Time for Reflection

The most regularly asked question about my reflection stuff  (and probably the vast majority of new ideas in education!) is ….

“How do you have time?”

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One answer is that you probably do a ton of reflection already. Assessment for learning in all it’s different forms encourages students to think about where they are in their understanding. When you ask your kids “what stuck with you today?” or “what was your muddiest point?” NEWS ALERT: THAT IS REFLECTION.

It turns out the actual questions people want answers to are: “how do you have time to reflect on their emotions?” or “how do you have time to get the kids to record good quality reflections?”

Reflecting on emotions/mindset

This definitely doesn’t mean delving into their life problems… but getting your kids to confront how they feel about the subject (and how they want to feel!) can be incredibly powerful.

I don’t “create” extra time for this – but I replace some of my “review your knowledge” starters with “let’s check in with how you’re feeling about Chemistry”.

If we just look at how effective we are as teachers, can we make more of a difference if a kid tells us that they are “never going to understand all the maths in the unit” or “don’t understand how to calculate molar mass”? For me, that’s a no brainer. If that kid thinks they aren’t going to understand any of the calculations then I’ve got a much bigger problem on my hands than is suggested in the second answer. Keeping track of their emotions towards the subject is just as important (if not more important!) as tracking their knowledge and understanding.

Recording reflections

For starters, I don’t do this nearly as much as you think that I do.

I only get my kids to record their reflections in their learning logs if the reflection is significant.

On average this is once every 6 weeks. For me, reflections on knowledge are significantly less interesting than reflections on emotions and mindset. For this reason I set up students learning log spaces to be a personal space where they can record their thoughts towards the subject. I wanted it to be a place where they could see how their attitude towards Chemistry had changed throughout the year, as well as a space for them to record memorable moments and the things they’re proud of. Here are some examples of the creative ways that I use for reflections. The result is a learning log that is an absolute mess but completely reflects the journey of that student and they love seeing how far they’ve come 🙂

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A few more things

  1. I comment on my kids reflections to make sure they know I genuinely care about them. For me, this happens every other recorded reflection (around every 12 weeks). Not a massive time input, but a task nonetheless.
  2. I wouldn’t recommend that you set it as homework 😦 Unless you have magical reflection protocols mastered with your kids. I 100% do not. I normally set it as a starter with a flexible activity afterwards so the kids who finish early have something to do, but equally those who want to spend a little more time don’t miss out on key knowledge.
  3. Setting up a space for recording reflections and getting the kids to understand how to use the space will take time. But the time is all at the start (just like any other system you want to set up in your classroom…).

Our time is precious, but having seen the results, good quality reflection is something that I never want to lose from my classroom. A deep understanding of the way my students feel about Chemistry helps me to identify common reasons for negativity and create ways to tackle these head on. Chemistry is a tough subject for many and keeping my students positive and embracing challenge is a top priority.

Is the growth mindset just a fad?

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The growth mindset being a “fad” is a message that’s been overwhelming my twitter feed lately (“Schools are desperate to teach growth mindset but it’s based on a lie” or “Is mindset theory really in trouble?”). Based on the publication dates, I’m pretty sure that the research has been questioned for a while but I’ve clearly been ignoring it and living in my own little growth mindset loving bubble. I was shocked to find that even Dweck herself has been quoted as saying “we’ve totally missed the point” (Quartz, 2016).

My immediate response was that this applied to other schools and other teachers that hadn’t really embraced the growth mindset. Of course my kids know what the growth mindset is – after all it’s practically weaved into our school culture. I decided to do a bit of investigating about what my kids thought the key features of a growth mindset were and these were the results:

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I was almost too embarrassed to post this. My kids had no bloody idea. And the more I read, the more I realised that I had no idea either. I think part of the issue is that there are just SO many articles, videos and ideas that have spawned from the growth mindset. I genuinely had to go back to the original research papers to clarify what it was that originally defined the growth mindset. FYI the best summary for me is:

“People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” (Dweck, 1999, 2007). 

Growth mindset isn’t about working hard or having high expectations or being resilient or being flexible. It’s just about understanding that you always have the potential to improve and that you have no idea of how far you can take something if you put all your efforts and passion into it.

