Using Reflection to Support Student Learning During COVID-19

by Byron Terry, Research Intern, Democracy Program

In the blink of an eye, students went from seeing each other and their teachers physically to an online zoom call. Recently, the Democracy Schools Network hosted a check-in call with civic education leaders from different schools in Illinois to discuss some of the thorns and roses since they have made the online transition. Educators expressed a variety of challenges, including:
  • Some of their students now have even more responsibility with younger siblings in the home
  • Students have limited access to devices to do their schoolwork because in some instances multiple people share one device throughout the day
  • Students are leaving home and going to businesses that have free wifi to complete assignments and/or access their virtual classrooms through their phones in the parking lots
  • Students are having trouble expressing their concerns about what is happening in this moment


Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, schools across the nation have been working hard to make the transition from the traditional physical setting to an e-learning platform. Even though educators across the nation have been getting creative to build community, support their students through this change, and provide a quality education, they are still grappling with various pre-existing obstacles that come with e-learning. Additionally, some of the issues they were facing in the physical classroom, such as parent engagement and home/workload balance, have migrated to the online classroom in different forms. In this moment, utilizing reflection, may be the key to addressing some of these issues as this is a skill most teachers and students have had previous experience with.

The various elements of Democracy Schools all embed reflection as a key component of the civic learning practice. With Discussion of Current and Controversial Issues, teachers are providing opportunities across disciplines for students to take an active role in deliberating current issues and creating time for reflection and processing so that students can consider changes in viewpoint and use of evidence. With Simulations, teachers provide opportunities for students to participate in role-playing activities, problem solving, consideration of dilemmas, interactive case studies and scenarios, and online games while also creating time for reflection and processing to understand the concepts and application of simulations. Lastly, with Informed Action/Service-Learning, teachers provide opportunities for all students regardless of academic skill or ability, to engage in civic action by using knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs on multi-levels through preparation, action, and reflection.

As teachers may be exploring how they can use reflection, there are a number of online resources that can provide effective strategies and context for showing the effectiveness of reflection.
  • Washington State University provides information on the components of reflection
  • Gateway Technical College provides a Service Learning Reflection Toolkit that not only outlines essential components, but provides suggestions for activities for students
  • UTM Experiential Education Office provides a toolkit that goes into detail on reflective writing really and how to write reflectively vs academically
Creating assignments where students can reflect on all they are facing during this current moment might be the key to supporting students, understanding issues of access, and building community. Allowing students to reflect on what is going on in small groups and/or group discussions can allow students to build a connection with students that are going through similar circumstances and give teachers a sense of what students need.

For example, teachers can ask students to reflect on their computer access over the past few weeks. This may give teachers insight to what is manageable for students to accomplish from home. Other reflection questions can address whether a family member or friend have been affected by the virus or what media is telling them about COVID-19. It is important for educators to ask students about how their lives have changed due to COVID-19, understand their outlook on the current pandemic, and what supports educators can offer to assist students through these changes. Additionally, there is opportunity to get feedback from students on their experiences with e-learning allowing students to voice their expectations or ideals on how effective e-learning looks. Student Voice, especially with these key opportunities for reflection, can support educators in creating the best path forward for their students.

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