Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Student Reflection - Why and How Should We Plan For It?

I'm guilty. I wasn't the best at giving my students time to reflect as part of the learning cycle. If there was time at the end of the lesson, the unit, the week, the quarter, semester, or school year, then I would ask my students to reflect in order to process what they had learned, how they learned it, and how they might apply what they’ve learned to future endeavors.

However, the more we educators (myself included) understand about how our students' brains work and how learners process new concepts and skills, the more we understand the need for reflection to be part of the learning cycle. It's a piece that is not negotiable. It is so valuable because it is what holds the new knowledge together.

As a result, the new knowledge is easier to retrieve and provides additional connection points for future practice opportunities and learning experiences to attach themselves to.

And just like we educators take advantage of reflection as part of our professional practice to structure our instructional sequences, students also use their reflections as a guide as they set additional learning goals.

To be clear, reflection is different than checking for comprehension. Checking for comprehension requires that the learner demonstrate skill proficiency. Reflection, on the other hand, is a much deeper cognitive process because it requires the learner to make judgments about the learning process itself.

So how do you go about setting a supportive environment and provide activities for reflective thinking? The University of Hawaii has some good suggestions:
  • Provide an emotionally supportive environment that allows for students to be vulnerable, if necessary, as they evaluate their learning.
  • Provide sufficient time for students to reflect.
  • Reflection prompts are authentic
  • The prompts encourage consideration for what was known prior to lesson, what was learned, and what has yet to be learned.
  • The reflection prompts promote assessment of the learning experiences themselves
  • The reflection process includes opportunities for social interaction among learners to gain additional perspectives.

How often should reflection take place? As Larissa Pahomov, author of Authentic Learning in the Digital Age, states, that if reflection is going to benefit student learning, the ideas need to be documented in some fashion and then referenced at the starting point of the next learning point. When considering where reflections fit in on the learning cycle, the ideas should be recorded at the end and referred back to at the beginning of the next cycle. Learning begins and ends with reflection.

And if we as educators want to maximize the potential of reflecting on learning, we will provide opportunity and space for the learners in our classrooms to share their thinking. Educational leader, George Couros, will often ask participants in his sessions to record their thinking in a video and share it out via Twitter. Why? He states that among several reasons, it continues the conversation beyond the time and space that learners are in a physical arena together.

Whether or not we utilize Twitter in our learning spaces (which is a topic I’d love to discuss further with you, if you’re not already doing so) or simply have students do a think-pair-share at the end of the class period, we need to provide the opportunity to build understanding through sharing ideas. If our mindset is that learning is solely an independent practice, then our mindset is outdated. Yes, there is a time and place for students to practice and provide evidence of proficiency in a skill, but if they never or rarely share their thinking with others, we are literally depriving them of a necessary component of the learning cycle.

Based on my own practice, not many of our students are adept at being reflective, they need scaffolds in order to produce reflections that help them make connections and solidify learning. The following four questions, when used in concert, tend to help the ideas in our students’ minds be transcribed into a journal (paper or digital), written or audio/video recordings.

  1. What did you learn?
  2. How did you learn it? What activities helped you to learn?
  3. How does what you learned connect with what you already knew?
  4. What questions or comments do you still have?
Providing students with sufficient time for reflection, including sharing their reflections and referring back to them periodically, will no doubt take a bit of time and planning on our part. However, we are no longer the sage on the stage, rather we are facilitators of learning and as such, we will enrich the learning experience with periods of reflection.

Offering my BEST to you!

What reflective strategies do you use as part of the learning cycle? What impact have you noticed for yourself as students reflect? Are there any areas you struggle with when implementing this practice?

Here are the resources that helped shape my thinking on this topic:

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