Does this mean we have to be improving at everything all the time? Hell no! I definitely don’t have that much energy…Sometimes we decide to not put our effort into something – but we can still have a growth mindset if believe that we have the potential to improve. It’s the difference between “I will always be a terrible artist” vs. “At the moment I’m a terrible artist and I’m okay with that”.

Does this mean that if I put in energy and I don’t improve then I’ve found my peak? Also no! If no improvements are seen then that just means that you’re putting effort into the wrong things. I get the impression that the “growth mindset is about encouraging effort” summaries are the ones that annoy Dweck the most. If a kid puts in effort to making their notes look beautiful but their understanding is still only basic should that be praised? Not really….  We can’t praise effort if the activity didn’t yield any quality learning – otherwise the value of our praise diminishes.

I broadly classified myself as “growth mindset”. After all I always have high expectations for my students and believe that they can improve drastically if they’re making efforts in the right places. But growth mindset isn’t all about what you think about the kids, it’s mostly about how you approach your own learning. Once I started to evaluate many aspects of my life I realised that actually there are several areas I didn’t feel were improvable.

Check out this list that I created for a recent professional development talk. Do any of them resonate with you?

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For me, as I become more aware of where my “fixed-mindset” is dominant I’m more conscious of my internal (and external!) dialogue. Little things like adding “yet” onto the end of negative fixed statements (I can’t make this TV work… yet) means that I’m becoming more mindful every time I make these permanent statements that are entirely untrue. I feel like I’m forcing myself to see the positive in everything, and I’m constantly surprised by the amount of positives that I find. The whole thing is hugely calming.

I want my students to reap these same benefits… it could link with wellbeing if kids had the tools to be able to identify where they’re being cruel to themselves and to adjust their vocabulary accordingly. This is one of those situations where it’s definitely much easier said than done. I’m trying to create activities to encourage this type of thought process and so far students seem really engaged when reflecting on their language choices and situations that bring out their “fixed-mindsets”. I still have no idea what this will look like when I try to implement it further, but the only thing I’m sure of is that this definitely can’t be a one-off intervention and will require a continued reflective process.

As you’ve probably worked out, I don’t think the growth mindset is a “fad”. I have no proof that it affects test scores or attainment grades but I do believe that a solid understanding of the principles can help our kids to develop a more positive outlook on life. If understanding the growth mindset can remove an ounce of the anxiety and stress that plagues many of my students, I certainly won’t be removing it from my teaching practice any time soon.

 

 

 

Reflection Inception 1/3

At UWCSEA we are having a mega tri-blog-athon over the next three months to focus on a variety of questions that we feel have been on the back-burner for a while but we want to give some attention to. The classic important, but not urgent questions that you rarely get time to think about. For me, the thing that I really want to reflect on is whether my learning logs are really enabling my students to record their reflective thinking effectively (#reflectioninception)

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Over the next three months I plan to delve into a few key questions about reflection in my classroom.

  1. What do I really want my students to get from their learning logs?
  2. What do my students think they have learned from their reflection experiences?
  3. Which timings for reflections have been most significant?
  4. How can I improve the protocols for reflection to maximise their significance for students?

 

EdCampSG – #FeelingInspired

I was super excited to go the first ever unconference with EdCamp Singapore (@edcampsg) hosted by the wonderful Kim Beeman and Karen Blumberg last weekend. This blog is all about what an unconference is, what the advantages are and what I learned during this experience.

Until last week the idea of an “unconference” was entirely new to me. In traditional professional development the sessions are prepared well in advance and whilst there may be discussion and activities in some workshops, the vast majority rely on an “expert” imparting knowledge. This is super useful if there’s something that you want to learn more about; but what happens if there’s just a question that’s been bugging you that nobody ever seems to talk about: “Does learning always have to be fun?” “How do you convince parents that a small degree of danger is good for children?”

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EdCampSG participants – thanks @karenblumberg

The key difference in an unconference is that there is no fixed schedule, nobody prepares powerpoints or activities – instead you can offer to facilitate a discussion on something that interests you. No one is an “expert” and by sharing our experiences we learn from others who share similar educational interests. You can rock up to the day and decide 10 minutes before that you want to facilitate a session!

