Reflective Thinking: RT 

| What is RT | CharacteristicsRT and middle school kids | KaAMS and RT | Links | Bibliography

What is reflective thinking?

  • The description of reflective thinking:

Critical thinking and reflective thinking are often used synonymously.  Critical thinking is used to describe:

"... the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome...thinking that is purposeful, reasoned and goal directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it focuses on a desired outcome." Halpern (1996).

Reflective thinking, on the other hand, is a part of the critical thinking process referring specifically to the processes of analyzing and making judgments about what has happened. Dewey (1933) suggests that reflective thinking is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge, of the grounds that support that knowledge, and the further conclusions to which that knowledge leads. Learners are aware of and control their learning by actively participating in reflective thinking – assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap – during learning situations.

In summary, critical thinking involves a wide range of thinking skills leading toward desirable outcomes and reflective thinking focuses on the process of making judgments about what has happened. However, reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.

Characteristics of environments and activities that prompt and support reflective thinking:

  • Provide enough wait-time for students to reflect when responding to inquiries.
  • Provide emotionally supportive environments in the classroom encouraging reevaluation of conclusions.
  • Prompt reviews of the learning situation, what is known, what is not yet known, and what has been learned.
  • Provide authentic tasks involving ill-structured data to encourage reflective thinking during learning activities.
  • Prompt students' reflection by asking questions that seek reasons and evidence.
  • Provide some explanations to guide students' thought processes during explorations.
  • Provide a less-structured learning environment that prompts students to explore what they think is important.
  • Provide social-learning environments such as those inherent in peer-group works and small group activities to allow students to see other points of view.
  • Provide reflective journal to write down students' positions, give reasons to support what they think, show awareness of opposing positions and the weaknesses of their own positions.

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  • Why is reflective thinking important?

Modern society is becoming more complex, information is becoming available and changing more rapidly prompting users to constantly rethink, switch directions, and change problem-solving strategies. Thus, it is increasingly important to prompt reflective thinking during learning to help learners develop strategies to apply new knowledge to the complex situations in their day-to-day activities. Reflective thinking helps learners develop higher-order thinking skills by prompting learners to a) relate new knowledge to prior understanding, b) think in both abstract and conceptual terms, c) apply specific strategies in novel tasks, and d) understand their own thinking and learning strategies.

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Reflective thinking and middle school kids:

  • How to prompt reflection in middle school kids:

It is important to prompt reflective thinking in middle school children to support them in their transition between childhood and adulthood. During this time period adolescents experience major changes in intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development. They begin to shape their own thought processes and are at an ideal time to begin developing thinking, learning, and metacognitive strategies. Therefore, reflective thinking provides middle level students with the skills to mentally process learning experiences, identify what they learned, modify their understanding based on new information and experiences, and transfer their learning to other situations. Scaffolding strategies should be incorporated into the learning environment to help students develop their ability to reflect on their own learning. For example,  

  • Teachers should model metacognitive and self-explanation strategies on specific problems to help students build an integrated understanding of the process of reflection.  
  • Study guides or advance organizer should be integrated into classroom materials to prompt students to reflect on their learning.
  • Questioning strategies should be used to prompt reflective thinking, specifically getting students to respond to why, how, and what specific decisions are made. 
  • Social learning environments should exist that prompt collaborative work with peers, teachers, and experts.
  • Learning experiences should be designed to include advice from teachers and co-learners. 
  • Classroom activities should be relevant to real-world situations and provide integrated experiences.
  • Classroom experiences should involve enjoyable, concrete, and physical learning activities whenever possible to ensure proper attention to the unique cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domain development of middle school students.

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How does KaAMS support reflective thinking?

  • KaAMS model of PBL and its relationship to reflective thinking: 


When students are faced with a perplexing problem, reflective thinking helps them to become more aware of their learning progress, choose appropriate strategies to explore a problem, and identify the ways to build the knowledge they need to solve the problem. The KaAMS model of PBL incorporates various components to prompt students' reflective thinking during the learning process. The lesson plans:

  • Provide teacher questions designed to prompt students to identify and clarify overall and subordinate problems. 
  • Provide many opportunities to engage students in gathering information to look for possible causes and solutions.
  • Provide ideas and activity sheets to help students evaluate the evidence they gather.
  • Provide questions that prompt students to consider alternatives and implications of their ideas. 
  • Provide questions and activities that prompt students to draw conclusions from the evidence they gathered and pose solutions.
  • Provide opportunities for students to choose and implement the best alternative. 
  • Encourage students to monitor and reevaluate their results and findings throughout the entire unit.


  • KaAMS incorporates prompts and scaffolding suggestions to promote reflective thinking by:

    • Structuring lesson plans to support reflective thinking.  
    • Providing lesson components that prompt inquiry and curiosity. 
    • Providing resources and hand-on activities to prompt exploration.  
    • Providing reflective thinking activities that prompt students to think about what they have done, what they learned, and what they still need to do.
    • Providing reflection activity worksheets for each lesson plan to prompt students to think about what they know, what they learned, and what they need to know as they progress through their exploration.

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Links to additional information on critical and reflective thinking:

A Selected Reflective Thinking Bibliography:


  • Moon, J. A. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. London: Kogan Page.
  • Halpern, D. F. (1996). Thought and knowledge: an introduction to critical thinking (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Selected Article:

  • Lin, X., Hmelo, C., Kinzer, C. K., & Secules, T. J (1999). Designing technology to support reflection, Educational Technology Research & Development, pp. 43-62. 

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