When you only have a given number of hours to cover your parts of a programme with students, it is all too easy to fill all the available hours with planned teaching. It is important to accommodate students’ need for time to reflect on what they are learning, and to take stock of how their learning is going:

Being there is only one part of the picture: Keep reminding students that it is not enough for them simply to be there at lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes, and so on. In addition, they need to work out their own ways of consolidating what they are learning, doing coursework and preparing for assessment. They need to take on the responsibility for making sense of it all, and getting up to speed regarding being able to answer questions on it, solve problems with it, and so on.

Get students processing what they’ve learned: Devise short tasks to set students, such that they necessarily reflect on material they have been introduced to. Give the tasks out as (for example) structured task-sheets at the end of lectures, or post them online immediately after each lecture. Such tasks can be the basis of tutorial and seminar activities.

Find out how students think their learning is going: One way of allowing students to reflect on learning experiences is to ask them to provide you with feedback about their learning. Issuing a questionnaire asking (for example) them to categorise various topics into ‘completely understand’, ‘more or less understand’ and ‘don’t yet understand’ gives you feedback about their progress, but also helps them to reflect on their individual positions (and to compare their feelings with colleagues’).

Play it again – and again if it’s important: Explain the importance of repetition in learning and understanding. Suggest that it’s more useful to go over something for a few minutes several tiems than to spend one long spell studying it. Explain that when they are repeatedly spending a short time studying something, their subconscious mind is continuing to process the information and makse sense of it.

Suggest useful reflection techniques to students: For example, get them to review a lecture by deciding their answer to a question such as ‘if there were just two things I would need to remember from this lecture, they would be (1)… and (2)…’.

Encourage students to find out what has actually happened in their minds: Remind students of the dangers of reading passively – just turning the pages without any real learning occurring. Suggest that they stop and reflect at frequent intervals on what they have just been reading, for example by making a short summary or mind map of it, or by turning what they have learned into a list of short questions to quiz themselves with later.

Build some reflection-type activities into your teaching sessions: For example, use a lecture period now and then to pose to the class a series of problems or issues based on material they have met already, first getting students to reach individual decisions or answers, then initiating a discussion or debriefing with the whole group.

Make sure that students will consolidate what they have covered: For example, when deciding topics for student-led seminars, help to ensure that the preparation for the seminars will include reflecting on material that has already been covered in the programme, and linking it to the specific topics of the seminars. This helps students to see what we actually mean when we place emphasis on reflective learning.

Reflection can happen just about anywhere: Advise students that they can use all sorts of times and places to reflect. A considerable amount of reflection can be done in just a few minutes. Odd bits of time that might otherwise be completely wasted can be used for useful reflection – for example, waiting in a queue, train journeys, boring bits of lectures, and so on.

Help students to realise how useful their classmates can be to them: Enthuse students regarding how useful it can be to deliberately reflect with a few of their peers. Two or three people looking back at a lecture (or something they have all just read) can come up with more ideas than any one person would have, and because they are explaining their ideas by putting them into words to each other, the ideas will be more firmly registered in their minds, leading to deeper learning.