“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
Ooo I do love a good teaching quotation!
Allowing students the time to reflect has always been something I’ve been nervous about. I think it might be the control freak in me. If I’m giving them this time how do I know they aren’t thinking about their love life? Their lunch? Their maths homework? I suppose the short answer to this is that you don’t. You can’t tell what someone is thinking. And to be honest the thought of knowing what all teenagers are thinking all of the time is quite frankly terrifying. But, as always, we can guide them in the right direction and help them to see the value which can be derived from deep reflection. There can be no argument about the need for us to be able to guide them in this skill.
First the difficult part. You have to create and nurture a reflective classroom. It’s unlikely to work if you suddenly declare to your students “Right, you are now going to reflect on Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter for twenty minutes – go!” Cue tumbleweed.
As with most effective teaching, this isn’t something which can be done in one lesson nor is there a magic activity which can facilitate this. It takes hard work and commitment, as it should because this is what you are asking of your students. Fostering a reflective classroom is a continuous process but sticking with it can be incredibly rewarding for you and your students. Here are some strategies which can be used:
Discussions can be a really useful tool to encourage students to think about their thinking. Ask them to discuss how they managed to solve a particular problem. What strategies did they use to reach their conclusions? Could they sketch a mental map and use it as a basis of discussion about how they solved their problem? You could start the lesson with a really meaty key question, guide students through their learning and then facilitate a plenary discussion about how they arrived at their conclusions. You may just see some impressive evidence of some deep reflection on their learning and get one of those lovely warm teacher moments!
Interviews can be a great way to facilitate reflection. You can interview students or students can interview their classmates. At the end of a lesson, topic or unit or for a plenary use interviews so students can question each other about what has been learned. The questions could focus on past learning as well as how the ideas discussed can be applied to future learning.
I always see questioning as the essential ingredient of every lesson and once you have established a supportive classroom environment they can be used to facilitate reflection. I think it’s a good idea to plan some of these before the lesson to make sure they are well designed. Here are a couple of examples of the types of question which could support students in their reflection:
1. How much did you know about the topic before we started?
2. What process did you go through to complete this work?
3. What problems did you encounter while you were working on this piece and how did you solve them?
1. How do you feel about this piece of work? Which parts of it do you particularly like? Dislike? What did you enjoy about this piece of work?
2. What were your standards for this piece of work and did you meet them?
3. Find another piece of work you have done in the past and compare and contrast it with this. What changes can you see?
1. Did you do your work the way other people did theirs?
2. If you were a teacher, what comments would you make about this piece?
3. What mark / grade would you give it and why?
1. One thing I would like to improve upon is…
2. What is one thing you have seen in your classmates’ work or process that you would like to try in your next piece?
3. What might you want next year’s teacher to know about you? What are you good at? What do you need to work on? Which work would you show her / him to help them understand this?
I’m a huge fan of students using journals in the classroom. These can also be used as tools to develop reflection. Now and again ask students to reread their journals and compare what they knew then to what they know now. Then ask them to take a few minutes to write down some ideas about how they got there and how they could apply these strategies in the future. They could even set their own personal targets or actions plans as a result of this reflection.
It’s all well and good asking your students to reflect, but it is really important that they see you doing this too! Being exposed to a range of different thought processes gives students a larger variety of potential thinking strategies. One of the best lessons I have ever observed was a teacher who modelled an answer to an exam question on the board. There were no “bells and whistles” to the lesson at all. She simply, but masterfully, wrote out her response verbalising her thought process as she went along. She directed skilful questions at the class as part of the process. The second part of the lesson involved the students working in pairs on another response using the strategies she had modelled. It was really powerful stuff and there was evidence of incredible work from the students. My experience in observing this lesson, in addition to awakening the green-eyed monster in me as a result of her incredible teaching, taught me that finding ways to model reflection in the classroom is a really powerful strategy.
In a world of crushing assessment pressure it is challenging to focus on anything other than getting the students through the next assessment. But giving them opportunities to reflect is one way we can help to prepare them for life outside of this bubble. If there is an idea above you have tried or are willing to have a go at with your class, it would be lovely if you could share your experiences and advice in the comments below.
Enjoy the rest of your week!