Why Student Reflection Should Never Be Skipped

A MiddleWeb Blog

Working_Draft-final-logoMy sixth graders have spent a good part of the new school year writing short stories, as part of our unit on narrative writing.

We’ve worked on formatting dialogue, punctuation, editing and revising, and crafting strong characters.

I’ve shared mentor texts and conferenced with them in both the classroom and in Google Docs. They’ve spent a lot of time writing. They focused on strong starts as a way to pull the reader into the story with a dramatic opening.

They ended the short story project with a round of reflective writing. While I always enjoy the stories, it is the reflective stance that I look forward to. How do they see themselves as writers? What have they learned from the experience?

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And just as important, what trends emerge from the reflections that I can make sure I address in the classes, either as celebratory moments or mini-lessons that dig deeper into some writing skills?

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Mostly, my students try to be insightful and honest. These reflections are part of their emerging digital writing portfolios (I wrote about these portfolios last year) yet they give me an inside look at self-perceived strengths and weaknesses.

In some ways, the reflections are more important than the stories themselves. They will write other stories (although trends in students’ reflections suggest that many are not writing stories in the earlier grades like they used to). But my aim is to find anchors for future improvement to help them grow as writers.

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I think the art of reflection is difficult and not often enough valued, mostly because we run out of time or feel rushed at the end of a unit of study. We often cheat reflection to keep pace with the never-ending timeline of our curriculum maps and standardized testing calendars that loom large in our minds. When we “catch up” this way, we do a disservice to our learners.

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Expanding the notion of reflecting through writing

I participated in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC this fall — a sort of large-scale open social media study of the book by George Couros called The Innovator’s Mindset. One common message from George, and from many of the participants, has been to expand the notions of reflection through writing.

Many participants in the IMMOOC are school administrators and technology/innovation coaches, and George has pushed the idea of blogging as a way to reflect for oneself while also sharing with the world.

When you reflect on your own, you are accountable to yourself. When you blog, you are accountable to yourself and others. Others need to hear your voice.” – George Couros, The Principal of Change

As a daily blogger in my own space and a monthly blogger here at MiddleWeb, I am all for reflection. I like to write when things go great with what I am aiming to do (not often enough), and when things go south and fall short (all too often), and everywhere in-between. I reflect to share, but I also reflect to gather insights from others. I learn from my experiences, and the reflective writing is my memory, written down for later.

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Same with my students. I know not all of them are in that critical thinking space yet, where they understand the power of reflective stance. Many still write for me, the teacher, and not for themselves, or for some larger audience.

My aim is to nurture them towards the understanding that we reflect to contemplate where we have been, and to give them the necessary tools and time as young writers still finding their voice. Reflection allows us all to see our multi-dimensional selves and provides us with the foundation and traction to move forward.

We could all use more of that.

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Kevin Hodgson

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton MA and outreach coordinator for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. An aspiring writer and former newspaper journalist, Kevin believes that all students are writers and that writing is one of the most fundamental means of understanding the world. His views around literacy include interaction within the digital world, meeting students on common ground, and helping them make the shift from passive consumers to active creators and collaborators. He is a co-editor of Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century and blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind. He can also be found on Twitter as @dogtrax.

7 Responses

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    “Reflection allows us all to see our multi-dimensional selves…” What a great idea for young writers!

  2. Rob says:

    Reflection is very important and I have incorporated into all of my projects. I try to show students exemplars of good reflections when I see them. I am wondering if you have created rubrics to assess their ability to reflect on projects or learning. If so, would you be willing to share what one might look like? Do you or the readers here feel that reflections should be assessed? Just a wondering. Thanks for writing your post.

    • Rob,
      Great question on assessing reflection. I often merge reflective practice into the larger assessment. More valuable is showcasing examples of reflections in the classroom and talking through elements of insights. Trying to find the right balance between “forced” reflection and “valuable” insights is difficult to teach, I find.
      Kevin

  3. Dr. E. Marie McPadden says:

    Awesome article! When I wrote my dissertation that focused on perceptions of assistant superintendents of classroom walk-throughs to improve instructional practices, the top two themes that emerged from my data included self-reflection and feedback.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Thanks, Marie. I think teachers need opportunities to be reflective, too, of course. In the rush of things, we often leave that for last, and then run out of time.
      Kevin

  4. Joyce Kinkead says:

    I just read this article, which was included on the NCLE newsletter. I immediately stole three questions of reflection, which I will use with my college students, who will reflect on their research in writing studies projects. Thank you!

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