With the start of 2018, many people are making New Year’s resolutions and setting goals for the upcoming year. This tradition leads many of us to stop and think about ourselves and what we want to improve upon. This type of reflective thinking is important for us all and especially for our students.
Teaching our students the importance of thinking and reflecting about themselves as learners is something we as educators need to do each day and all year long. It is a skill that helps students determine their level of understanding, identify areas they feel are strengths and set goals for areas of improvement.
Recently I was giving an online assessment to the students in my school to determine their individual reading and math abilities. After each student had finished taking the assessment, they were so excited to see their score. I was just as excited to see if the children had grown in their reading and math skills.
Many students had made growth and some did not, but regardless of the score, this was a perfect time for all students to reflect and think about themselves as a learner. I would ask the students if they were proud of their score and regardless of their answer, I would ask why. I wanted students to think about why they received the score they did and have them think about how they got there before setting their next goal.
Helping my students to become reflective thinkers is very important to me as an educator. I have always taught my students that they can’t change the past, but they can learn from it. They can think about themselves and reflect on their choices, behavior and their own next steps. As John C. Maxwell – author of many bestselling books about leadership – puts it, “Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”
Teaching your students to be reflective thinkers is something that can easily be done if it is part of your daily classroom routine. One place to start is with your lessons. At the beginning of each lesson I would have a learning target for my students to help them understand the purpose of the lesson and help them focus on how they would be assessed. After the lesson I gave students reflection time to think about themselves and how well they understood the lesson or content.
This few minutes of quiet time was for them to jot down in their journal about how they had grown as a mathematician, reader, writer, etc. They could write down any questions they had or areas they wanted to improve upon, too. Students who wanted to share their reflections could discuss them with the class, which often led to students helping one another to better understand misconceptions or the lesson.
Another way to encourage students to think reflectively is when they make choices about how they behave. As a teacher in a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports school, I believe that modeling of the expectations and positive reinforcements can help students clearly see appropriate ways to behave.
However, no one is perfect and we all make the wrong choices at times. When one of my students makes a choice that he or she shouldn’t have, I don’t use punishment. I ask the student to stop and reflect about his or her actions. The student takes the time to think about what he or she did and determine what would need to be done differently the next time. This few minutes of reflection time allows the student to take ownership of their actions and learn how to think about the choices being made.
Having students reflect after they complete an assessment or get back the results also is very important. Students need the time to think about how they are feeling when they get their scores or feedback so they can connect to what they did to get there. If a student doesn’t like the score, it can help him or her to realize more practice or effort may be needed. Students who like their scores shouldn’t just celebrate and move on; they need to stop and think about why they got that score and determine what can be done so they will continue to grow.
Finally, I also would confer with my students about their learning and goals throughout the year. I often used analogies with my students to help them to understand the importance of them thinking, reflecting and setting their own goals.
For example, I would have them pretend that we are in a car driving with the student in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger. I would explain to them that I can be sitting in the passenger seat hoping for them to go many places, but unfortunately I am not the one in control. It wouldn’t be safe or fair for me to grab the steering wheel and even if I told them where to go, they are the one who makes the ultimate decision on which road to take.
I would then explain to them that I and their parents won’t always be in the car with them, so they have to learn to think for themselves about the choices they make and the goals they set. This usually helps students see that they are the ones responsible for their choices and making their plans for the future.
So as this new year begins think about your teaching and students. Do you give them opportunities to stop and reflect? Have you modeled this behavior or set this expectation? If not, maybe you can resolve to learn to be more reflective in how you teach and help your students develop this important skill too.
Belinda Furman is the curriculum specialist at Mason-Corinth Elementary School. She is in her 18th year at Grant County Schools. She taught last year at Sherman Elementary as a second grade teacher and her first 16 years at Dry Ridge Elementary. Furman earned her bachelor’s degree from Northern Kentucky University, her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Eastern Kentucky University, and achieved her Rank 1 through National Board certification. She is the 2018 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year.