I arrived, grabbed a coffee and contemplated running a session myself; I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the inner-voice of my students and how it can impact their wellbeing (await next week’s blog!). As I didn’t have to prepare a presentation or prove to anyone that I was the most knowledgeable in the room, I felt comfortable adding “how can we help our students create a positive inner dialogue?” to the board. I hoped that a few other people might be interested to have a chat and I might be able to move my thinking forward (or steal a few strategies for encouraging positivity!).

Facilitating my session was harder than expected mainly because there were various interpretations of “how can we help our students create a positive inner dialogue?” For many people in the room this was about creating activities that allow students to feel like they can be successful. My intention at the start was to discuss the explicit ways that we can make students more aware of that internal dialogue during failure “I just can’t do this” “I’m terrible at chemistry”.  I learned the importance of articulating questions and really thinking about what you want out of a conversation before you start. Regardless of this, there were still some amazing take-aways for me. I considered how I could make links with other activities (sports, music) that kids have put lots of effort in to improve and remind students that chemistry is no different. It also encouraged me to think about possible ways that I could encourage diary writing with my students  – maybe in the form of a daily ’emotional check-in’ instead of full written pieces.

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My session on internal dialogue – flexible seating!

Kurt Wittig was facilitating the other conversation I chose to be a part of – How to promote books throughout the school?” We are getting mini Chemistry libraries for our classrooms and I was excited to hear about the ways I could get my students curious and wanting to read my new shiny books. When I arrived, the session had many librarians and I worried that I wouldn’t learn anything. As the conversation went on, I found it surprisingly interesting to learn about how important it is for students to read in their mother tongue, the impact of having regular lessons in the library and how dressing up during book-week can really engage students. None of these things were “goals” for my learning (or even on my radar!) but actually hearing people discuss books so passionately was genuinely inspiring. It might sound like it wasn’t useful which is completely untrue – I also learned about the power of teacher recommendations and my brain was on fire with strategies to get kids to review books!

Although neither of these sessions gave me “all the answers” to my problems, that’s not really what I wanted. I can confidently say that the conversations allowed me to move to the next stage of thinking around both topics. Also – I genuinely had a really nice time just having a chat about things with people who are as passionate and energetic as I am.

The last session I went to was run by Kim Beeman and Karen Blumberg about “Building your network and sharing where to locate good ideas.” I don’t even know where to begin with discussing how useful and interesting this session was. Whilst it wasn’t a “conversation” as such, it was a mass sharing of great people to follow on twitter, podcasts to listen to, web resources, facebook groups, twitter hashtags…. the list is endless. I’ve still yet to work out what’s useful/not useful to me but I love the general idea of this session which was:

Let’s get more people heard! People do things in isolation, and if they’re not amplifying themselves by choice, let’s help them”

Overall it was an awesome morning. The thing I love about the unconference model is how much control teachers have over the day. Imagine a PD day where you can just chat about all the things that you’re interested in and find out how other people do stuff. Finding inspiration from the people around you rather than “experts” all the time; it turns out there’s probably people in your city who already know the things you want to know. You’ve just got to get out there and find them!

 

Why did no one tell me blogging was hard?

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About 6 months ago I decided that I was going to write a teaching blog.

I read many articles about the benefits of blogging just like this  “Why every teacher should blog” and the idea sounded awesome. I like to write, I like to think about my teaching principles and I like to read about current progressions in education. It seemed perfect for me. I was also working on reflection strategies, had delivered a couple of workshops and my general feelings were “people seem interested in this, I should make it available to more teachers.” My goal was to write a blog post a month about what was going around in my teacher-brain. At the time, I had no idea how hard that would be for me.

The first few posts were easy. I was pretty sure the content was good quality (from the workshop feedback) and so I was able to write effortlessly and with a degree of confidence. The posts were well received and the monthly goal didn’t seem crazy difficult to do. All I had to do was continue to write about whatever I was thinking about that month. But, soon I ran out of the stuff that I’d been working on for months (sometimes years…!) and had to start writing about my current goals, my current ideas, my current thoughts.

What am I thinking about?

