Standards Opinion

Teaching Reflection in Steps

By Starr Sackstein — September 22, 2014 3 min read
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Self-assessment and reflection is key to the forward movement of a student’s learning and potential achievement.

The more able a student is to talk about his/her learning in a cognizant way, the better chance he/she has in achieving his/her goals.

This is why it is imperative for us to teach students how to do this effectively. We can’t merely assume that by saying to a student, “go reflect on this last assignment,” that he/she will know what we mean.

It’s likely, they won’t.

When we say reflection, students hear, “what did you like about this assignment?” Which isn’t really what we want them to do. We want them to consider the process of their learning and more importantly, what they gained or didn’t gain from the experience based on the standards the assignment addressed.

Last year I started conducting in-class conferences to ensure individualized learning, while teaching students to track their own progress and set continuous goals. The students expressed appreciation for the approach regularly and clearly showed me that it worked when we spent time discussing learning together.

One mistake I made last year was starting too late and conferencing formally to infrequently. In an effort to remedy that, the first informal Google form survey was sent to all my classes in an effort to get students thinking about their learning in terms of standards NOT grades.

And we still aren’t there yet.

In the preliminary data I’ve collected from kids, they are still speaking of academic success in terms of letter grades rather than specific skills they know and can do. This is largely my short coming and the system’s consistent reminders of learning being converted into symbols that don’t mean much. Every time a student says they deserved a “B+", I need to remind myself that it will take time to break this habit and more importantly, I need to ask that student to tell me what that means to them.

The Google Form was meant to be a step in helping them with specific questions I wanted to answers to, but I’m realizing now that this may have been a leap as well without explanation. Time to slow down again. I’m thinking another full day in class should be devoted to a discussion of tracking progress and what that means (and then an on-going conversation as needed).

Here are the things I’d like students to be tracking all the time (how they track it is up to them):

  • Informal conversations we have in class when they ask a question about a task they are working on
  • When full class conversations answer a question they have that advances the goals they set
  • Any feedback I provide them on their documents - not just what I say, but what I say in reference to something specific in their writing
  • Any feedback provided by peers during workshops
  • Any feedback provided in formal conferences.
  • Any realizations that occur to the student him/herself while working through problems

In addition to tracking the above information, students should be setting short term goals regularly based on the scope of assignments and the skills they are being asked to show. Some skills will take multiple assignments and opportunities to show growth and others will find proficiency right away.

Whichever exists for each student, it is necessary that students themselves can identify and communicate this learning and/or need for help as articulately as appropriate for his/her age. That’s why we must make time in class to have these discussions and teach students as many times as it takes.

So for me, it’s back to the drawing board, but with a solid knowledge of where I’m starting this year. My hope is that as more teachers start adopting this mindset, there will be less of a need to continually re-educate students when they first arrive in my classroom. Until then, I will do whatever it takes for students to understand the value of learning which couldn’t possibly end with any one letter or number.

How do you have conversations about learning with your students? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.