Why You Should Never Use Reflection Forms

Why You Should Never Use Reflection FormsReflection forms have been around forever.

And at first glance, they appear to be a good idea.

Dig a little deeper, though, and they tell a different story.

The way they work is that when a student is sent to time-out, they’re handed a form to fill out.

The form consists of a few questions regarding their misbehavior—what they did, why they did it, and what they could have done differently.

The theory is that if they’re prompted to reflect on their misbehavior, then they’ll learn from their mistakes and be less prone to misbehave in the future.

Again, it sounds good. It seems to make sense. But the theory doesn’t match reality.

You see, when you hand a reflection form to a student, four things are likely to happen.

1. They’ll tell you what you want to hear.

Most students see reflection forms as just another consequence, a hoop to jump through with the least amount of hassle. So with little thought, they’ll scribble down what they think you want to hear. No reflection required.

2. They’ll justify for their misbehavior.

Other students will use the form as an opportunity to explain away their misbehavior. They’ll point the finger elsewhere. They’ll argue why their actions were justified. They’ll recast themselves as victims, while taking no responsibility whatsoever.

 3. They’ll refuse to fill it out.

When you force students to explain themselves—either verbally or through a reflection form—you either get one of the two outcomes above or they just won’t do anything. They’ll sit and stew in anger at you and defiantly refuse to fill it out.

 4. They’ll waste learning time.

Reflection forms take students away from their academic responsibilities. They give them a free pass not to do their work or pay attention. Thus requiring you to check their progress, plead for them to finish, and get them up to speed on what they missed.

How To Encourage True Self-Reflection

It’s good for students to reflect on their misbehavior. It’s good for them to ponder where they went wrong and how they could have handled themselves better.

But reflection forms are the wrong way to go about it. In fact, they all but guarantee your students won’t reflect on their misbehavior.

Because self-reflection can never be forced.

It has to happen naturally. And it will as long as you step aside and allow your classroom management plan to do its job.

When a student breaks a rule, your only role is to tell them what rule was broken and what the consequence will be.

As soon as you tell them what to think or how to feel, as soon as you begin questioning or forcing assurances, as soon as you hand them a reflection form to fill out . . .

You interfere with true self-reflection.

So instead of taking a hard look at themselves, they become defensive and argumentative. They become angry and resentful.

They become resigned to tell you what you want to hear so they can get on with their day.

True self-reflection is the byproduct of well-defined rules and consequences, every-single-time consistency, and a teacher that students trust.

Left alone with their thoughts, and no one to blame but themselves, your students will naturally examine and contemplate their mistakes. They’ll search their heart. They’ll take responsibility.

They’ll come through the experience humbled yet determined not to let it happen again.

PSThe Smart Principal’s Recess Behavior Plan will be available for download on Tuesday, right here on the website. (See the menu bar at the top of the page.)

I hope you’ll check it out or pass the link along to your school principal.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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16 Responses to Why You Should Never Use Reflection Forms

  1. K. Kiper April 18, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    I think this article makes some great points. However, I can say that having a reflection form has helped when parents have had questions. Having a detailed description of the misbehavior in writing from the student and signed by the student can proactively prevent Issues. I’m talking about those students who go home with a different version of what happened.

    • Michael Linsin April 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi K,

      I originally included a paragraph discussing this issue of documentation and parents and how reflection forms give us something to show parents, counselors, principals etc. The truth is, reflection forms discourage true and meaningful reflection. They may benefit the teacher in this one regard, which is why we like them and continue to use them, but they don’t help students. If they don’t help students, then we shouldn’t be using them. As for documentation to show parents, this is a topic on the list of future articles. Stay tuned! 🙂


      • Kevin September 24, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

        In these conditions, students may associate writing with punishment or at the very least a ‘not enjoyable activity’ – nothing teachers want to promote for any content area.

  2. Mendy April 18, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Would the same apply to principals dealing with a student referred for misbehavior?

    • Michael Linsin April 19, 2015 at 6:54 am #

      Hi Mendy,

      Ideally, only severe misbehavior would be sent to you. If it’s more than that, then this is something you would want to address with your staff or with individual teachers who may need help learning how to better manage their classroom. When a student(s) is referred to you I recommend that instead of using a reflection form, you hand them a blank sheet of paper and ask them to write down everything they know about the incident—from beginning to end—including everything they did and said.

      This does four things: 1.) They are more forthcoming than when questioned. 2.) It gets them on record. 3.) It saves you time having to coax the information out of them. 4.) You have ready-made documentation. This would be done not as a consequence nor a prompt for self-reflection. But rather, to ascertain the truth and determine a consequence.


  3. Chuck April 22, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    Hey Michael,

    I’ve been experiencing declines in work ethic and behavior near the end of the year. I’ve read your article on how to pre-empt that and have done what you said, and while it’s helped, it hasn’t really solved the issue.

    I’m worried that the kids are just ready for the year to end and aren’t really trying anymore.

