Don’t skip the reflection!

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey (Source)

Introduction: As the title of this post suggests, most teachers usually skip the reflection part at the end of a unit. At least, to be honest, I usually skipped the reflection part at the end of a unit. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to reflect or didn’t think it was important. I did. But I always seemed to run out of time, forget, or rush through it. There was some cognitive dissonance between my thoughts, words, and actions. I believed and said reflection was of value to me, but my actions showed that I didn’t really value it as much as I said I did.

In the past, when I asked students to reflect on a unit, I didn’t devote much time to it. The reflection day activities often included having the students self-assess their work against the success criteria and then asking them to create a quick mind map of what they had learned. Sometimes I had the students reflect on their learning using a Google form. I devoted one class period to these tasks and nothing more. The reflections I received were ok, but not great.

A student mind map reflecting on our second unit of study this year called “Read Like a Pro”.

I had internalized the belief that once the final product was done so was the learning. I thought that the arc of the unit had passed its climax and the denouement didn’t really matter. But I was wrong. There is so much to be gained from deep reflection. And so, my advice to teachers everywhere is “Don’t skip the reflection!”

Why is reflection important?: Reflecting and Acting is an essential component of The Cycle of Inquiry as outlined by Kath Murdoch. In the diagram below, reflection is given equal weight when compared to other parts of an inquiry unit. In her blog, Thinking Pathwayz, Alice Vigors says, “The process of reflecting on learning growth and goal setting is a process that is not just reserved for the end of an inquiry but is an essential component of the whole inquiry process.” (see more info here).

The Cycle of Inquiry (original by Kath Murdoch, adapted by Alice Vigors).

Murdoch says that when we build in time for reflection we should:

  • Consider ways to apply/use/share learning to make a difference (So what?)
  • Make connections back to big ideas – now what do we understand?
  • Evaluate the process
  • Consider unanswered questions
  • What next? What now? (source).

In process-driven learning, reflection is critical because it is the entire learning journey that is important, not just the product. This is an idea that I have been reminding myself of again and again over the course of my digital storytelling unit for COETAIL Course #5.

Reflection Tasks in the Digital Storytelling Unit: My grade 7 team has been working hard this quarter to integrate more opportunities for reflection tasks into our curriculum. We set a professional learning goal to try and prioritize reflection and learning habits as much as we do content. We even created a set of posters to help us teach into the what, why, and how of reflection in our classrooms.

What is reflection? Poster created by members of team 7 at AES New Delhi, 2022.

The Benefits of Reflection. Poster created by members of team 7 at AES New Delhi, 2022.

I am so glad that my team decided to emphasize reflection at the same time that I was doing my digital storytelling unit. I thus felt no qualms about my decision to spend two weeks on reflection tasks after our digital stories were complete.

Here is what the students did:

  1. Posted all their digital stories on this Padlet. Then, we watched them all and gave each other glow/grow feedback.
  2. Self-assessed their work against the success criteria using this Google Doc.
  3. Completed a 3-2-1 protocol to give me feedback on how the unit went and how it could be better next time.
  4. Shared their thoughts about the unit on this Flipgrid.
  5. Created a “one-pager“/mind map to reflect on their process.

Check this out! This was created by the SAME KID!!! Now, you tell me, which one goes deeper?

Student “one-pager” reflecting on the digital storytelling unit.

Here are the rest of the one-pagers the students created if you are interested. I also displayed them outside my room on a bulletin board to make the learning journey visible!

Bulletin board showing students’ painted reflections on the digital storytelling unit.

Wrapping it all up! I personally did a lot of reflecting and processing on the unit as well. Here are some of the reflection activities that I did…

  1. Uploaded all the students’ videos to a YouTube playlist and then shared those videos with families in preparation for our upcoming student-family-teacher conferences.
  2. Interviewed Shafali to discuss our experiences teaching the unit.
  3. Finished my COETAIL Course 5 video by adding in excerpts from the students’ Flipgrid posts, the interview with Shafali, and my own reflection to the end of the digital story that I had created with the students.
  4. Blogged about my experience on this blog, of course:)

Here is the playlist of the digital stories the students created!

Here is a link to the website where the students’ work is published publicly. It’s our Middle School newspaper/blog site “The Direct Message“.

Here is the reflective interview that I conducted with Shafali, my teaching partner for this unit. In the video, we discuss the benefits of collaboration and the ways in which we grew as a result of teaching digital storytelling.

And, the moment we have all been waiting for! Here is my final COETAIL Course 5 video (my digital story “Your Story Matters + Excerpts from the student’s verbal reflections on Flipgrid and my interview with Shafali).

I am so proud of the work that the students created and the work that I put in to help facilitate that learning. The best part for me has been seeing some of the responses the families have written back after watching the videos. Here are a few of my favorites:

Snippet from a parent email I received after I sent them their child’s digital story.

Snippet from a parent email I received after I sent them their child’s digital story.

I think that’s it for now. Wow! I can’t believe I am almost finished with COETAIL. I have one blog post left on Community Engagement and then it’s a wrap…👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