Just Think About It

Rodin’s The Thinker. That’s the image I have when I conjure up the word “reflection.” The weighty, serious bronze sculpture, a man propping his chin on his fist, hunched forward and thinking heavy thoughts. What could this image possibly have to do with the work of schools? What does a lively room full of third graders have to do with The Thinker?

The common denominator is that they are all thinking, and at Greenhill metacognition (thinking about thinking) can lead to better and more refined learning. When we ask our students to reflect on what they’ve learned, how they arrived at a conclusion, or what remains unclear, they provide the teacher with excellent feedback. This feedback can then be transformed into subsequent learning plans. In addition, structured reflection allows the students to take responsibility for their own learning in very tangible ways.

What does reflection look like in our classrooms? Eighth grade history teacher Paige Ashley asks students to write their own assessments as an end-of-unit review exercise. From those, she can gain a quick overview of what significant concepts are clear and which ones need additional clarification. She can also begin to structure the next unit based on what and how the students have learned.

In the midst of a collaborative project, another teacher asks her students to pause and reflect on the process and the partnership. Students briefly note responses to questions such as “How’s it going?” “What is something you are bringing to the partnership?” “What is your group’s next step?” Reflection on the process itself in addition to the content creates students who are resilient workers, appreciative of their own strengths as well as the strengths of others. The end result will be more refined and of higher quality if all members of the group are full participators and are working to utilize individual talents.

Next year, changes to the Middle School schedule will include longer class times, and the Middle School faculty is beginning to discuss what constitutes a 55-minute class period. Fifth grade History coordinator Barby Gregory recently said, “Finally! Time for reflection!” An activity as simple as turning to the next student and sharing the most important thing learned that day is reflection in action, fifth grade-style. A simple pair-share allows the students to consolidate information, more firmly “seat” it, and bridge to the next day’s learning.

I can guarantee you that no one at Greenhill remotely resembles The Thinker, but the very intentional way that we ask students to think about what they are doing and learning reflects the best teaching practices and research. Think how allowing time for reflection could transform your day too.

Neither Sleet Nor Snow

For today’s entry, I am borrowing from the recent “thumbs up, thumbs down” blog of Greenhill alum John Eisenberg ‘75 in his post- Super Bowl entry for Comcast Sports. John writes on the Baltimore Ravens for Comcast and is the author of several sports-related titles. (Greenhill has a featured role in Cotton Bowl Days.) At Greenhill, he was involved with The Evergreen and numerous sports teams.

The weather of 2011 can be the considered the very best or the very worst, depending on your perspective. When we arrived back on campus on Monday after the unplanned “vacation,” it was clear that the weather had not affected learning. Furious exchanges of emails, portal postings, Blackboard interactions, and even telephone calls ensured that our students remained in contact with their teachers and that many previously planned events would go on.

Thumbs up – The cast and crew of The Wedding Singer. They re-scheduled every performance date, came to school on the weekend to resume rehearsals, and epitomized “The show must go on.” It was a fantastic team effort.

Thumbs up – Athletes and coaches for basketball, soccer, and swimming. They too made it through the elements to practice and prepare for the upcoming SPC Championships.

Thumbs up – Director of Educational Technology Chris Bigenho and those who participated in his distance learning webinar last week. Chris offered a learning opportunity to teachers who used snow days as a time to explore new strategies for distance learning and collaboration. Chris offered his webinar two separate times last week, and 15 faculty members made use of his expertise.

Thumbs up –Director of Early Childhood Kim Barnes, who is baking numerous “half-birthday” cakes with K and PK students this week as she makes up for lost time. Here’s what they learn as they follow Betty Crocker’s directions: how to take turns, measure ingredients, crack an egg, stir batter, and wait patiently until the cake was baked and cool enough to frost. I even saw a cake made for a faculty member.

Thumbs up: 7th grade team and the successful trip to downtown Dallas. The team worked around all kinds of scheduling conflicts to take their students to both the Holocaust Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum. There, they heard “you were there” testimony from a trauma room nurse who was at Parkland when President Kennedy was shot. Quite a learning experience for all.

Thumbs up: Jason Yaffe and his two Sports and Society classes who visited with sports journalist John Eisenberg over speaker phone on Monday. The students were thoroughly prepared for the interactive call. They asked probing questions and learned from John how he loves research and the opportunity it presents to make the story his own. Whether the narrative involves the race horse Barbaro or the Dallas Cowboys, there is always a compelling and dramatic story to tell. John’s enthusiasm came through loud and clear, causing one student to remark, “I want his life.”

You might notice that I have no “Thumbs down” entries. I have declined to comment on Christina Aguilera’s rendition of the national anthem, or the Super Bowl traffic, or the performance of the Pittsburg defense, unlike John Eisenberg. What I do see, from my perspective, are students and teachers moving forward to embrace every learning opportunity, even under unusual circumstances. Definitely thumbs up.