Many of us grow up thinking of mistakes as bad, viewing errors as evidence of fundamental incapacity. This negative thinking pattern can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which undermines the learning process. To maximize our learning it is essential to ask: “How can we get the most from every mistake we make?”

— Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan

Let’s start by placing our thoughts into a structure where we critically look at this term: reflection. We need to take it apart, view it from different angles and then put it back together again. More importantly we need to act on it, like it is now a verb:

“Reflective learning is a way of allowing students to step back from their learning experience to help them develop critical thinking skills and improve on future performance by analysing their experience. This type of learning, which helps move the student from surface to deep learning, can include a range of activities, including self-review, peer review, and Personal Development Planning.”

Sheffield, University Of. “Learning and Teaching Services.” Reflective Learning for Students – Modes of Learning – Toolkit for Learning and Teaching – LeTS – The University of Sheffield. September 24, 2013. Accessed November 12, 2017.

TED talk on Critical Thinking:

I often draw the picture featured below with my students to bring our discussions and lesson reflections to the ‘midnight zone’ of thought. It works in that it allows us as a group to talk with each other and at a highly sophisticated level, breaking down what we mean with music terminology and asking questions if we don’t know something.

Ideas - 58

Do you know the difference between a Brainstorm and a Mindmap? A brainstorm recalls information about what you did. It is a way of graphically representing recall. Reflection itself starts with this, yet it quickly moves past it to organising information; synthesising and evaluating data in the form of a Mind-map.

Mind-maps take entire concepts, memories and ideas to draw points together, forming connections and making conclusions. Imagine if you could take an lesson (or task) and draw a detailed Mind-map that represents your process of thinking, models of reasoning (including the choices you made), to help you step back and ‘see’ your own learning? It would work with practicing an instrument!

Let’s apply this idea to Performance Practice as part of a group discussion. Start a Mind-map on how you practice. As you begin to recall information start to connect it to methods of practice, things that affect your focus, time constraints, maybe even your timetable. What connections do you start to notice and can you make a conclusion from your map?

We all know reflection happens after an event. But what if we could train ourselves, through the use of a journal, blog or Mind-maps (forms of organisational thinking), to reflect regularly? How much better would our learning and IB Diploma marks be!

“Most learning happens afterwards, as a result of reflecting on the experience, concluding, and planning what to do next. Learning does not end when an activity is finished, but continues afterwards in a continual loop.”

Costa, Arthur L, and Bena Kallick, eds. 2017. “Chapter 12. Learning Through Reflection.” Learning Through Reflection. ASCD75.

Here are some simple sentence starters that I edited from Learning through Reflection. I recommend a notation journal (like the one Moleskin have) where you can jot down ideas and then add a short reflection that gradually improves in depth. Don’t forget, applications like are perfect for this and are available on any device. Make the technology work for you. Keep a Notebook open where you create audio, written and illustrated reflections.

• I selected this piece of writing/music/score/audio/a performance because …
• What really surprised me about this piece was …
• When I look at my other pieces of writing, this piece is different because …
• What makes this piece of writing strong is my use of …
• Here is one example from my writing (a professional example too) to show you what I mean.
• What I want to really work on to make my composing better is …

These questions along with some more research will start to lead you into ‘deeper’ questions such as, ‘How do I improve my writing, or practice?’ Or ‘Who can I approach who has mastered this?’ ‘How did they accomplish what I am striving to do?’

In short, to reflect on your learning, you need to:
• Describe what happened
• Explain how you feel
• Evaluate the positives and negatives
• Analyse the reasons
• Conclude what you learnt from the experience
• Plan how to improve

Costa, Arthur L, and Bena Kallick, eds. 2017. “Chapter 12. Learning Through Reflection.” Learning Through Reflection. ASCD75.

Photo Credit: PeterThoeny Flickr via Compfight cc