How do I get my Kids to reflect?

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To be honest I have been thinking about this question for years and I don’t know if I am even truly there yet but I think my students are well on their way. However, it hasn’t always been that way.

I have said this before but reflection for me started off as that one off we did with our kids or some fancy worksheet that made me look like I was reflecting but you know you weren’t. I did the binder portfolios and all the things that we “had” to but to be honest it was more of a make-work project than really having reflection embedded into my daily teaching. I saw it as an extra and really couldn’t wrap my head around how to make this a part of my teaching practice. For this reason, I went totally “gradeless” and decided to only have feedback (this worked for me) but as I have been conversing with my fellow colleagues this hasn’t always been the case for others.

For this reason, I thought I would jot down some ideas that have been coming out of conversations with other colleagues.

  1. Start small

I know this may be without saying but if you find that students are struggling with reflection pair it right down. Start with a small sentence or even small pictures. An idea that I have done at the beginning is exit ticket slips, you can even do it with Google Forms. Sometimes I think as educators we move too fast too soon. We want our students to succeed and do what others are doing but sometimes they are not ready for it. Not only does this get us frustrated but I am sure the kids are too.

2. Set small and obtainable goals

One of the hardest things that I had to learn was that my goals and the kids’ goals had to be small and obtainable. Many of my students were making these lofty and vague goals and then never achieving them or they just let them by the wayside because it was taking too long to achieve their goals. For this reason, I have started to say in one week or next month what are you going to specifically do. No longer do I except I want to be better at math. I tell them what exactly do you want to be better at (e.g., patterns, fact recall, problem-solving, etc)?

3. Build it into a question or into your week

Time is always an issue. One of the biggest discussions I get is, this is taking a long time Jonathan. Of course, my answer is, yes, yes it is. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Proper reflecting takes time and of course at the beginning of the year takes the most. I know I have to remind myself of this and that setting routines and procedures always seems so painful in September but by June it is amazing. I also have to remember that many of my students have never done this before. Reflecting and being honest reflectors is hard if students have never had their voices heard or honoured before. Some advice that I have been giving is why not set aside 10 minutes every day to do some sort of reflection, or sometimes I make one period every Friday for reflection. In primary, I made one of the questions a reflecting question so that it was part of the assignment. Breaking it into small time will allow you to make it part of your routine.

4. Keep it simple

I said this before but simpler the better. The more complicated the harder it is for students to feel invested in the reflection process. Also if it is to complicate it may be too hard for the grade level. You can always work up to a longer reflection but to start with it right away could cause discouragement. Sometimes the best reflection is the simplest question, how are you doing? Just don’t be satisfied with “fine”. 🙂

5. Video reflection versus written

I know for me many of my students have a hard time writing their thoughts down. It can be challenging for them, which is why I always give them the option of recording their thinking instead of writing. I use my iPad or phone’s built-in camera and then have them save it in their drive. On the computer, I use screencastify and the built in webcam.

Overall, the biggest aha moment though out of the whole process is reflection is not something that comes naturally for people. Sure we reflect and think but articulating our reflection process is not something we do. It is an internal thing that takes time to cultivate. Students need to be reminded why it is important to share and how to set appropriate and specific goals. I have also learned that students have to do something with their reflections to make it meaningful. It is great that you are making them write them and go through the process but there always needs to be more. What I have found is having an audience whether it be their peers or better their parents has been a tremendous help in making their reflections come alive.

I would love to hear and see what anyone else is doing with reflections. Just add your thoughts to the comments.

Going Gradeless Part 2

Last year I embarked on an amazing journey of going Gradeless. You can read about my starting point here. Now this was not without some ups and downs and I would by no means say that I am an expert but I thought I would record down some of my learning so far.

First, going Gradeless does not mean that I do not evaluate and assess students learning. I think the biggest misconception when I mention this is that I sit around and let students work and do nothing. This is far, far from the truth. In fact, I do more evaluating than I have ever done in my life.

Second, I know in my previous blog post I mentioned the benefits but here are some of the reasons why I did this:

  1. I have found that many of my students previously haven’t bothered to look at the feedback that I gave, they only cared about the letter. The same with the parents. The letter seemed to tell everything but yet nothing at all.
  2. To be honest having students reflect or gather portfolios has been a hard process for me. It has always been an add-on or something that came around during report cards. Going Gradeless has allowed me to embed reflection and portfolios into my everyday. Students are more willing to look at the feedback and think about their learning.
  3. My students care less about competition between themselves and more about the learning. This in itself has been the biggest reason I decided to go Gradeless.

So what do I actual do? The first step in making students reflect and think about their learning is to actual show them what they intend to learn. So before every project my students and I look at the curriculum, yes I said the curriculum. They look at the specifics and overall expectations and rewrite them to form standards for their learning. These standards go into a met or not met chart that they keep recorded of throughout the unit and project. As students learn they record down what piece of evidence shows this learning the best as well as any standards that they think they haven’t met yet.

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Once the unit is complete the students then record a reflection down to show me there thinking.

A final step is a google form which asks them to self-evaluate themselves and also help prepare for a student conference that we hold for each assignment. During these conferences, we discuss their progress. It is a time to share my observations and how I have been assessing. Together we talk about their marks for the final report card.

We also write monthly report cards to their parents. This process is still in the works but it has been working well. Students are gradually removing themselves from thinking about marks and more focused on their own learning.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this process or if you are doing something similar.