Reflection....ugh I dread it. It takes time. It makes me think deeply. It makes me look at myself closely. Why is something so powerful so hard to do? This post is all about the value of reflection, but I will straight up admit I don't have it all figured out. Even the title of my overall blog page has "reflection" in it. I reflect a lot when my mind is open: car ride home from work, on a walk or run, when I'm attempting to fall asleep at night. My problem is taking my reflection and going deeper by sharing it with others, writing it down, or reviewing it to make changes in my action. It is something I deeply believe in, but I need to put into practice. With the new school year, I'm trying to build in time to reflect on each week and make a point of making that a part of my blog posts as a way to deepen the process and hopefully build on myself personally and professionally.
This also expands on a tip I shared in a guest post for Microsoft, "Integrating Technology in Class for Great Results: 6 Tips from an Expert". I shared the tip to "Reflect and Revise" with this idea:
The most powerful learning comes from reflection. This needs to be done not only by the student, but also the teacher, via dialogue, writing, or video. Reflect on the learning activities you provided and the technology you integrated to determine if it enhanced or hindered the learning experience.
It won’t always be a success, but the value comes in recognizing and adjusting. This goes back to listening to your students. Ask questions, check for evidence of learning and add your own insight to reiteration of your learning activity.
A story of Professional Reflection
I had the opportunity for a recent curriculum day to repeat the same three hour session four different times over two days. This is a rarity, but also a wonderful time to reflect on what is working for the learners and what is not working and what can be adjusted before the next group. The workshop was focused on K-2 teachers integrating technology to support the 4Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. It was a choice breakout session of teachers coming from all across the district. We didn't know our audience's background other than the grade level they taught. I was working as a co-presenter with members of our Instructional Technology Leadership Program and we planned meticulously for the three hour session. We wanted to provide enough background of the 4Cs to give them an awareness level, and a wide range of tools to utilize that would serve their interests, but not overwhelm them. Our main goal was for them to take away one idea to implement in the classroom at the start of the year.
At the beginning of the workshop we did some quick formative assessments to gauge teacher background on our topic and see what their interests were for what we were sharing. This allowed us to make some quick decisions as presenters of which stations to include or pull out that we had planned for them to choose during the last half of the three hour session. We had a great first session with no real technical issues, the audience was engaged, and they walked away verbally telling us how great the session was. We repeated the same session that afternoon and it all seemed to go smoothly. As I was preparing to leave and repeat the same sessions the next day, I had a chance to glance at the surveys our district has them fill out at the end of the session. The responses overall were marked at "strongly agree" and I was feeling great. However, as I looked at the "comments" section on each survey there was a similar message. "Wish we had more time.", "Such great ideas, wish we had more time to dig in." More time, more time, more time.
After that day, I felt like any teacher does after a long day...tired. I wanted to just walk in the next day and repeat the sessions. It was good enough, the other presenters I was working with knew what we were doing, it would be easier the second day. That night the comments from the survey kept running in my head and made me start thinking of how could I allow them more time. After three hours of being with us what did they mean? I couldn't have an open dialogue with them, but I could reflect on my past experience as a teacher. I knew how it felt attending PD sessions when I was a teacher. There were so many sessions I attended that shared great ideas and tools. Many times I was excited to use the new learning, but I didn't have the time to set up and plan for the application in my room. I always left with good intentions to implement, but once the day-to-day hustle of a classroom started it often times never happened. It was time for me to heed my advice and realize, "the value comes in recognizing and adjusting".
I went back to work the next morning, tweaked some of our slides, talked to the co-presenters, and decided to take out a large activity of sharing towards the end of the session. We had in our minds that all teachers would want an understanding of what every breakout group had learned from the choice station they made. There is definitely value in that, but based on the survey comments we thought it added more value to give them more time and focus on them giving the tool they were interested in more learning time and planning for application. As presenters we did a quick overview of each tool and how it could connect to the 4Cs and be implemented in the class. The teachers then decided which tool they were interested in learning more about and they had close to an hour to really dig into that tool with their group. Taking advice from a colleague, I created a quick Microsoft Form that they could fill out if they wanted one of our district training team members to schedule time to work with them on implementing their new learning in the classroom. The Curriculum Day survey comments came back after those two sessions without anyone asking for more time. They were strong in their message of satisfaction. Even one said, "Best curriculum day session I have ever attended. No...Seriously!" My reflection and revision of how the training was set up improved the learning experience for the attendees. The value of this reflection can carry over as I plan future trainings.
Reflection for Student learning
How can reflection translate to the classroom? A student can reflect on what they have learned and the process of how they were able to learn. Most students will be like me....they will not understand at first the value of reflection, the value of taking the time, and it will feel uncomfortable if they have never been asked to do it before. When I was teaching a graduate course this last year I asked students to reflect on their learning through blogs. They hated me for it. Truly...I think they did. It took more time, it made them really synthesize and analyze what they were learning. It dug into their souls as I asked them to make personal connections to their learning. Then many of them admitted during our course reflection that blogging was surprisingly a wonderful source of reflection and deepening of their learning.
Reflection, like any other useful skill takes direct instruction, modeling, scaffolding to make it work and for students to be successful. It is something that can be started at the youngest of ages with questions, dialogue, pictures, video and built upon and strengthened as students grow. It is a life skill that will benefit everyone personally and professionally and the process of reflection needs to be taught.
