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Training Tweak: Better Reflections

As trainers and assessors, we recognise that powerful learning comes not from doing something, but from learners reflecting on what they did, why they did it and how it worked out. Great trainers include reflection activities and debriefs as key parts of any training sessions. Just like a mirror – we ask learners to look at themselves and share what they see.

mirrorHowever, ask any number of people and they will tell you that some mirrors are better than others. Even excluding weird and wonderful versions you find at the Fun Parks,  ‘normal’ mirrors can give you different views of yourself. (And of course there is the magic mirrors that are happy to tell you that you are the fairest in all the land.)

So what happens when one of our learner seems to be staring into a mirror that isn’t giving a very honest reflection of themselves, or who only takes a quick glance?

You may get one of those learners who either can’t seem to see any deficiencies with their performance or, just as awfully, can’t see any of the positive things that they have done. Maybe they try and rush through a reflection with a one word answer. Maybe they are expecting you to tell them what you see and think (unfortunately a bad habit of many trainers and assessors, especially those short on time!)

A few choice questions and phrases might just tweak that reflection process.

Note: The tweak below is going to work best if you have dutifully watched the learner and thought about some key learning points to guide the reflection. Also, it works from the idea that the learning comes from the learner doing the thinking helped by your questioning – NOT by you doing the talking and stating. Have your question list handy with your note pad.

Guiding questions for effective reflections

Getting started – use a question break the ice!
  • How do you think that went?
  • How are you feeling now? Why?
  • How do you think you performed?
  • What do you think went well? What did you find tricky about this situation?

    Any of these are great open questions that allows the learner to share their thoughts without influence from you. For learners who reflect well it may be all you need. For everyone else, it gives you an indication of what personality type and skill level you are dealing with, and breaks the ice for what comes next.

Follow up questions – tunnel down to reach the points you want learners to reflect on
  • I saw….
  • I heard…

These two are all about your observations. They are non judgemental. They are not arguable. They may also highlight something the learner doesn’t remember or even realise happened. Starting with a statement is a great way to introduce something (positive or negative) to guide the learner in their reflection – particularly when followed up with questions that makes them explain things from their view and think through the consequences. for example:

  • When xxx happened, what were you thinking about?
  • Why did you decide to do xxx?
  • What do you think might have happened as a result of that?
  • What other options did you consider/could you have considered?
Make sure the learning points are clear – summarise reflection or give further guidance
  • So if you had to do this task again, what would you do differently?
  • What are a couple of key things you are going to focus on more next time?
  • What’s the best take away/lesson you have gained from this activity?
  • What do you think you need to practice more of?

Sometimes discussions can go for a while – a lot is discussed and the key points may get lost in the mix. Taking a minute to have learners summarise their main learning points is essential. Creating an action plan helps make sure the reflection time is most useful.

You may have a couple of extra points from things you observed. You can share with the learner anything they didn’t cover if you think it will really add to their learning experience (Don’t get too picky!) Your favourite line to the learner should hopefully be “During your reflection you covered off all the key things I had noticed. We are on the same page, so I don’t have much more to add except well done!”

For learners who just didn’t get to key learning points through honest reflection – even after your careful questioning, here is your chance to just give it to them straight. Give feedback in a simple way – including a couple of things you thought went OK, before telling them a couple of things  you want to see happen differently and why.

If you are short on time, rather than falling back into the habit of telling, just keep the reflection focused on one or two learning points.


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