    Test scores and work has declined this past month slightly before and after spring break.

    Behavior is declining too. I’m still holding them accountable and keeping a smoothly running class, but I’m noticing a lot more resentment when I hold students accountable. I always try to do it in a matter of fact way, and avoid argument (move away after a conseuqence), but I think they might feel resentful because they’re used to me and expect me to relax on the rules now that it’s closer to the end of the year. I allow their groans and attitudes to slide off my back and I walk away.

    I’ve reviewed my classroom management plan, and re-informed them of the importance of respecting people, property, and learning. Not much else I can do there to make it clearer.

    Any ideas?

    • Michael Linsin April 22, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      It’s difficult to diagnose the problem without observing you and your class in action, but it’s likely your students just need a break. I recommend mixing in some fun—teach a lesson outside, get out of the regular routine, play a learning game. Having a good time together has a way of getting a grumpy classroom back on track and appreciating one another.


  4. Chuck April 24, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    Thanks Michael,

    I feel like the behavior issues are occurring mostly during our fun activities (i.e. engineering and flying hot air balloons, etc.). But maybe they need a more structured fun activity such as a learning game as you said.

  5. belinda June 13, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    Hi, I am thinking of using a reflection form and don’t totally agree with your ideas above. 1. I am a casual/relief teacher so it is hard to instil class room when you are in a different place most days.
    2. A reflection form teaches students to consider their actions and how they affect others.
    3. In school where there is a lot of chaos and many interrupters this gives them some quiet time to reflect while the class can return to normal from constant interruptions of children with this poor behaviour.
    4. Students will try it on casual teachers in a big way and if they need to fill out, consider and then discuss during a break their behaviour I think they consider it a lot.


  6. Christy Basham February 25, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    I couldn’t disagree more. Behavior Reflection Forms, when used correctly, are very helpful to students, teachers, and parents. The reflection form isn’t used as consequence but serves as a guiding document leading conversation between the student and the teacher to get to the bottom of a situation. I have been able to learn so much about my students and their behaviors by using these forms with them. I don’t think they should be used as a solitary, punitive measure. When you actually communicate and discuss the reflection with them a whole lot of good comes out of it.

    • Michelle Smith September 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

      I agree with Belinda and Christy, reflection forms/ think sheets can be very useful in helping teachers understand why the behavior occurred and for the student to understand how their choice affected others. It provides a teaching moment that many students need to learn to handle themselves better and understand what other choices they have to solving their problems. I work with students with special needs and many of them need this social training. I also work with many general education students who are not taught appropriate behaviors and techniques to calm themselves in their homes. We are not just educators to teach academics but a wide array of life skills that go beyond the classroom. Sometimes students requires these lessons one on one after there has been an issue to better understand the consequences to their actions.

  7. Regina Heart April 7, 2016 at 3:46 am #

    I am a first year teacher. I would like to know
    how do you handle a group of students that are being disruptive? Three or four are name calling loudly. Do you just give them all detention? The problem I had was that I was in a very small classroom. I would try to move the students to a different area, but the room was so small that the students would still chat, still name call, still yell.

    • Michael Linsin April 7, 2016 at 6:51 am #

      Hi Regina,

      I’ve written about this in the past, but will be sure and cover it again in the future.


  8. Regina Heart April 7, 2016 at 3:54 am #

    What do you do when you are in a school where administration is not supportive? I worked at a charter school. It was different from what I learned teaching would be. I had a system in my classroom that was working good. They were not supportive of my classroom consequences. I had to keep changing them, by doing this the students behaviors grew worse. Sometimes students would call themselves telling on me by going to administration. I would get pulled to the side or called in the office all the time. I hope the next school I work at will be more supportive of teachers. I am glad to say that I no longer work there.

  9. Susan September 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    I am just a parent. Our first year in public school, with a very bright 4th-grader who argues like a lawyer. The third “reflection sheet” sent home since the beginning of the school year. We talked after the first one took away screen time for a week after the second one, the third one came the next day following the second report. What on earth shall we do?

    The child’s behavior is excellent when he is with us. It has always been, really. He was 2 when other patrons came to our table at a restaurant, praising, he was 4 when he sat by himself in the first pew of church through the service while both parents sang in the choir, … you get my point. He knows how to behave and he listens to us. However, he has little to no self-regulation when among peers. Excessive talk in class, disrespectful backtalk to teachers, class clown behavior, goofing about. I cannot be in school and behave for him. I hate signing reflection sheets. I don’t even know if there should be “consequences” at home, too, or not.

    Any suggestions about how to handle reflection sheets at home?

    • Michael Linsin September 24, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      Hi Susan,

      I would want to nail down exactly what behavior he is engaging in. I would also set up an appointment with the teacher and schedule a time to observe the class for a day. Unless you know specifically what the problem is–is it defiance, disrespect, trouble adjusting to public school, is he being bullied?–you’ll have a hard time fixing the problem.