I’m continually thinking about how to empower students; to allow them to take ownership for their learning, to challenge themselves to become better learners and better leaders. I’m continually thinking about the wellbeing of my students and how I can encourage greater balance and emotional awareness.

But I’m also continually thinking about how I haven’t read enough to write a blog. I’m questioning what happens if I’ve got it wrong? What happens if I don’t cite the right person and give them credit for their work? What happens if everyone disagrees with my ideas? What happens if it makes me look stupid?

I classify myself as an ambitious, driven and confident woman. But the thought of typing something that “might be wrong” terrifies me. I’ve been living in this limbo for about 3 months now; buzzing with ideas but paralysed with fear as soon as I think about writing anything down.

blog2I had zero idea how to solve this problem until a wonderful person showed me Document vs. create, a slightly bizarre youtube video with a super powerful message. I realised that I felt like every blog post needed to be perfect; well balanced, fully researched and with a conclusion of some sort. I also felt that the blog had to be explicitly useful to the reader. But why? Why can’t I make a blog that is a documentation of my stream of thought, that shows the evolution of my ideas over time and that might only be useful to me? As soon as I started to think about blogging as documenting my process rather than just showing my creations, everything felt far less overwhelming.

So, what next?

I’m going to challenge myself to write one blog post a week for the next 8 weeks to document my progress towards my goals of empowering students and improving wellbeing. They will be raw. They will be based on gut instincts. They will contain stories and events. They will track my thinking progress. They will be useful to me.

Want to join me on this blogging challenge? Just 8 weeks – tweet me @kirstie__parker – We can make blog squads, comment on each others posts and it’ll be super awesome.

Selfishly, I would also love to have people to encourage me along the way.

 

 

 

Top 10 creative reflection activities

I’ve chatted a lot about the challenges with reflections but nobody likes those people who just point out problems without offering any solutions. So in the festive spirit of giving, these are my top 10 ways for getting students engaged in reflection!

Pick one, try it and let me know how it goes…. either comment here or tweet me @kirstie__parker.

1) Make a graph

How to use it:  This is my #1 reflection activity (it’s super jazzy!) Students individually plot a graph of their feelings on anything (sleep, confidence, stress, happiness…) and how it’s changed over a period of time. Then they discuss their feelings with a partner, what caused the shape of the graph and any changes that they’d like to make. 

If you’re interested in trying this then check out my template presentation here with sentence starters etc.

Pros: Super versatile and collaborative. Encompasses all 3 stages of reflection (awareness, analysis and application)

Cons: Takes 15minutes to do properly – but I promise you won’t regret it!!!

2) Three Words

How to use it: Best used at the start of a unit. Students to write down 3 words that represent how they are currently feeling about starting the unit, then 3 words to describe how they’d like to feel at the end. Chat in pairs about why they chose their words and what things they need to be aware of in themselves for this unit.

Pros: Super short – easily finished in 5-10mins. Really good to bring any concerns students have to the surface and tackle them head on!

Cons: Missing the analysis phase of “why” students feel that way….

 

3) Write a recipe

How to use it: Groups of students get massive poster paper and have to write a recipe following the prompts below. Encourage them to put “amounts” for the ingredients to encourage them to think about which things are most important! Then get students to share their recipes with others.

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Pros: I learned this from the wonderful Doreen Merola, this activity is beautifully creative and great for an end of term reflection (aka when the kids are a little wild but you want them to reflect 🙂 Or you just want to raise the energy!
Cons: Will take at least 20mins to do and share ideas with other students – but great as a one-off reflection!

4) Make a meme

How to use it: Students to create a meme (memegenerator.net) that describes how they’re currently feeling about the subject (with a short sentence to explain why they chose it!)

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Pros: Mega short and you’re kids are guaranteed to love it. You can also 100% set this one for a homework as they don’t need any support.
Cons: Not going to illicit any super deep and meaningful outcomes immediately (but if you do the same activity 6 months later seeing the changes can be interesting!)

5) Write a headline

How to use it: Students create a headline to describe the recent test/unit and write a short summary of why they picked it.

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Pros: Nice short activity that brings awareness to how they are feeling without the pressure to be super formal in their language.
Cons: Just focused on awareness and less so on what caused the feelings and how they could change that in the future.

