to discuss ideas from wherever they are and in ways where the conversation can later be revisited.
Reflection is concept that I feel is essential within education and can provide a richer learning experience to many students.

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4 Responses to “Are we missing reflection in learning?”

  1. Thank you for your thoughts about the three stages of the ZPD.

    I have thought about the ZPD as having a ‘depth of field’ and I also question ‘Who is in Charge of the ZPD’. You might be interested in these thoughts –

    I look forward to your posts.

  2. Jo says:

    Thanks for your comment and the link, your work on ‘Who is in Charge of the ZPD’ looks really interesting.
    I agree with you, and think I worded my post wrong. Although I understand the ZPD as a students potential for learning, best shown with assistance, I think the realisation of this potential requires the three stages. So I infact meant the process with which to achieve the total potential within the current Zone of Proximal Development.

  3. Hey Jo,
    I have been ‘reflecting’ on the three stages you have identified, and I believe them to be the case in some situations – for some types of learning tasks. I just haven’t thought it all through yet and have to get ready to go skiing with my family right now! 🙂

    Did you have any thoughts about the types of learning that these stages might apply to?


  4. Jo says:

    I hope you have fun skiing!
    At the moment I’ve only really looked at the process in terms of my own learning experience. But language I think is an interesting example, in that students first get shown words or hear words from a MKO whether that be a textbook or another person. They then may try the word out directly afterwards with a measured degree of scaffolding. But it is often not until this word is revisted or used within conversation that students really appreciate a words true meaning. This is certainly what I find anyway.
    But these are just a few ideas,
    I look forward to your comments,

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