Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Importance of Reflection

There are few things in life more important than reflection. Where did I start? How did I get through my journey? What will I do better next time? Reflection helps us grow as individuals and as communities. It demands time to consider actions and encourages us to think of ways to improve in similar circumstances. This is integral to learning.

At the end of each project I do with my students, I require reflection. It is built into the projects and serves as a pause that cements into the brain what has been learned. Without reflecting, people fall into habits. Whatever we have done comfortably in the past, we continue to do. In practical terms in a school research setting, students jump on Google, type in a question, and use the first five Google hits to write their term papers. It may not be the correct way to do things, but it is easy and is what they have always done. That is not learning.

Reflection does not need to take a long time. It can be just a five-ten minute exercise for some.  It just takes good open-ended questions and prompts, such as:

  • Name three things you learned in this project
  • Why is it important to vet your sources?
  • What was the hardest part of this project for you?
  • What will you do differently to improve your research next time?

At the end of each project, I too reflect on what went well and what did not. I share my reflections with my co-teachers and my boss. Furthermore, I keep this blog, in part, to aid my overall reflection of my work. Beyond work, I keep a diary to reflect on my life. Taking time to think deeply about my actions helps me improve my future decisions AND gives shape to my life. I have a strong sense of self and purpose, in large part because of my reflection skills.

I find that my more advanced and thoughtful students will take longer with reflections, but for many, reflecting does not come naturally. In this fast paced digital era, considering past successes and failures might not occur if teachers do not build it into projects. My students quickly move from one activity to another - Get out of class, text a friend, play an online game, take a selfie...reflection serves as a means to slow down modern day distractions. It is my hope that even just a little reflecting time will help people recognize its value and build a desire for more reflection.

I ended the school year with a reflection exhibit that asked kids the following:

  • What are the two best memories you have of this year?
  • In what areas do you feel you have improved the most?
  • What are three new things you have learned?
  • What subject have you enjoyed the most?
  • What have you learned about yourself this year?
  • What are you most proud of this year?
Reflection reminds us that we are constantly changing and that the world around us is changing too. Considering how and what we learn allows us to better understand how we fit in the world. It should not be an optional part of education.

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