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Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking involves personal consideration of one’s own learning. It considers personal achievements and failures and asks what worked, what didn’t, and what needs improvement (Given, 2002). It asks the learner to think about her own thinking.

“Reflection is the key that opens the door to understanding ourselves in relation to core ethical values” (Beland, 2003, p.15). Similarly, Lickona states that moral reflection is necessary to develop the cognitive side of character –the important part of our moral selves that enables us to make moral judgments about our own behavior and that of others” (Lickona, 1991, p.229).  This type of reflection enables learners to gain self-knowledge, to demonstrate their understanding of worthwhile moral values, take on the perspective of others, to reflect on why some actions are morally better than others, and to consider alternatives and consequences of actions.

Whether reflection is verbal, written, or drawn it is a key strategy for learning and a major tool for character education.  “Brain research suggests that brief periods of downtime aid in association, consolidate learning, and ‘imprint’ memory” (Jenson, 1998 as cited in Beland, 2003, p.38).  

Reflection can be done through journal writing, keeping a daily diary, essay writing, drawing, and talking in pairs. Reflection can follow a peer discussion. Reflection can be in response to a journal prompt about a character in literature. Reflection on compelling literature and narratives help us bridge the struggle to gain an understanding of the ideas and reasoning of others. Reflection aids the learner in making connections between the moral and social issues in the story, the struggle of the stories’ characters, and their own struggles to lead a moral life.

Reflection can occur in response to academic work and as a follow-up to a cooperative activity when students are asked to reflect upon how well their group did or did not work together. It can be used to review the day, as a follow-up for class meetings, as part of goal setting, and as part of a service learning activity. Students can reflect upon an authentic issue faced by students and the school community such as the impact of cliques, academic honesty or improving sportsmanship.  Reflection can be used in a number of ways that ask students to think about and respond to the learning. Teachers can model reflection by sharing their own learning regarding a moral issue.  This shows students that character development is a life-long journey and that, in this pursuit, it is the effort and the striving toward an ethical life that is important. (Beland, 2003, p.16)


Given, Barbara K. (2002) Teaching to the brain’s natural learning systems. Washington, DC: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Beland, K. (Ed.) (2003) Eleven Principles Sourcebook: How to Achieve Quality Character Education in K-12 Schools. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.

Beland, K. (2003) Understanding character development. In K. Beland (Ed.), Eleven principles sourcebook: how to achieve quality character education in K-12 Schools. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.

Lickona, T. (1991) Education for character: how our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.

L.A. Vezzuto, Ph.D.
© 2005 Orange County Department of Education