If you asked most teachers to give you a list of their top learner qualities, I would bet that reflective would be somewhere at the top of most of the lists. Teachers know that reflective students can think about their experiences, identify mistakes or improvements, and make adjustments to previous ideas.
Reflection is Demanding Work
However, teachers also know how difficult reflection is. Many students who come into my class don’t understand how valuable reflection is for learning. Some of my brightest students view reflection questions as a waste of time. They are looking for tasks that show academic prowess and don’t think reflection does that. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Reflection is a demanding, metacognitive task that takes time and demands sustained focus. By metacognitive, I simply mean that it requires students to think about their thinking or learning process, make observations and come to conclusions.
The Difficulty with Stopping
Further, no meaningful, detailed reflection happens in a short amount of time. Of all the things that can be rushed at school, reflection is not one of them. It takes time for students to collect their thoughts or mentally reconstruct an experience that just happened. But stopping is a struggle in fast-paced school environments that are dynamic and future-orientated. Additionally, for teachers, there is usually a gazillion things on their ‘To Do’ list and not enough time to do them. On top of daily tasks, there are also the government curriculum standards and content to get through. With a constant stream of “To Teach” and “To Dos” rolling in from our phones and email inboxes, stopping our classes to allow students to reflect on their learning is incredibly challenging. But isn’t this why it is so important? As our society and schools become more inundated with information, shouldn’t we be more intentional about having our students stop and reflect on their learning?
Developing a Rhythm of Reflection
Over the last few years, I have become more intentional about making reflection an integral part of the learning in my classroom. As I read through my report card reflections from last term, I was really proud of the progress my students have made in their ability to reflect. Here is a sample of what one of my student’s wrote in response the three questions below.
- What is one area where you have experienced growth as a learner this term? Provide specific evidence.
- What are you most proud of as a learner this term?
- Going forward, what is a way you would like to grow as a learner?
One area I experienced growth as a learner is taking more ownership of my learning. At the start of the term, I always did the least work possible. I always asked the teacher what the minimum requirement so that I didn’t have to do a lot of work and carry on with other things. Throughout the second term, however, I realized that if I wanted to learn, I had to be more of a risk taker and try my hardest on everything I do. Now, whenever a project is assigned, I always think “How can this piece of work be even better” instead of thinking “I’m done” so that I can produce my best work possible.
Something I’m really proud of as a learner this term is my Cool Pool project. I’m really proud of this project because my partner and I work very hard on it. Another reason I’m proud of this is because my partner and I both had an important role in making the pools. I cut all the cardboard pieces out and Rebecca glued all the cardboard pieces together with a hot glue gun. Together, we built a pool that turned out better than I expected and I learned to give other people a chance to express what they think about the project instead of just listening to my own opinions.
Going forward, I would like to grow further in taking ownership of my own learning. I can do this by thinking about how I can improve in something instead of doing the minimum requirement. I think that if I grow in this as a learner, I can produce better work at school and feel like I want to learn. I can do this by putting my mindset in the right place and thinking “How can my work be even better” instead of thinking “I’m done” and moving on with other things when I hardly tried at all.
When I think back on my own growth in teaching reflection, one thing has made a significant difference is embedding regular times of reflection. At first, I started making informal times of reflection a more intentional part of the self-evaluation process. Then, I began to include specific refection prompts at the end of each unit.
Fast forwarding a bit, my school decided to start including student refections and self-evaluation in our report cards. This added huge value to reflection and gave more voice to students in the evaluation process. From these Term-End reflections and my own, the students and I started developing goals for the next term. Last term, I decided to include those term goals in a Goal Tracker document to help students intentionally self-evaluate and reflect on their goals three times during the term.
In the Goal Tracker document I used last term, students set two goals for the term and developed a plan to meet those goals. One goal was relational and the other was academic. The other two goals in the docuement were set by me (the teacher) and their parent at the student-led conference. In the second term, I use the Core Competencies in the B.C. Education Plan to help structure these goals. For example, if we were setting the relational goal, I would use the “I can” statements in the Social Responsibility Competencies Profiles to help the students find a goal to work on for the next term. Before the Student Led Conference, I also scheduled a short one-on-one meeting with each student to review their goals and make sure it represents an authentic challenge.
After the goals were set, I had the students post this Goal Tracker on their digital portfolio three times. Once for their initial self-assessment, again at the mid-point of the term with a reflection about their progress, and a third time at the end of the term with their term-end reflection.
As I reflected on my use of the Goal Tracker, I realized that it was a very simple and effective way of keeping the goals in front of my students and I. It also helped our class develop a regular rhythm of reflection.
- Over-reflection is as equally as ineffective as under-reflection. Reflecting too often leads to reflection fatigue and extracts significance from the process.
- Negative and positive exemplars are a great way to communicate to students what quality reflection looks like.
- Reflection needs to be timely. Have your students just completed a major project or experienced a presentation that has impacted them. Take a few minutes for them to reflect.
- Collect your reflection for the term in one place. I use Seesaw to collect reflections so that parents can read them and we can both refer back to them to track growth over time
- Quality reflection requires high quality prompts and reflection questions. I really like some of the reflection questions on the core competencies in this resource from the BC Education Plan.
If you have some strategies to help students reflect on their learning, please add or link them in the comments below