6) Compare to something abstract

How to use it: Students compare the recently completed unit to an animal/cartoon character/song/ tv show…… and watch the magic happen!

If B1 was an animal what would it be?

“An owl because it was quite laid back and wise because it went over what we have previously done and wasn’t too much of a challenge till it started to do maths…”

 

Pros: Making it abstract causes the thinking to be deeper and true feelings to be shared.
Cons: Missing any chance for students to apply the analysis of the unit to a future situation.

7) Give choice

How to use it: (This isn’t really an activity…..sorry!) but if you want to do a written reflection then consider giving your students a choice of questions rather than dictating what they have to reflect on.

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Pros: Gives students more ownership of their reflections and you can mix up the questions that you make mandatory!
Cons: Because it’s a “written” reflection you’re quite likely to get responses about “studying harder” or “getting better grades.” Setting good expectations is hard!

8) Sketch a thermometer

How to use it: Students sketch out a set of thermometers with skills or qualities underneath them. For each skill they have to colour in where they currently rate themselves on the scale. They then have a conversation with their partner about why they selected the levels and which skill they want to work on most.

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Pros: Great for just before group work – gives students a skills-based focus (you can also get students to give feedback to each other after the project on how they did on their “focus skills” too!)
Cons: Does work at the end of collaboration pieces, but try to make sure they have another collaboration piece coming up soon so that they can put the reflection into practice.

9) Create a target

How to use it: Students fill in the sections of the target in small groups. Give them one prompt at a time and making sure they know which part of the target to fill in 🙂

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Pros: Good for when you think students are feeling demotivated. Focuses on the desired goals before thinking about the barriers and possible solutions (students often jump straight to solutions…) Super collaborative too!
Cons: Will take a good 10-15mins to do properly.

10) Ask “How was this conversation helpful to you?”

How to use it: Again not really an activity (but 10 was a wonderfully round number…) this completely changed my approach to reflections – thank you Cognitive Coaching! If you are doing some of the more collaborative reflection pieces then it can be difficult to record the conversation. After any of these activities ask students to write a quick summary of “how was this conversation helpful to you?” and you’ll be amazed by how well they articulate their responses!

“It was helpful to discuss how I’m feeling about this unit because it made me realise that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and that all of us do which can help us work together to feel confident after the unit.”

Pros: Students are forced to condense the conversation and focus on the learning that they want to take away.
Cons: Nothing! It’s an absolute winner 🙂


I hope you’ve found something here that might be helpful in your classroom.

If you have other super cool awesome reflection activities then I would love for you to leave a comment (maybe I’ll make an 11-20 one day!!!)

 

References:

Costa, A. L.  and Garmston, R., 2013. Cognitive Coaching Seminars®. Foundation Training  Learning Guide. 9th ed., © 2013 by Cognitive Coaching Seminars®

Anderson, J. and Costa, A. L., 2008. Is Your Instruction Habit Forming? In A. L. Costa and B. Kallick (Eds.). Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, pp.69-96

Who are reflections for?

If you teach High School (or maybe Middle School) I can almost guarantee that you’ve made a document that looks a bit like this with the intention of giving students the opportunity to reflect at the end of every unit. Faultless!

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If you’re like me, you also struggled to find the time to do it properly, students hated filling in the boxes, and the responses were pretty useless:

“study more”

“read the question”

“collaborate better”

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A few months into the year and I decided to abandon the beautifully crafted document, and embraced a reflection sulking spiral. My thought process went a bit like this….

 “It’s meant to help students express their feelings, be more self aware, and improve thinking. WHY WON’T MY KIDS DO IT?”

The realisation that caused me to shift my thinking was a discussion with a colleague who simply asked me….

“Who did you make the document for?”

Default response:  “the students… everything is always for the kids.” Right?

I was using the documents to inform me about their study habits and their grades. This helped me to see if there were any issues with their revision strategies and this led to conversations with students. So yes, there were some positive outcomes for them, but it was my document; I’d set the questions, the timescale, the restrictions.

My students had no ownership of their own reflections.

