Do You Ask These 3 Questions to Improve Students’ Self-Reflection?

Do You Ask These 3 Questions to Improve Students’ Self-Reflection?

Many educators recognize the value of increasing students’ motivation in order to improve student engagement and decrease behavioral issues in the classroom. Earlier in the year, I introduced staff to the ideas in Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by watching his Ted Talk. His seminal work on motivation explains that the “carrot and stick” method of extrinsic motivation creates compliance, but not creativity nor engagement. He shares his “secret sauce” from his research which includes 3 main areas that develop intrinsic motivation and the individual’s internal desire to put in their best effort: purpose, mastery, and autonomy.


If we want students to shift into higher gears of learning, then we have to create a classroom culture that develops agency, competence and a love of learning.  Lev Vygotsky reminds us that “children grow into the intellectual life around us. ” It’s the day to day mundane stuff that shapes our learning environment like our routines and strategies, but most importantly it’s the language we use in our interactions.  Developing a culture of self-reflection is a quintessential aspect of today’s classroom. In a world of immediate gratification and distraction, we have to provide tools to students to help them cultivate their focus and develop their independence. Reflection is a habit that every classroom should have because it enhances the meaning of the learning.  It teases out key ideas and insights, and complexities of the process of learning.  We foster students’ growth when we give them tools to control their own learning, and a reflective question does just that.

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. – Mark Van Doren

So today I want to share with you 3 questions that Daniel Pink suggests in order to get a resistant person to start the process of introspection and develop the motivation to start regulating their own behavior. When I heard these 3 questions, I knew it could extend beyond the boardroom (he spoke about management teams) and could easily fit into our classrooms. The order of asking the questions are really important because it frames how one might move beyond mediocre.

Opening question: On a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 the best, how would you rate fill in the blank? 

Second Question: Why didn’t you rate it lower?

Follow-Up Question (or go to question if they rate themselves as a 1) What would make it a next rating number up on the scale? 


Teacher: On a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 the best, how would you rate your collaboration in the group. 

Student: I think I am a 3.

Teacher: Why didn’t you rate it a 2?

Student: Because I did draw a picture on the poster.

Teacher: What could you do next time to make it a 4?

Student: I could also share what I know about polar bears for the project.

(What if my student rates themselves as a 1?  Then you skip question 3: What could you do to make it a 2?)

Do not underestimate the power of this questioning strategy. It has can be impactful, especially over time–practice makes perfect, right?!  And, for younger students, you could easily do a smaller scale of numbers, like 1-5. I know my little 4-year-olds might like to exaggerate their efforts so I would need to start with something very concrete and tangible to redirect them towards, something with specific steps or actions that they would know very well. As I write this, I am thinking that I would use a well-known routine, like our morning routine, to demonstrate how to use a rating scale.

No matter what the age range, listening to their answers with empathy, flexibility, and curiosity will help elucidate deeper responses. We can’t judge their ratings–how they rate themselves is data for us, but it’s not necessarily a time to correct them or give advice. If the objective of this strategy is to develop metacognition and motivation then we have to trust the process and not micro-manage it with what we feel the student should have rated themselves. We have to listen openly to their answers because we know that change comes from within–we cannot impose our opinions on them.

In Learning and Leading with Habits of the Mind by Arthur DeCosta talks about the “voices” we hear in our classroom: internal and external voices of reflection. The internal voice of reflection is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a mixture of both what and how we are thinking. Self-knowledge includes ways of thinking that may not be visible to us consciously. Using a simple tool like this rating scale by Daniel Pink gives students a window into their own mind and the motivations behind the choices they have made and the choice they can make in the future.  If we give them the space to create this self-knowledge, then the tool becomes the catalyst for change and self-improvement.

How do you develop self-awareness in your students?  What stimulus do you give them to cultivate the impulsion to make greater efforts on their own?

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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