“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” –Confusion, Chinese philosopher, teacher, politician 551-479 AD
Ancient philosophers knew the importance of looking back at life, our experiences, successes and failures in order to give meaning and relevance to our actions. Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living. If a person doesn’t reflect on their values and life they are living like they are going through the motions, like cogs in a wheel. This becomes extremely valid in today’s world where we spend the majority of our time jumping from task to task without taking time out to think about what we are doing, or even why.
Modern life and its constant state of motion drives us in the opposite direction of reflection. There is no time to think, meaning is lost as we continued at a frenzied pace until forced to stop. When we have experiences we should think about them and try to find out why they are happening to us, question our personal actions, what drives them, and then model character in a way that is most appropriate for us not based on what others think.
It’s hard to look at modern life and see our capacities for reflection, to make sense of things.
It’s even harder for students. In a culture of testing where students are given little time to think critically, apply knowledge or reflect on the outcomes, the relevance to what’s being taught and how it relates to real life is lost. Ultimately, this leads to a kind of active apathy where students are going through the motions of learning, retaining little and leaving the scholastic environment without the tools they need to succeed, not only in the workforce but in life.
How do we change the culture of motion we have created?
It’s really important as we go through our scholastic day to think about who has created the culture we are operating in. Chances are that you are partially responsible. The good news is since you are partially responsible you can also partially change it. Clever teachers have found ways to get students excited about reflecting and you can too. It only takes a few minutes each day. You’ll be giving your students more than just a boost on learning, you’ll be giving them a boost on life. I’ve shared some of my favorite classroom reflection techniques below. Feel free to add yours!
“Before I started this class, writing was my enemy, but now I like writing. Writing all this (blog posts) makes me feel that I know more."-Seventh grade student
1) Digital blog posts and portfolios are easy to share and easily archived. The digital posts let students look back at their year and not only see what they have accomplished but how they have grown as communicators.
2) Audio Interviews-Students use audio interviews to ask each other questions about what they’ve learned, “man on the street” style. These can be recorded as voice memos or videos, shown individually, as a continuous loop or edited with classroom and other appropriate words and imagery.
3) Video Testimonial Booth-Students have the opportunity throughout the day to duck into the video testimonial booth and record their ideas about the projects they are working on. The testimonial booth can be as simple at a curtained off area with a video camera on a tripod. Students relate to the “reality TV” connection this type of reflection makes.
4) Daily Prompts-Prompts are a great way to engage students in any medium and they work well with the elementary crowd too. Stir up reflection by asking things like, what did you learn? How do you know you learned it? How did you feel?
5) Living Class Heritage-This is a great way for students to easily access and respond to other students reflection by expressing they felt the same or different about an activity and why. Whatever method of capturing reflection you chose this is the critical component that ties everything together teaching students how to learn, share, to pick and chose which critique to incorporate and to give valuable input to others.
If you have the reflective stance as a teacher you're going to end whatever class or project you're doing by pulling it together and asking the kids what they learned.