Resources for Teaching Reflection
Primary students can be supported through the reflection process with modeling and think alouds as the teacher reflects. Having students watch another student reflect on their learning can be a powerful example. The below example activity, created by educator Patsy Cleverly, is one of many you can do with primary students to set them on the path of reflection. It allows you to insert a variety of learning goals, but the true reflection would come in discussing the student's process of learning each goal.
Reflection Learning Worm
Older students can share their process of learning in a variety of ways, but it starts with them really asking questions of themselves. You can scaffold this by providing question prompts. The below resource, created by Jackie Gerstein, with a focus on Growth Mindset, has many questions to guide a learner. The student can self select a few to look at or as they become stronger reflect on each of them.
Personal Accountability and Reflection
The questions above are great and can teach students the process of reflection, but I also, as a teacher, want to see evidence. A student could easily look at the list of questions in the resource above and say yes or no to any of them. With dialogue you could get further, but sometimes you don't have the luxury of time to discuss the learning of each student individually. This is why I love the "Progress Assessment Tool" that was explained in this Angela Watson podcast with guests Ross Copper and Erin Murphy, and shared in their book, "Hacking Project Based Learning". This tool adds evidence to the process of reflection.
Progress Assessment Tool
Blogging to reflect
Here I am about to publish my sixth post on my blog. I started this for my own personal reflection and I will say it is not easy. I've struggled with finding out the best way for me to get into a "flow" of writing. I have realized that I am one that likes to sit for hours in that "flow", and I don't always have that time on my side. The biggest realization is that each time I complete a post, it is a deeper look at myself. A reflection of what I have learned and what is important to me. George Couros, who I find myself using as a resource often, talks about the power of blogging for reflection in his post, "Another Reason to Blog; Proactive Through Reflection". His last line speaks to me as to how valuable each post I make is in my process of learning and reflection that will help me grow professionally and personally. I hope you find a way to reflect on your own practice and to add it to your learning activities with students.
If we do not take time to look back, how will we ever be able to move forward?- George Couros
I recently had the honor of writing a guest blog with Microsoft titled, "Integrating technology in class for great results: 6 tips from an expert". I looked back on that post recently and wanted to go further with each tip in a series of blog posts. I'm going to dive into my second tip of, "Shift to a Student-Centered Environment" first. Based on the limitation of words I had to adhere to in the original post, I never went into the actual physical space as part of the environment. It is a good time to reflect on this at the start of the new school year when many teachers are focused on setting up their classroom environment. Before I expand on the tip further, here were my original thoughts:
Stand back and release control. There are a variety of student-centered pedagogies to explore such as inquiry, project and/or problem-based learning, design thinking, and culturally responsive teaching. The end goal is to give students ownership into their learning.
For instance, use creative discovery time when introducing a new tool. Instead of giving step-by-step instructions, let students discover and interact with one another. Imagine a class of students starting on Minecraft: Education Edition for the first time. Do you really need to be the expert, or can your students play that role?
The physical environment you set up for your students can lead to a deeper focus on student learning, collaboration, and communication. It was one area that my tip did not touch on, but can easily be tweaked by not only the teacher, but also the students. Most teachers getting ready for "Back to School Night" feel like the room has to be perfect, like the pictures you see on Pinterest. I wonder... could it be a blank slate ready for your students to help you design?
Dani Nyffeler, is a sixth grade teacher in our district that recently earned an endorsement in Instructional Technology Leadership. Part of that endorsement program really pushed Dani to look at not only her learning activities in class, but to look at the whole learning experience. She developed a strong interest in Project Based Learning (PBL), and I shared with her the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning" as a great book to provide a starting point. The book opened with the first chapter, "Develop a Space that Promotes Risk Taking". The authors outlined the following steps:
The learning space can include the physical: seating, lighting, decor, but also the way students use the space in different ways such as individual, collaborative, and/or creative learning. When looking for ideas, it is great to check out what other schools are doing to redesign their learning spaces. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Check out this one from Baltimore County Public Schools for all things focused on the learner:
The Learner Centered Environment
It is an ocean of resources, and a whole section is dedicated to "Classroom Arrangement". Below is one example of an interactive it displays on using your space for a variety of learning stations.
For even more examples from this district, they have a page dedicated to their Lighthouse Schools: Learner Centered Environments with photo galleries showing students interacting in their physical environment created for student learning.
2. As you embark on redesigning your classroom, view some of the tips from Edutopia: 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom. One thing you will notice through the tips is how involved the students are in the process. This is the key!
Focus on more than the physical Space
Setting out to redesign your classroom may seem like a lot to take on. It is not something that may happen in a day or perhaps even a week, but like Dani it can be worked on over a year and tweaked for each group of students. The physical environment is not all that is involved in making a Student Centered Environment. It is just one step, but can be overlooked or held back on as a task that is too hard.
As our district sets off to open buildings this coming week to 52,000 students, I was out working with teachers on their first professional development days last week. I could see the look of worry in their eyes as their thoughts were more on setting up their classroom than the meeting they were sitting in. Some had the typical classroom to set up, which is an arduous task. However, one of the schools I walked into that was in the midst of construction honestly looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Construction was still in progress, wires hanging from the ceiling, boxes needing unpacked, and rooms still empty. No matter what, the students are coming and that building will be open and ready.
The physical space can be worked on as the days go by, but the one thing that needs to be forefront for all staff, no matter the worries in their mind, is number one on the list-- Build Relationships by making the students feel welcome and cared for. That is all that really matters to them.
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.