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.

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