The Art of Reflection
A few weeks ago, I got together with a group of teachers to talk about the findings and insights they gained from participating in a series of learning walks in different classrooms. They discovered that although the students could describe to them exactly what they were doing, they had difficulty explaining what it was that they may be gaining from the experience. In response to that, I proposed incorporating periods of reflection into the daily schedule. Whether students choose to record their thoughts using audio and video or pen and paper, encouraging them to take a few minutes to reflect not only on what they have learned but also on how and why they have learned it may, in the end, enable them to make more meaningful connections to the material that they are studying.
A discussion regarding portfolios ensued as a natural consequence of this. The tools, including how to save, share, and publish student work, are often the focus of conversations on portfolios. When we make the act of curating, reflecting, and sharing the content of our portfolios the primary focus of our efforts, we transform them into summative assignments that may be considered as an add-on to the conclusion of a unit, project, or activity.
If students and teachers are going to get the most out of portfolios, they not only need to provide insight into what students have made as a representation of their learning, but also how and why they have developed it. Only then will portfolios be genuinely beneficial to both students and teachers. If the ultimate objective is to develop students as learners, then they need the opportunity to establish connections to both the topic being studied and the larger learning objectives.
PROGRESS AND PERFORMANCE PORTFOLIOS
Students should be given the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and see how much they have grown through the process of gathering learning artefacts and compiling them into portfolios as part of their educational experience. Matt Renwick addresses the necessity of maintaining both progress and performance portfolios in his book Digital Student Portfolios: “Bringing learning to life” is something that can be accomplished “by documenting student learning progress and performance in the moment,”
It is common practise for creative professionals, such as artists and authors, to retain a portfolio of their work. Leonardo Da Vinci was known to keep hundreds of notebooks in which he detailed his ideas through the use of diagrams, sketches, and notes. John Updike’s estate has thousands of documents that detail the ways in which the author reworked paragraphs and overcame technical obstacles. Students, in a similar fashion, have the ability to compile a body of work that exemplifies their development in addition to their performance in order to demonstrate how their thinking has evolved throughout the course of their educational experiences.
In addition, when we encourage students to record their thoughts on a regular basis, reflection is no longer a chore that is performed solely at the conclusion of a project. Students require time and scaffolding in order to develop their capacity for self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-reflection. Educators can assist students in developing their learning skills and recognise those skills in them by encouraging students to document their learning strategies, their level of comfort with the subject matter, and any connections they may be able to make between different units of study or even between different courses.
TEACHING THE ART OF REFLECTION
However, the topic of how to instruct introspection continues to be a concern. Students struggle with reflection far too frequently because they lack an understanding of what they were expected to learn and the motivation behind it. What if students knew from the beginning of the school year that all of their work would be in support of two or three key questions, such as: What are the qualities of good problem solvers? What if students knew that their work would be in support of two or three essential questions? Imagine the influence that it will have on the kids’ learning and development if they remember to keep the vital questions at the forefront of their minds as they document their progress.
The use of visible thinking routines is another strategy that teachers might implement to facilitate student reflection. These questions encourage student inquiry and serve as a guide for metacognition; they were developed at Harvard’s Project Zero. For instance, teachers can give their pupils the opportunity to reply to the Connect, Extend, and Challenge routine at the end of each day or week:
Connect: In what ways might the new ideas that you’ve learnt be related to the information that you already knew?
Explain how the things you’ve learned have helped you expand your way of thinking.
The challenge is, what is it that you still find difficult or mysterious?
This routine enables students to synthesise ideas and establish links to previous learning. It also encourages students to wonder and seek out new questions, and it gives them the opportunity to acknowledge what they do not yet know.
A more robust model for digital portfolios can be created by students’ critical thinking, which is encouraged by the employment of both key questions and visible thinking routines. Learning continues to be the primary focus despite the fact that the emphasis is not solely placed on publishing and sharing things. When students reflect on each experience, they become more aware of the processes and tactics that make them successful. This awareness enables students to learn not only from their triumphs but also from the problems or failures they have faced in the past.
A teacher at the Trinity School in Atlanta named Rhonda Mitchell once wrote that “the true power of the portfolio is in the revisiting.” [Citation needed] As teachers, one of the most difficult tasks we have is the one of ensuring that students have the opportunity to participate in reflective activities that will allow them to produce meaningful products from which they can genuinely learn several times.