Reflection takes courage. Whether you are thinking back to a moment from the past or freeing up your mind to think about what’s ahead, reflection is undoubtedly a courageous act. When we engage in this process we are opening ourselves up to travel to a more vulnerable space. Knowing that reflection can lead us to forming understandings, realizing potential hardships, reliving challenging experiences, and affirming new learnings it is no wonder that courage is a key ingredient.
Frequently when students have a chance to reflect they are left questioning….
“What am I supposed to do here?”
“What is the correct thing to say?”
“I already finished this work why do I need to now go back to think about how it went?”
It is common that students will hesitate on how to respond during reflective dialogue. There is often a misunderstanding of its purpose and therefore students are unclear as to what to write or say when asked questions such as, “What is your biggest takeaway?” or “What did you realize about yourself as a writer?” It can be helpful to explore the different outlets in which reflection can come through.
Quiet inward reflection embodies the idea that individuals can have a more intimate exchange by quieting their minds to think more critically about their experiences both behind and ahead of them. While shared outward reflection dances on the dialogue students have with one another, creating bursts of realizations and collaborative affirmations. Both of these reflective stances are ones that can and should be explored. Reflection can often turn into a task completion, “check it off the list” type of experience and therefore we must experiment with the ways in which we engage with it.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a school and one of our collective goals was to help students see the reasoning, purpose and beauty of reflection. The teachers and I were curious about their initial perceptions of reflection and were hoping to allow them to uncover the joy and fulfillment reflection could bring to their learning lives. We jumped into a 6th grade science class, hopeful to find answers. During our classroom visit, students shared that sometimes they don’t want to reflect because it just feels like another “thing to do!” We reassured the students that reflection is hard and sometimes it seems overwhelming, but that we were there to support them. Below is a step by step of our interactions and inquiry into developing a reflective stance.
First we shared out two types of reflection with students, “shared or outward reflection” and “quiet or inward reflection.” We discussed the benefits of each of these as a whole group.
Some of the students’ ideas were:
“Quiet reflection is less distracting!”
“Quiet reflection has no judgement.”
“Shared reflection helps you to get ideas from others.”
“Your mind is clearer when talking things out with other people.”
After some discussion, we dove into some reflection, trying out both types. We discovered more about the learners’ own reflective preferences.
Finally, we came together as a team and shared out personal opinions about reflection and preferences as to how to engage in it. Then we set goals, drew conclusions about the importance of engaging in this process, and shared out what it might be bringing to our learning lives.
One 6th grader said, “I am the kind of person who likes to do more shared reflection. It helps me to remember what my experience was like when hearing other people's ideas’.”
Reflection is multifaceted and so it’s essential that we help students learn how to thoughtfully and meaningfully engage in the process. Ultimately, helping them see the importance of this experience takes time and so we must not give up on it when we encounter reflections that feel empty and irrelevant at first. We can try out different methods of reflection to help learners see the beauty of looking back to launch ahead.