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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The value of reflection in learning

I did well in almost every class throughout my formal education and I attribute that largely to the fact that I paid attention to my own learning.  Now in my 20th year as an educator, I can see most students do not naturally focus on that.

It is very easy for learners to see school as a series of disconnected tasks that need to be completed.  Little attention is given to big picture concepts and the ongoing learning that should be taking place.

When I taught for years at the high school level I always imagined that shift of focus from learning to getting credit happened somewhere around the middle school years.  I work K - 12 now and from talking to teachers and observing classes I know it can happen much earlier.  Kindergarten teachers relate when I talk about these things.

So I always look for an opportunity to get students thinking about what they are learning and how it relates to their lives now or in the very near future.  Such reflection and introspection is probably the biggest gift I can bring to the learning activity, whether for young learners or the adults I coach.

In no particular order, here are a few thoughts I can share about helping students reflect on their learning:

  • It doesn't have to take long.  I usually put the questions on warm-ups or as a few questions on a final worksheet after a large project.
  • Reflection can take place before the learning.  Thoughts on where the learner is at in the process and what he or she hopes to learn right then are vital.
  • I learned a lot from James Paul Gee about how the learners needs to see themselves playing a role in the domain of what they are learning about (and I wrote about it a lot in the first project highlighted here).  I like to ask students about which part of the project we just completed they could see themselves doing in a career or hobby.  See the reflection assignment at the end of my list of video production assignments in this post.
  • Discussion that allows some students to share reflections in class or in small groups has value, but I almost always require the reflection to be in writing.  I used to have students keep a journal.  Online reflection in a blog is also a great option.  The point is every student needs to do the self-reflection.
  • I believe true, inspiring learning cannot happen apart from a sense of purpose.  I don't shy away from talking about having a purpose that we were created for.  I don't get terribly spiritual in class, but I open the door for students to talk about their faith or lack of it.  Those matters are part of life.  They shape us in ways we might not always consider.  I want them to know they can express those thoughts.
  • Here is the ultimate goal of such reflection on the learner related to the content:  Students should reach a point where they consider their own learning objectives and later evaluate how well they achieved those objectives.
  • You, the teacher, are learning too so reflect on it.  I strongly encourage educators to reflect on what they are learning.  Keep a journal.  Track the professional and personal things (good and bad) that can shape you and your impact on the world.
I will be glad to hear the experience of others.  What advice would you add to the list?  I plan on digging into the research on the topic more too, so if you have suggestions on starting points please pass them along.



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