Reflect is what educators do. College professors give value to reflecting on pedagogical practice. Administrators expect us to reflect on our practice in instructional evaluations. Inservice instructors ask us to reflect on what we learned from each training session.
As teachers reflecting on ways to enhance our daily instruction, we ask: How did the students respond to the day’s lesson? Were the objectives met? How could we better manage our time? What methods might engage our students?
As a middle school teacher, I found myself asking similar questions until I realized: who better to ask than the students themselves? After all, I might believe a lesson was absolutely wonderful—it seemed as though every student was attentive and focused on the classroom activity—but what if I was wrong? What if my students weren’t getting all that I hoped they would from our time together?
So, I implemented student reflection as a weekly component of my classroom instruction. Every Friday, students spent 10–15 minutes reflecting on our week together. They responded to four key questions that prompted personal reflection:
What did you learn this week?
What activities helped you to learn?
What activities did you find engaging?
- What questions or comments do you have for me?
Student reflections guided my classroom teaching and lesson planning as I had hoped, but I was surprised by the unexpected benefits it brought to the students. An activity intended to suit my own instructional needs became an activity that inspired connection, openness, diversity, metacognition, and sense of community for my students.
Here are some of the ways reflection benefits students.
Recognition of Mastery
To start their weekly reflection, students took stock of what they learned in our class that week. They could look through their class notebooks and calendars for a quick reminder of the daily objectives and activities. Then, they focused on what they, personally, took from the week’s classroom activities.
For the most part, students shared an aspect of class content that really resonated with them. For example, after a week dedicated to plot structure and character development, Mary shared how she learned about the steps of characterization along with key ways to develop a relatable character. Meanwhile, Thomas discussed how he learned more about climax and the way in which a text can hold the reader’s attention.
By reflecting on what they learned, students were able to identify their newfound knowledge and see their own growth and awareness of the content.
Self-Awareness and Character Development
In educating the whole child, we hope to reach beyond content and grasp the heart of the student. In addition to sharing content knowledge, students often shared what they learned in terms of their own self-awareness and inner character.
For instance, during the discussion of a short story in which the main character was bullied by his older brother, a student volunteered to share his own experience at the hands of a bully. Students engaged in a deep, impromptu conversation regarding bullying. As a result, many of them reflected on this discussion in their weekly reflection log. They discussed in detail what the classroom conversation taught them about the lives and experiences of their classmates.
In addition, they expressed what they believed the conversation revealed about their role in such a situation, or their personal experience with bullying. It opened their eyes to the realities of bullying and inspired them to reflect on ways in which they could reach out and help someone in need.
Diversity and Relationships
In the same vein, students sometimes reflected on what they learned about the cultures and life experiences of their classmates. As students engaged in group discussions, they shared personal connections and insights into their own lives and experiences.
In reflecting on the week, students shared what they learned about how the life and culture of a classmate was different from their own. They considered the implication of knowledge for them both inside and outside class.
Thinking About Learning
We want our middle level students to think about their own learning, to identify their own learning needs and the manner in which their individual needs are addressed in the classroom. In this way, they can grow in their sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. Which strategies seem to work best in helping them master content? Are they visual, auditory, or perhaps kinesthetic learners? How do they learn best?
After identifying what they learned, students reflected on how they learned. What activities seemed to help them the most? Which component of the day’s lesson was the most effective in drawing and holding their attention? For instance, was it the daily bell work that seemed to help them understand and master course material? Did the foldable actively engage them? Did they prefer to work independently or in a small group setting?
Students shared the strategies and activities they believed helped them master the course content as well as the class activities they found to be the most engaging. In this way, they reflected on their own learning, strengths, and needs.
Finally, student reflection is an effective way to inspire and enhance dialogue between the teacher and student. So often, students are hesitant to ask essential questions or engage in important conversation with the teacher. Through weekly reflections, they have the opportunity to ask questions and share information through written dialogue. Through written reflections, students often shared things that confused them about the week’s content or lessons. They asked extended questions about the week’s objectives, or sought clarification on information shared during class lessons.
In addition, students occasionally reached out for support or encouragement. For example, I noticed a student was not quite himself in class but I couldn’t identify the problem. In his reflection, he shared that there was trouble at home, and family turmoil was causing him to fall behind in his coursework. Consequently, we were able to provide him assistance and support in class and through our guidance department.
Tools for Growing
Weekly student reflections provide students the opportunity to grow in their content knowledge, metacognition, and self-awareness, and to strengthen a sense of class community. In addition to providing insight into my own classroom instruction, it gave me a chance to really know and appreciate the diversity within each of my middle level learners.
Their reflections demonstrate the many aspects of learning and development taking place in the middle school classroom every day. Student reflection on learning is a powerful tool in any middle level classroom.
Brooke B. Eisenbach is an assistant professor of secondary education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in AMLE Magazine
, February 2016.