Reflection: an important life-skill to teach?

John Dewey wrote: “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience”. I couldn't agree more with this statement.

Being a performing arts/drama teacher, reflection plays a very important role in my subject and in my classroom. In fact, when I was teaching IB/MYP Performing Arts, 'Reflection & Evaluation' was a whole criterion of assessment on its own.

In my classroom, I always tell my students that there are seven main 'buzzwords' under reflection: Progress, Challenges, Easies, Strengths, Weaknesses, Improve, and Feedback.

So, the main questions for reflection are:

1- What is your Progress?

2- What Challenges did you face? How did you overcome those challenges?

3- What was Easy about the task/process? Why was this easy?

4- What are your Strengths?

5- What are your Weaknesses?

6- What do you need to Improve on?

7- What Feedback did you receive from your teacher/peers? What is your response to this feedback and how can you use it constructively?

A few weeks ago, we were given a staff training/PD about reflection in our classrooms. The photo used in this post was one I snapped of a slide from the PowerPoint used. It's a checklist to help the teacher 'audit' their use of reflection in their classroom practice.

So, here's my audit of the use of student reflection in my classroom practice:

1- Do I tell the students what they're going to learn rather than what they're going to do?

I always post the lesson's learning objectives and learning activities up on the whiteboard at the beginning of the lesson. However, my learning objectives can sometimes be more geared towards what the students are going to do, rather than learn. For example, sometimes I may post this as a learning objective: apply rehearsal strategies to rehearse for our performance, or perform our scene and give/receive feedback. I may need to rethink the wording of my learning objectives, according to this audit. I usually base my learning objectives on action verbs along the Bloom's Taxonomy.

2- Do I use the learning intention and success criteria as the basis for feedback to students?

I try to do that whenever I can. For example, if the learning intention is apply rehearsal strategies to rehearse for our performance, I would definitely have a debriefing with the students about the different rehearsal strategies that they used and which ones were effective or not so effective. If the learning objective is apply the elements of mime through creating a short mime scene, we would base our feedback on the performances on the elements of mime explored through the class.

3- Do I try to avoid grade only feedback and tick only feedback?

Absolutely! In a subject like drama/performing-arts, it is very important to give clear and specific feedback about students' work. I make use of peer-feedback sessions after performances, checklists for self- and peer-assessments, rubrics and conferencing with students in order to give them meaningful feedback on what they did well and where they can improve.

4- Do I include in my feedback to students recognition of what they have achieved and advice about how to improve?

Yes, in my drama classroom, during the feedback sessions after every performance, students give each other positive comments (something they liked about the performance), as well as useful suggestions for improvements. I also model giving constructive feedback by doing the same. I also provide the students with sentence starters for positive comments ('I liked…') and for useful suggestions ('Next time I would suggest…').

5- Do I make use of wait time and thinking time?

I try my best to include as many students as possible in whole-group discussions. Wait-time or think-time is very useful because it allows students who may be hesitant a little bit more time to think and formulate their responses. I believe I make good use of think-time with the younger students, but may need to use it more with the older ones too.

6- Do I ask open-ended questions?

This is one area where I still have lots of room for improvement. I do admit to sometimes using questioning to lead students to the answers that I want to hear. I believe I should make more use of open-ended questions to encourage critical thinking and discussion.

7- Do I encourage peer feedback?

Absolutely! In the drama classroom, we always have peer feedback sessions after every performance, and sometimes during rehearsals as well. Students give each other oral feedback, and sometimes fill out peer-assessment checklists or write up peer evaluations. I also make use of it sometimes in my humanities classes where students read each other's essays and give each other feedback during the drafting phase, or where students comment on each other's oral presentations.

8- Do I encourage student self-assessment and self-evaluation?

Definitely! In the drama classroom, students watch their performances (as performances are filmed to be added to their electronic portfolios), and then fill out a self-assessment checklist and write up a self-evaluation about their scene.

In my humanities classroom, students also self-assess their own essays using rubrics and checklists to help me with the grading process.

To conclude, according to this audit, I believe the main areas for improvement in how I use student reflection in my classroom practice is by asking more open-ended questions; trying to reframe my learning objectives more as what students are going to learn, rather than do; and making more use of think-time with my older students.