When we say "reflection," what we are talking about is what is referred to as "meta-thinking." It means simply that the students are going to "think about how they are thinking." Now, before you begin to assume that we are embarking on a hyperfocused navel examination, let me explain.
When students just regurgitate a fact that they can recall, or even explain a fact that they understand, they can demonstrate a low level of usefulness of the knowledge gained.
When a student understands why what they are learning is going to help them in other areas of their lives and academics, or is able to explain when "the light came on" for a particular topic, you are creating experiential memory "hooks" for them to internalize the topic addressed.
When students are forced to evaluate their positions by having to examine it from another vantage point, they are more certain and stable in the position that emerges from that discussion.
Turning critical thinking on their own positions gives students a leg up in being able to better and more wisely apply critical thinking to the views that they encounter out in the world.
Finally, by being able to understand what points in their learning process brought the most success, the students set themselves up to be lifelong learners by being able to replicate and duplicate those processes in other areas.
So what's wrong with instruction?
In short, nothing.
It just tends to focus on the lower levels of understanding from Bloom's Taxonomy (Recall, Understanding, and, to a far lesser degree, Application). It tends to treat the upper level skills (Analysis, Synthesis, and Creation/Reflection) as a wished-for phenomenon that "we'll cover once we've got the basics."
Practically, this means that the higher skills never actually make it into the classroom because they are treated as a supplemental afterthought.
I am not trying to get too philosophical on you, I am challenging the notion that this is a necessary dilemma.
Different information environment --> Different direction of emphasis
I have written about this elsewhere, and I am not trying to belabor the point, but the adult world has a different information environment than we (as parents) graduated into.
The current adult world is based on a "just in time" model of information. If we have a question, we Google it, find an instructional video on Youtube, or if our question is more specific, look on something like Answers.com or Quora. We can find all of this information in less than a second on a device that most of us carry everywhere in our pocket.
The current educational model is based on the information environment that we (as many parents) graduated into: a "just in case" model of information. We (the schools) were going to give you this massive corpus of information, in the hope that, at some unimaginable point in the future, you would be able to recall what you needed when you needed it.
A "just in case" model of education is based around finding "better mousetraps" to improve recall.
A "just in time" model of education is able to focus on other things.
With "just in time," instead of having to treat the higher order thinking skills addressed above as an afterthought, we can make it "the main assignment." We can then let all of the resources (and more) that I mentioned above do the "lower order thinking" for us, while we focus on the higher order thinking.
I am not trying to start a debate on whether or not recall is relevant (hey, that could be a bumper sticker!) People who know me talk about how scary my recall sometimes is. I am just saying that the modern information environment allows us to use the tools at our disposal to do some of the menial educational tasks, and let us focus more on the things that will truly help kids be productive as adults: like "transferable skills."
I will be engaging this, and other topics on our blog and on social media, so please feel free to subscribe there, and we can have a lively discussion!