How do we know our students are truly learning? Teachers often use tests and essays to gauge student achievement. And although these methods are useful ways to measure student performance, they place most of the responsibility of analysis on the teacher. What if students were also involved in actively analyzing their mastery?
In my classroom, student reflection is regularly woven into each unit of study throughout the year. Below are eight ways I’ve found to encourage and promote this very important cognitive skill.
All my student have their own blog, and in addition to writing on topics of their choosing, I often also ask them to write about what they’ve learned from a lesson I’ve taught. My prompt usually includes variations of the following questions: After studying this unit, what conclusions can you draw? What do you think of the ideas and skills we covered during our lesson? What do you think about what you learned? Did you find these lessons meaningful or valuable? Why or why not? To learn more about incorporating student blogs into your teaching, check out my post “How to Inspire a New Generation of Writers Through Blogging.”
All my students also have their own website, which is a great way to showcase the projects they’ve worked on in my class. For each assignment they add to their site, I ask them to write a short paragraph of explanation and reflection. Because I teach in a G Suite for Education district, my students use Google Sites, but there are also many beautiful website builders like Wix and Weebly that students might find equally easy to use.
I love Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where students can share ideas and crowdsource information. If building a website seems a bit daunting, then Padlet is a great alternative — it’s very easy to use. Students can post their projects on a Padlet and reflect on what they’ve learned.
Google Slides is not just a tool for creating presentations, it can also be used as a digital book. Think of each slide as a page in a book, and you get the idea. Students can upload or import each assignment into a separate slide, and write a short explanation for each one. With lots of fonts, colors and layouts to choose from, a reflective paragraph never looked so pretty.
What better way to keep things quick and simple than by collecting reflective responses in a Google Form? I love that Google Forms populates all responses into one spreadsheet. No need to click on 175 different files to read 175 paragraphs. You can also use the same form throughout the year to have students reflect on different assignments, since all responses are timestamped. Below is an example of a form I use in my class for this purpose.
When I want my students to write a short paragraph, I often turn to Google Classroom. Using its “Create Question” feature, I can quickly ask my students a reflective question, and they can post their replies. I can also decide if I want their answers to be viewable by only me, or if I want them to read and respond to each other’s ideas. What better way to promote reflection than to have students interact and evaluate each other’s responses?
Not only is screencasting a fantastic tool for reflection, it promotes fluency skills as well. Students can open a digital assignment on their computer and record themselves talking about what they’ve learned from the lesson as they show the project on their screen. Some popular screencasting tools include Screencastify, QuickTime, Explain Everything and PowerPoint 2016. This list includes both free and paid software. Some are Web-based or specific to Mac, iOS or Windows platforms.
Since last year, I have given my students the option of designing their own assessments. I first ask them to consider what skills and content they learned from a particular unit. For example, after reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and Dolores Huerta’s “Proclamation of the Delano Grape Workers for International Boycott Day,” I asked them to reflect (in small groups) on their takeaways from the lesson. They replied: “We learned many rhetorical strategies and how they help make a speech powerful and convincing.” They also realized that “words are as powerful as actions,” and “problems can also be solved without violence.” After pinpointing the goals of the lesson, we craft a rubric together to identify the criteria that will be used to evaluate their assessment. Students have fun working on this project, and I love seeing their creativity.
As a teacher, I want my students to become independent learners and critical thinkers. I truly believe that in order to learn, one has to be reflective. If you have found ways to encourage reflection in your students, please share your thoughts in the comments below.