Reflective Review: Think it Through Then Do

I know I can

Your lesson has gone really well, but you want to make that new learning sticky before students leave for the day or head to their next class, or before you move on to the next subject if you are teaching elementary. There are a lot of strategies that you can go to here, but which one? That, friends, is at the sole discretion of the teacher, and there is no one right answer. While exit tickets, after action reports, think-pair-share, brain dumps, and sketchnotes are just some of the many options to choose from for ending a lesson, I may have one more cognitive tool you can add to your educational tool chest. I call it, Reflective Review.

Be what I wanna be

We all know how powerful reflection is when learning. In fact, John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” I’ve had students reflect in writing, in discussion, in an audio only format, and by video. But as I thought about classroom implications for the “visualization” or “mental rehearsal” portion of my social emotional learning framework, Train Like A Navy SEAL, it hit me. By combining reflection with mental rehearsal, for a brief minute or two at the end of class, we have the potential to really impact student learning of those new concepts.

If I work hard at it

If you aren’t familiar with the mental rehearsal or visualization technique, it is the process of envisioning yourself actually completing a task successfully, with challenges or built in setbacks, then navigating those step by step to complete the task. Whether you are a basketball player watching film of an opponent then visualizing yourself facing that player, move for counter move, or an NFL kicker visualizing each moment of a game winning last minute long shot of a kick, the technique has been proven to create those neural pathways in the brain that we commonly refer to as muscle memory, even without moving a, well, muscle.

I’ll be where I wanna be

Not only do you picture yourself going through each step of the task, and by picture, I mean you have to be the one in your mind doing the task, not the one watching yourself do the task. So if you are a basketball player, you envision bringing the ball down the court or getting the pass from the point guard, the feel of the ball in your hands, see the court and players as you scan for the play to develop, and then every move that you make all the way to the goal. That alone, though, isn’t quite enough. You also have to imagine what your opponent may do, and then how you would counter that. Imagine several scenarios from start to finish, all the way through to completion or the making of that basket. A side component of this practice, though, is positive self-talk. If you are simultaneously telling yourself that you can’t make that move, aren’t quick enough, good enough, or too slow, then you will sabotage your mental rehearsal just as surely as you would any physical rehearsal, so enter into it with those positive vibes and thoughts.

I know I can (I know I can)

So where does reflection come in? Let’s go back to the academic setting. In my Spanish 1 class, let’s say we have just finished learning how to conjugate the verb “ser.” We have worked through different activities and class is ending. I now tell students that we are going to do reflective review. I instruct the class to Sit Eyes Closed and Listen (SEAL-acronym comes from a retired Navy SEAL who works with golf pros). I now ask my class to visualize conjugating the verb ser into the “yo” form. I want them to see the verb in the infinitive form, then I want them to see it with the subject yo and in its transformed state. Still with me? My class is still sitting with their eyes closed, albeit there will be a few giggles, and I ask them to now see the subject “yo” and the conjugated form of ser “soy” in a sentence. I want them to picture the sentence in their heads. I give them a few seconds to do that. Then I end or close out the activity with having them picture themselves speaking that sentence to a classmate. They can think through any parts that could present problems, and then figure out how they would work through those problems. If time allows, I have students pair up and speak their sentence.

llustration of how students could use reflective review during a Spanish 1 class.
  • Sit Eyes Closed and Listen (SEAL) to the teacher who will give a basic problem.
  • Students visualize how to solve, complete, do the problem, formula, activity, etc.
  • Teacher adds new layer or complication.
  • Students visualize how to solve, complete, adjust for this new step and visualize successful completion.

Be what I wanna be (be what I wanna be)

This whole process should only take a minute or two at the end of your class period, or perhaps at the beginning of class the next day. Exit or entrance tickets following (not same day) the activity can help you see problems in student thinking at this stage in their learning. Now, you not only have taught students a technique that can work in sports, academics, and personal activities, but also have helped them with one of the Big 4 emotional skills in my Train Like A Navy SEAL framework. Along the way, you helped students practice positive thinking too, which is also powerful in more than one area of a student’s life. This system of review can work in virtual and physical classroom spaces to help students master skills and make their learning sticky. Try it personally before walking students through it if you want, as long as you try it. Our students need every tool we can give them to be successful in this ever changing world.


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