Encouraging Student Self-Reflection - Math Coach's Corner

Encouraging Student Self-Reflection

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

As part of my school’s PBIS  behavior management system, students have the opportunity to earn “tokens” they can save and redeem for rewards. A student favorite is the Stinky Feet pass, which allows students to work in the classroom with their shoes off for the day. Teachers can give students a Rocket Buck when they observe behavior that is consistent with the school expectations. As an intervention teacher, I like to be able to reward my students, but I also want the reward to be meaningful. In other words, they have to earn it! I recently figured out a way to turn the reward system into a tool for student self-reflection.

Coaching Students on Self-Reflection

The interventionists at my school pick up and drop off their students, so I have a few extra minutes with my students as I walk them back to class. I started by asking each student individually what they thought they had done during class to earn a Rocket Buck. I quickly found that my students needed a little coaching on reflection. I got responses like, I was good, I behaved, I listened, or I paid attention. All admirable behaviors, to be sure, but I wanted my students to dig a little deeper and provide a more detailed justification. So I changed my question and begin asking, What did you do to improve as a mathematician today? The question was better, but sadly the responses were about the same. To help the students frame their thinking, I created an anchor chart with specific behaviors–such as talking like a mathematician, learning from mistakes, noticing, etc.–and posted it by the door so they could refer to it on the way out. I found that, although their responses were getting better, I was still having to do quite a bit of prompting. I decided to create a new and improved anchor chart that included verbs (describe, tell, explain) and highlighted key components for mathematical growth. This was the missing element!

My students are now truly practicing self-reflection every day. I’m getting comments like this:

  • I learned the word product today. The product is the answer when you multiply.
  • I didn’t look carefully at the place value positions, and I made a mistake. I learned I have to be more careful and read the numbers to myself.
  • I learned that stacking my numbers and lining up the decimal point helps me compare numbers.
  • I challenged myself by not giving up when I didn’t understand the problem.

And I expect them to only get better as the year goes on!

Self-Reflection and Growth Mindset

This new self-reflection practice fits perfectly with my emphasis on growth mindset this year. As powerful as the idea of promoting a growth mindset is, there has been lots of chatter recently that it is being poorly implemented. For example, there seems to be the false belief that by simply praising effort or building a child’s self-steem you are promoting a growth mindset. There’s actually more to it than that. Carol Dweck, who pioneered growth mindset research, recently revisited the idea and pointed out some common pitfalls in an article for Education Week. She directly addressed the effort myth:

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. –Carol Dweck

Providing students with opportunities to self-reflect is a powerful way to help them understand that their effort must be focused, and it gives students specific tools they can work on to improve. That’s huge–for many, it can be the difference between feeling powerless or having hope. I gave a little math survey to my students at the beginning of the year and, not surprisingly, their attitudes about math were pretty awful. After all, I’m working with students who don’t feel successful in math. I can’t wait to give the survey again at the end of the year to see how their attitudes have changed!

Sound off in the comments and share how you help your students reflect on their learning!

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  1. Gail

    I love this anchor chart! Thank you for sharing it. I think I might adapt this to use with my third graders by making it a list to glue into the front of their math journals. I will have them complete a written self-reflection once a week or so to help them to express what they are learning and how they have grown as a mathematician. Thank you so much!


    Thank you for sharing. Generally Reflection is practiced by teachers to review the planning, execution, observation, feedback, weaknesses and orientation to re-plan and experiment to realize the teaching objectives with the learning outcomes. Your study throws light on learners doing Reflection on their learning. It is a good idea where the teacher and the learners work together as team, work in unison to realize the real and true potential of the learners that is rediscover the efficacy and real capabilities of the learner that is learners innate abilities and capabilities to be blatant. The true goal of education is achieve the real freedom to use and live the learning fullest, in a purposeful and meaningful way.

  3. Morgan

    Really appreciating this insight, Donna! Seems a powerful tool for any subject.

