Was that easy?

Was that easy?  It’s a question we may ask ourselves about many of the things we do each and every day.  As teachers, easy can mean achieving without great effort; presenting few difficulties. While this may sounds ideal to our students, teachers strive to challenge our classes in different ways through the content, skills as well as mindset we foster in the learning environment.

I have not found it easy to find a few minutes to sit down and share an update about how my action plan on the building the skill of reflection with my students has unfolded this year.  And, at times in this journey it has not been easy to find the nuggets of growth and progress to build upon along the way.  Yet, persevering for the end goal has been easier because I fundamentally believe that meaningful reflection is central to every student’s learning success.

Authentic Learning PahomovAs a recap of my action plan, I’ve been endeavouring to develop a genuine interest in the skill of meaningful reflection with my students.  This phrase came from a key resource by Larissa Pahomov called Authentic Learning in the Digital Age.  Pahomov defines meaningful reflection using three characteristics:

  • Metacognitivereflection that is at the micro-level with a focus on the thoughts and processes that contribute to awareness and self-improvement.
  • Applicable – reflection on recent performance will directly impact skill development and the next learning task, with goals such as improving overall skill development or not making the same mistakes again.
  • Shared –  reflection process is modelled to help identify what work is required in key areas.  This also involves peer-to-peer support for reflecting on growth areas as each student works on their independent path of improvement.

In the chapter on making reflection relevant, Pahomov discusses the key elements in the planning process that will impact the success of meaningful reflection tasks.  These include putting reflection first in the learning process, integrating student and teacher reflection so that they occur together as well as planning for how reflection will accumulate throughout the learning process.  These components helped me to frame my methods as well as the process of how I was going to engage in fostering this skill with my students.

Another especially valuable resource in the process of engaging my students to become more reflective in their learning is the article Meaningful Reflection – A Practical Approach by Cathryn Berger Kaye.  It includes a chart that served as a key discussion tool for helping my students to clarify what the reflection process could look like. Engaging with the girls in defining the how, when, why, and what of this skill has been a true learning experience for all of us.

It has been an interesting – and not so easy – journey with my Grade 12’s… and they would agree with that statement!  It is no secret that they have a divided focus between completing their final year of high school with strong marks and continuing their development as a learner in key areas that don’t easily translate into marks.  The girls understand that without skill development, their marks will not improve.  But the energy and effort that goes into reflecting about the learning process and the journey can be quite challenging. First and foremost, they would gladly share that reflection is not easy!  Should it be?  No. Time together this year has afforded us the opportunity to learn that this is okay and progress can be measured in small steps.

Here is a brief recap of what I’ve learned with my students as we’ve worked together to foster meaningful reflective learning as a skill :

  • No Marks Allowed — I believe very strongly that reflection should not be assessed in any manner that requires a “formal mark” at the end.  I think that the thought and honesty required for it to be a skill & tool in enabling students to grow as learners is compromised when students expect a mark for the effort. This goes against the entire process for me and I have been very open with my students about this. To be honest, this did not make it easy to build on the buy-in for some girls.  After all, why do it if it is not being marked, right?  Well, my students came to understand that their reflection was returned with my reflections on their thinking and the process became a conversation about how one skill or idea could contribute to their individual growth as a learner. For some, this was where buy-in became a little easier as the girls worked to identify a skill they wanted to improve on and we worked together on this over our time together.
  • Motivation is Key — My students found it challenging to see the connection between the process of reflecting on their learning and the impact it could have on their overall success.  We’ve talked about how marks are not the only measure of growth and progress over time, and acknowledge that much of this is out of our control until the larger system changes (perhaps a future blog post).  So, motivation to engage in meaningful reflection has not been easy, but we’ve come a long way.  Recently, one class of my students completed a checkpoint on their success criteria for a larger learning task they are working on. Notice I didn’t call it a reflection… this helps with motivation too! They ended the discussion by sharing with me that this tool will be helpful in ensuring they are able to achieve the result they want on this task. The checkpoint will serve to redirect any misunderstandings in the expectations in advance of evaluation.  That’s a step forward!
  • Flexible Format — In the beginning, we tried a variety of different tools and methods to capture the explicit thinking and all of the connections that students were making in the meaningful reflection process.  I asked my students to use a specific format, thinking that I was making it easier for them by eliminating the need to decide what form their reflection should take.  And yet, I wasn’t! Through their feedback and my reflection, I’ve learned that leaving the options for capturing this thinking open is key.  They are endless and inspired by the student and their individual journey.  Pictures, poems, videos, paragraphs, music, images (and the list goes on) each serve a role in enabling students to give their reflection a voice.  The format really is central to helping students find buy-in with this skill and in turn helps to make the process easier too!
  • Technology’s Role in Reflection — Technology is all around us in the classroom and the SAMR and TPACK methods remind us of the value in reflecting on how we integrate it with purpose in the learning process. Naturally, this also applies in the reflection process. At Trafalgar, we use digital portfolios as our tool for collecting learning artifacts with reflections to demonstrate growth over time in key areas. Interestingly enough, many students found that using technology as a part of the reflection process was not easy!  This makes sense given different learning styles and aptitudes towards certain methods for self-expression. It seems that if a student was inspired to engage in meaningful reflection using technology to help record the process, they likely would have done so anyway.  This is food for thought on how we should collect this evidence of growth over time. (Sounds like an action plan unfolding for next year).

In the end, I am thankful to have the opportunity to consider these kinds of questions and engage with students who are willing to explore their learning process in a way that enables us to think about their thinking!  After all, without the thinking, there would be little room for change.

Many, many thanks to @jmedved and @gnichols for an amazing second year of Cohort 21.  Thanks also to all of the facilitators (@ddoucet, @lmcbeth, @ckirsh, @shelleythomas) and all of the coaches for influencing my thinking and encouraging me to continue on my journey as an educator.  Cohort 21 is a PD experience like no other! The opportunity to explore new ideas and models for education with a group of like-minded educators from other independent schools is exactly how we will change our current education system.



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One comment to “Was that easy?”
  1. Amazing post, Christina.

    You break down the ‘Why’ and reason with sound backing. Your students, though perhaps they don’t fully internalize it, will appreciate your effort you have put forward to push their thinking to a new level. Reflections….I mean Learning Tasks… are an important part of the process, and I have found that in the past I always defer to marking these. I really like that you don’t mark them and instead, use them as a conversation piece for feedback – such a crucial component!

    Looking forward to chatting more tomorrow!


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