Well designed gardens include pathways that are both inviting and offer places for rest and reflection. When designing a pathway through the garden we might add a bench in a tucked away corner or a reflection ball to pull the visitor deeper in.
The design of a learning pathway is really no different if we hope to invite and nurture reflection for learners. A year ago I was not an overly reflective learner myself. A year later however, I crave blogging, as I would a run or a good book. Reflection provides time and opportunity to clear out brain debris, reorganize, synthesize and seek inspiration. The real appeal of blogging for me has been the chance to step out of my practice and view it from the outside. I am not sure if this makes sense to you, but when I explained this to fellow Biology teacher Amy Nickel she agreed (and if Amy agrees it must be true!). For me (and probably you) teaching is a personal activity and most of the time I am too immersed in the act of doing it to see clearly what it is I am doing.
Deep meaningful reflection has become one of my most favoured and used tools in my personal learning tool box. I wanted to offer learners the same opportunities as they make their journey.
When first offering students opportunities for reflection I considered the following:
1. Private or public?
2. Digital or paper?
I decided on inexpensive (35 cents), portable, paper learning journals that are written during class time, and are read only by me. I provided general prompts at the start, later in semester I encouraged them to write holistically in a stream of consciousness. Early in the semester I prompted everyone to take part in journal writing to get the habit going and to provide some quiet reflective time within the day. As the semester progressed I let students decide for themselves if it was meaningful for them to continue (last year I insisted, but last semester I wondered why insist?). Some students seemed to take to it immediately, some seemed to just enjoy the chance to take time out of their day to be quiet (which I think is valid) and some were frustrated by the process.
1. Convenient – Journals in class made it hassle free.
3. Private – Students shared personal information that they might not have otherwise.
4. Low tech – Not dependent on tech or internet connection.
5. Personal – I enjoy reading and responding to students in writing (feels personal for me).
6. Timely feedback – Provided insight as to what was going well and where students were struggling.
7. Evidence for me to change – Provided me with concrete evidence that students can very accurately self access and can make concrete plans to remediate.
8. Connection – Students love to read my comments.
9. Stress free – No strings attached (ie not for marks) so enjoyable for all.
1. Lack of authenticity for some – Not authentic and/or meaningful for all students.
2. Limited audience – Read by me alone.
3. Limited creativity – Paper not digital.
4. Negative reactions – “Why do we have to do this in Biology class?” Difficult to get to the deeper power of reflection in such a short time.
5. Limited function – Found that by mid-semester that we had tapped out on the big insights (personal and class related).
Next semester I am planning/hoping to change things up. I am thinking about going digital; expanding the audience and function of the reflection.
What have you tried in your classroom? What worked well for you and your students?
Would love to hear!