  4. Janelle Burtch

    Thank you for sharing your Math Anchor Chart! This will definitely help students reflect in a meaningful way. Do I have permission to to share this on social media teacher groups?

    • Donna Boucher

      Yea, I would love it if you shared a link to the blog post, rather than just a link to the file. Thanks!

  5. Lori Anderson

    Hello! Thank you for sharing student self-reflection, especially the graphic from Carol Dweck. It helped me to reflect on what I presently do and say with my students. As an elementary mathematics specialist for 4th-6th grade students, I work with a range of student levels. However, all students need to reflect on their learning. This week, I began taking a new group of students for tier 2 intervention. I normally give a mathematics survey to my students at the start of a new session. This time, I gave my 6th-graders a self-evaluation placing the learning on them as we are half-way through the school year. The results were amazing in that they know what they need to succeed. They know how to attain it and they do yearn for it. As always, I am positive my present students will show success, no matter if it is through math talks or through understanding math with a new perspective. My goal is to have them reflect more frequently during this second trimester.

    Is there anything else you might suggest for 6th-grade or other grades? Other than my own reflection, my goal is to have these students read their evaluations and reflect on their learning.

    Thank you!

    • Donna Boucher

      It sounds like you’ve already got a great system in place! I do think it’s important for students to verbalize what they are learning in a pull-out program that can benefit them in the classroom. That’s why I emphasize having my students discuss, on a daily basis, strategies they are learning and practicing that they can use in their classroom. For example, we’ve been working on comprehension of word problems this week and three strategies we’ve practiced are drawing models to represent the problem, jotting notes as we read, and focusing on what numbers represent, rather than just the numbers. Those are specific strategies they can use in their classroom.

      • Lori Anderson

        I appreciate your input!
        I incorporate math talks during intervention times. However, a challenge I find, other than inquiring with the teacher and viewing summative assessments, is how to measure whether students utilize these strategies outside of intervention. They may use them for a time and gain a false sense of confidence as their grades improve, but using strategies is definitely a cyclical process as they need continuous reminders as to what works and what has worked for them in the past. Unfortunately, I do not necessarily meet with my students every day.
        Thank you for your insight!

  6. Monica

    Hi Donna! Do you have any resources that could help with our youngest students, especially those that are ESL (ELL or ENL depending on where you are)? I want to do more of this but sometimes struggle with our early 1st graders that have limited vocabulary.


    • Donna Boucher

      Monica, I have ESL students in my groups, and I actually do this verbally with my students, so I can support their language. I think that’s one advantage of reflecting orally, versus in writing.

  7. Erica Ortego

    Thank you for sharing this anchor chart. It couldn’t have come at a better time. My school works with Dr. Marzano’s research lab on the High Reliability School Framework and so our formative and summative conferences with our principals revolve around questions we choose and want to work on throughout the year. This school year I chose “deeper questioning” with my students because I am a special education teacher for math grades 4/5. I found myself at the end of our pull-out block asking generic questions like, “what did you learn today?” or “what was fun?” and I wanted to change that. I will be making your anchor chart and implementing it this week. As always, thanks for sharing your ideas!!

    • Donna Boucher

      I’m glad the post was helpful and timely for you, Erica! I am definitely seeing my students’ ability to explain their learning improve. It’s so exciting. 🙂

  8. Mimi

    I would love to help my second graders do more self reflection in math, and I love your anchor chart! Practically speaking, though, when do you fit this in your day? My math block is split into two blocks, and I already feel that I cannot fit in everything I want to do with my students in one day!

    • Donna Boucher

      I walk my intervention students to and from class, so I speak to each of them individually as I walk them back. In a classroom, you could set up a conference schedule and speak briefly to 3-4 students each day. It really takes just a minute. I ask them what they did to grow as a mathematician today, and they respond. Of course, as I stated in the post, it takes coaching initially. Another alternative is to have the students write their self-reflection in their math journal.



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