Creating activities that weren’t all about me getting information was actually pretty tough. Giving them choices of reflection activities, mixing up the timeline, and making it less formal were some of the main changes that really contributed to the shift. Focusing on their feelings towards the subject as well as how their thinking was changing this was way more useful (and interesting!) for them. The exam related stuff was still happening but in a different space.

As teachers we do tons of reflection activities without even knowing it, but when it comes to recording them it can be repetitive and boring for students if they don’t feel like they have ownership of the thinking. Giving them ownership of the space; the freedom to write colloquially and using diagrams to display their feelings makes it feel more like their own space.

Sometimes the recorded reflections that they produce don’t inform me about their learning, or their study habits or their approaches to Chemistry at all. But it’s not about me. It’s about them.

Have you had any negative feedback from students about reflection?

Have you got any awesome ideas for giving them more ownership?

 

 

When to reflect?

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The default reflection time is the end of the unit. With the test returned and corrections made, this seems like the obvious time to think about how things are going. 

I didn’t like the way that reflections ended up focusing so heavily on how the exam had gone and how students should ‘work harder’ or ‘study more’ to improve their grades. Whilst reflecting on revision strategies and examination technique is important, I also wanted my students to reflect on how they were feeling about science lessons and significant events in lessons (that weren’t exams!). 

Mixing up the timing allowed me to escape the “R-word” label. Here’s five timings that you might not have considered that are awesome for reflection.

1) At the start of a new unit

This works particularly well if you know it’s a unit that students have lots of negative preconceptions about. For chemistry this works amazingly with stoichiometry – having a conversation about the fear of blending chemistry and maths before they start the unit can really help them to think positively about the desired outcome of the unit.

2) Significant days

My personal favourite is the “you’ve survived 100days of ____ how’s it going?” reflections. You really don’t need to try too hard to find these, but they’re great to check in with how kids are feeling about stuff. 

3) Any time you get negative vibes

A 10 minute reflection can give the students a chance to gain some perspective on their learning and to discuss with others. If you get them to record these it can also give students a non-confrontational way to give you insight into what’s causing them issues.

4) After big collaboration work

Whether this be an experiment, a presentation or modelling task; thinking about the contributions they’ve made and how other members of their group would describe them can give another “non-exam” focus on reflection. 

5) At the end of the unit

I don’t want to veto these entirely but if you want students to reflect on the learning and not on the exam itself try experimenting with doing this after they’ve done the test rather than when they’ve seen their mistakes.

Are there any other times you’ve found reflection works really well?

Have you got any ways of reflecting after tests that forces the students to focus on learning?

The “R Word” – Getting students engaged in reflection

There’s a real focus on reflection in many schools around the world and rightly so – it been shown to improve wellbeing and self awareness (Hoyer and Klein, 2000) and their ability to articulate issues.

16805019500_7508f67401_zHowever, if your students are anything like mine the mere suggestion of “reflection” can be enough to set off a Mexican wave of sighing. About a year ago I began to focus on reflection in my teaching to try to make students realise how exciting and rewarding seeing their progress can be. 

The biggest worry I had when I started was how the hell I was going to get my students on board. I generally like my classroom to be a fun place, and my previous experience showed me that the students detested reflecting. My first solution to this problem was reflection deception; If I don’t say the R-word then they’ll never know they’re reflecting. Staggeringly it actually made a huge difference. 

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It worked because it turned out that my students didn’t hate reflection at all, they just hated filling in the same template reflection questions after every unit test that no one ever looked at. As soon as we started to vary the timings of reflections and make the process more creative and interactive my students started to really enjoy it. 

Interviewing my students at the end of last year they described reflection generally as “boring” and “repetitive” but when questioned about the reflection activities that we’d been trialling they said

“I like that we do a variety of activities and that it’s not just questions”

“Talking to other people helps me to realise that I’m not the only one finding it difficult”

“I like being able to see how far I’ve come from the start of the year”. 

I feel like I’ve learned so much about reflection that to put it all into one blog post would be horribly dull and tedious. These are the main things that I’ve learned about in the past year and plan to share in this space.

How to decide when to reflect

Creative reflection 

Time effective reflection

Who are reflections for?

The importance of variety

Reflections as a conversation starter 

 

How does reflection work in your school?

What issues have you had with reflection?

What successes have you had with reflection?