Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Power of Reflection

Metacognition refers an awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes. It is a valued part of the inquiry learning philosophy that underpins the PYP and people should expect to see examples of this in a PYP school. Dylan Wiliam summarises metacognition in this short video:

More of these clips can be found at the Journey To Excellence website.

Reflecting is the most common way that most teachers help to foster meta cognitive skills. A summative task will inevitably include some form of reflection, as will a culmination of a unit of work. Unfortunately this can sometimes only be token reflection - seen more of a 'tick the box' task rather than a true reflection on the learning process.  Paying mere lip service to a completed task or unit is something akin to immersing children in a fact-based curriculum that sacrifices conceptual understanding. It is important that teachers recognise the power of reflection and help to scaffold and encourage this development throughout a child's education.

As Wiliam states in the video, children can be taught the processes of reflection. The reflective process, like other skills, can develop over time and as students become more comptent at it they take less time to consider the elements that they think about - it becomes more natural. I certainly agree with this and can recall many students that I have taught who have excellent meta cognitive skills. There can be a noticeable difference between students who have been educated in an environment where reflection is valued, compared to those who have rarely reflected in the past. Clearly, reflecting well is not as easy as it sounds. If this ability level can be reached earlier on in someone's life then it can have positive impacts on their learning.

Teachers can help encourage the reflection process in many ways. Harvard University's Project Zero has developed several thinking routines, some of which are linked directly to reflection. I have used some of these in the past and have found them to be very effective. Through activities, such as blogging, the use of Web 2.0 tools can also encourage reflection. This blog has certainly helped me to reflect on my own practice and has also enabled me to gather feedback from other educators around the world. This can be easily transferred to the classroom as students can have their own blogs or twitter accounts (another way to enhance the reflection process). Blogging isn't the only way though - there are many different tools that can help encourage reflection. For some other ideas check out this blog post or re-cap the recent #elemchat on Twitter.

My final thoughts are concerned with how and what we should reflect on. Reflecting on key and related concepts for a unit or piece of work is a good way of helping to assess students' understanding. Sure, we structure our work around concepts but do the kids really 'get' it? Do they know that they are discussing perspectives, connections or responsibilities? Not all the time, I don't think. Good reflection can focus students' thinking onto the big ideas that they might not realise they're working with. Secondly, negotiating the curriculum with students is a key element of inquiry learning. If students have ownership over what they are learning then they are more engaged and this makes the reflection process both easier and more relevant. A final element to consider is to ensure that reflection is a perpetual process. This is a personal goal of mine as I feel that I don't give my students enough opportunity to reflect at the end of a lesson (or in the middle of a lesson). Reflecting only at the end of a unit, while important, doesn't give students the chance to adapt their learning throughout the process. If they're not learning from their learning then they're not extracting everything that they can from their work.

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