Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Power (and Challenge) of Reflection

Last winter, I set myself the goal of having my students do more regular reflection. I cannot say I achieved this last year, but I think I have made some pretty good steps this year. I have pushed both my freshmen and my seniors to do more reflection, and what I see in their comfort level with the process is telling.

First, here are some of the reflective activities we have done:
  • When my freshmen received their short story texts back, we focused specifically on the test essay. I made sure to write a comment on each essay as I was grading that told them something they did well. They reviewed my comments then went to their blogs and wrote about what they feel they do well on test essays. Their homework was then to read their classmates' blogs to learn more about good test essay writing. They sent me an email telling me what they learned from their classmates.
  • My freshmen have also begun a document called "My Writing." In here, they record their strengths and areas for improvement. We will use this chart all year to keep doing what we do well and to keep improving. For their end-of-year portfolio, this chart will be a great way for them to track their writing trends for the year.
  • My seniors completed a Google survey where they told me what they enjoyed most about our first thematic unit and what they learned the most from. Great feedback for me and for them.
  • My seniors began the second quarter by pulling out two of their essays from first quarter. They reread my comments then set two goals for their writing for this quarter. They are in the midst of writing an essay right now, so these goals will have both an immediate application and a future one.
What I learned watching two groups who are four years apart is that reflection is a practiced skill. Many of my freshmen struggled with thinking about how to do what they did on this test essay on future essays -- the idea of transferring learning intentionally did not come naturally for many. My seniors on the other hand jumped right into their reflective work and really pushed themselves to think both backwards and forwards. I think some of this is because we (including me) do not ask students to reflect enough, so freshmen have less experience. I also think reflection is a skill requiring abstract thought, something some freshmen are cognitively still approaching.

This renews my goal of reflection in my class. If I can help students become more reflective thinkers, I have helped them gain a skill that goes far beyond my classroom. The power to reflect is the power to change your own life.

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