How can reflection foster more open-minded learning?

Read this article by Anshika Sinha and Sandra Furnari, which explores how using reflection questions can foster more open-minded learning.

An adult student in a classroom in Singapore

How often have you dreamed of a classroom filled with eager learners, reflecting with an open mind and actively taking ownership of their own development? 

If the above resonates with you, in this article we will share some self-reflection practices that we have used with adult learners in our professional skills workshops. These activities can help spark interest, curiosity and engagement in your learners. 

Our professional skills workshops: aims and challenges 

The CES Professional Skills (PS) workshops are targeted at working professionals who want to develop their spoken and written communication, together with their management and leadership skills.  

These professionals are adults working across different industries and they come from both the public and private sector in Singapore. The required English language level is B1.  

Learners often come to our professional skills workshops looking for quick solutions for their workplace issues. We focus on providing them with tools to navigate these issues and grow, rather than 'spoon-feeding' answers. 

Learners often expect an immediate takeaway and quick fix to their workplace concerns. This conflicts with the gradual skills development and practical approach used in our training sessions.  

Moreover, learners have assumptions and biases about their workplace challenges. Questioning these assumptions requires self-reflection, which is potentially a difficult task if learners are new to it. This process can be uncomfortable and demanding for them, especially in our fast-paced environment. 

Often, attending our course is not the learner's decision. This obligatory attendance can fuel a lack of interest, resulting in poor motivation and limited ownership of learning. 

All these concerns of seeking quick and correct answers, creating biases and lacking interest are applicable to English language classrooms.  

The two practices we are sharing can help learners experience and value reflective practices. Over time with exposure, this should lead to them becoming more autonomous and taking ownership of their development. 

Practice 1 – Interviewing a partner 

How do we run this practice? 

In our Presentation Skills workshop, learners develop and deliver a presentation of their choice. They also identify their potential audience to make their presentations more targeted and focused. 

We give learners a list of questions that help them identify their audience's profile and needs. Below is an example. 

Table showing examples of reflection questions

The activity is conducted as an interview. We ask learners to work in pairs, and each participant must provide detailed answers to their partner's questions.  

Working in pairs ensures learners demonstrate understanding of the questions. In answering, they feel accountable for their responses. This responsibility makes the learners stop and consider their audience in more depth.  

What impact does interviewing practice have? 

Before the activity, learners are generally focused on their topic, what they want to present and why. Interviewing demonstrates overlapping and differing perspectives. Sometimes it highlights that the audience isn't interested or may not understand what they are sharing. 

Working through the questions pushes learners to shift their thinking away from themselves or the topic to the needs of their audience. This enables learners to better tailor the content of their presentation, making it more relevant. 

Once learners finish the questions, we debrief the activity. We ask them to share a surprising or new finding from the activity. Some responses included: 

'At first we didn’t understand what the question is getting at.' 

 Talking to a partner inspires learners to dive deeper into the questions. 

'We discussed how we could do things differently.'

Working in pairs helps them be accountable for an answer or inspires new solutions. 

'I was so sure I knew my audience, but now I realise there is so much more I can find out.'

The practice stimulates a range of new perspectives. 


Practice 2 – Questioning assumptions 

How do we run this practice? 

In our Stakeholder Engagement workshop, learners are grouped in threes or fours and asked to identify five adjectives describing their challenging stakeholder, and write them on a flipchart. Generally, they come up with responses like 'unresponsive', 'rude', 'dominating', 'demanding' and 'unreasonable'. 

We then ask them to try and explain why they think their stakeholder is challenging. For example, one group might call their stakeholders 'unresponsive' as the stakeholders hardly ever respond to emails. 

Learners then move to another group's flipchart and reflect on the adjectives listed. They think of a reason for these behaviours. For example, why would someone be unresponsive (not responding to emails)? Often learners suggest answers like 'Maybe they didn't have time', 'Something else was a priority' or 'Maybe they didn’t understand the email'. 

What impact does this practice have? 

Once the learners start exploring possible reasons for these behaviours, they can be more objective. This helps them see how they are being influenced by their prior assumptions.  

Identifying the potential issue helps them find new ways to approach it. For example, in the case of unanswered emails, possibilities include contacting their stakeholder for a chat, adding valid reasons to prioritise their requests or sending clearer emails. 

Some of the comments from these learners are:  

'I am guilty of similar behaviours.' 

Justifying difficult stakeholder behaviours increases learners’ self and social awareness. 

'I never thought of it like that!'

The practice enables learners to take a different perspective on problems. 

'Maybe I can think of my challenging stakeholders differently.'

Critical thinking gives them a direction to work towards. 

How to manage potential difficulties

  • Self-reflection requires time, and learners should not be rushed through the activities, especially if the questions are difficult. This needs to be factored into the lesson plan. Both the practices outlined take about 30 mins to complete well. 

  • Individual self-reflection can be an exhausting process and can limit the learners' thought process. To make it less strenuous and more engaging, it should be interactive (Practice 1 – Interviewing) and collaborative (Practice 2 – flipchart). 

  • Learners need to challenge their assumptions, which might not come naturally to them. To address this, plan some prompts and probing questions relevant to the learners' context to help them through the thought process. 

How does this link with pedagogical theories? 

These practices follow Kolb's experiential learning cycle (1984), starting with a concrete experience, leading to reflection, which enables thinking through conceptualisation, pushing the learner for active experimentation, or trying again. This practice is a manifestation of experiential learning as it combines action and thoughts (Cuffaro, 1995: 62). It also brings together conscious and unconscious interactions which are based on past experiences and knowledge (Wilson and Beard, 2006: 89). 

How does this benefit teachers? 

To embrace the value of these practices, try them out for yourself. Always ensure that you include sufficient time for self-reflection in your lesson planning. Also, plan for context-driven questions and suggestions to help the learners see value in the activities. 

If included often enough, practices inspire curiosity, increase self-awareness, make abstract concepts more tangible and, above all, encourage autonomy in learners.  



Kolb, D. A., 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall 

Harriet K. Cuffaro, 1995. Experimenting with the World: John Dewey and the Early Childhood Classroom. Teachers College Press.  

Colin Beard and John P. Wilson, 2006. Experiential Learning: A Handbook for Education, Training and Coaching. Kogan Page.


Anshika is an experienced trainer and facilitator with more than ten years' experience in learning & development across diverse geographies. She has a background in both corporate and educational roles. She draws her experience from working in different capabilities in countries like India, Cote d'Ivoire, the United Kingdom and Singapore. She has worked as a consultant, trainer, and lecturer, working with a wide range of learners. Anshika holds an MA in Human Resource Management and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management. She is a certified ACLP trainer and Associate CIPD member. A strong believer in the power of soft skills, Anshika considers them critical in navigating and managing the current dynamic work environment. 

Sandra is a highly qualified English language teacher and professional skills trainer, who has taught internationally and in a range of contexts for the past 20 years. She has a background in human resources, which fully supports her understanding of work context and the challenges professionals face today. She draws her experience from a variety of educational roles in countries like Switzerland, Italy, Tunisia, Myanmar and Singapore. Sandra holds an MA in TESOL and a DELTA. She is a CELTA trainer and is currently training to become an ICF-certified coach. On a personal level, Sandra strives to establish meaningful interpersonal connections with every single person she encounters, through deep listening and empathy. 




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