The Importance of Reflection and Retrieval

How they both connect in mentorship

Geoff McCuen , Tue 16 February 2021
One of the lessons that I’m continually being taught is the value of reflection and retrieval.  Our last two sessions certainly reinforced this lesson.

Reflection:  Making time to deliberately review an event, a day, a week, etc.  Reflection is more than just recounting the details or the chronology, but it involves evaluation and analysis.  What went wrong?  Why?  Could it have been prevented?  Could it have been anticipated?

More often than we might like to admit, we can learn far more when things don’t go the way we planned, or even if they completely fail, than if they had gone perfectly. 

Retrieval:  The ability to recall both specifics and related information from a past event.   One of the challenges in the field of education and training is not just how to cram information into a person’s head, but teaching them how to retrieve them quickly and correctly when needed.   Sometimes the ability of retrieval can mean the difference between life and death.  The military uses repetition and drills to create muscle memory so that some actions don’t even require concentrated thought.  They become more of a reaction than a decision – but “time to think” (or retrieve) isn’t a luxury you often have in combat.

So how does retrieval connect with reflection?  If you only take the time to reflect after an event you can glean a lot of useful information.  Some of which you may be able to put to good use right away.  But if you don’t learn how to retrieve those lessons later, when they are needed, they have greatly diminished value.  

I’ve heard many people say how much they “hate” quizzes and tests.  I think it’s because we don’t do a good job explaining to students what the test is trying to do – if we did, they would study very differently.  Tests don’t measure what you “know” or what you crammed into some small crevice of your brain.  They measure what you can retrieve.  

Now let me try to bring this all together.  In our last two Peer Mentoring sessions, we had the opportunity to revisit some of our past goals and discuss which ones were successfully accomplished and which ones taught us something.  

None of the stories we shared were new to either one of us.  But in the process of retrieving these stories and telling them again, I was reminded of past lessons learned, maybe even almost forgotten.  It helped me to remember how important it is to revisit our own past, success, and lessons, so that when the “next time” comes around we can quickly retrieve the knowledge to help us be more successful.

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