I didn’t start out with a conscious ‘plan’ to build a reflective classroom. Honestly early in my career my goals were all about ‘grammar-based’ linguistic elements. But somewhere along the way (as my teaching changed) it crept in – and I ‘m glad that it did. Yes my students are learning – but just as important to me now as what the ‘know’ is their ability to articulate, and reflecting, on the process. How it’s going for them? What’s sticking or isn’t? What’s engaging them or not? How did they feel about what they did in class?
How to build this reflective practice in the classroom? As I fumble my way through I have learned some things that are helping me in this process:
Pre-Activity Expectations: We don’t throw kids into an activity without a establishing a ‘why’ and giving them the tools for what they are going to do. I think it is equally key to set up a reason why they are reflecting before they begin to do what they ask them to do. So often I will give out my activity rubric activity out prior to interacting and ask students to think about what’s coming up. Most times I ask them to ‘choose their challenge’ – what are they going to try to stress /work on during the activity. Sometimes it will be to put a star beside what they think will go well for them.
Share and be Accountable/Support: Students often have the false sense that they are the only one in the room who is struggling or isn’t ‘getting it’. Before we launch into what we will do, I frequently ask them to them to tell their activity partners what their challenge in the upcoming activity will be. Is it not using English at all? Are you trying to ask more questions not just respond to them? It is powerful as a learner to hear that others share the same concerns too. It also helps the student if the partner/group is aware of what someone is trying to do. It makes them accountable for trying to meet the challenge that they have set out. It also allows the partner to support the change. If I know that my partner is trying to ask more questions I may give her/him the time to formulate them – and assist in reaching her/his goal.
Talk to Yourself Post-Activity: Yes I have a rubric for informal interpersonal activities but to me the descriptors (while modelling how I want the activity to be carried out) are not as key as the pre-rubric written response. We do not go straight to the filling in the rubric but always start on the back with a ‘response’. This is in English and is one or two ‘complete the phrase’ type statements like “That went __because…” or “A challenge for me today was ___because…”. Not all students respond in great detail (and sometimes I do ask them to ‘think again’) but the vast majority take the time to seriously craft an answer. These comments are pure gold for me as a teacher and the responses show that they are really considering the process of their learning.
Show Them A Reflective Teacher: Trying to encourage reflective students is all for naught to me if they don’t see it modeled by their teacher. Now when I try something new I like to tell them (often after the case) and debrief it. This is not generally whole class but often done as I walk around the room (when they have finished their own reflection) I ask them if they have any feedback for me – on how it went, what worked, what didn’t. I also talk to them occasionally about the ongoing shifts in my teaching – how I have changed/am changing my teaching practices and why. One of my students, in an ‘end of class’ feedback time told me that he liked how I was always trying new things, trying to change things up and admitting when it did (or didn’t) go as expected.
When students can reflect on their use of language they see the value in what they do in class and what they are learning from it. When teachers reflect on their practice with their students they share the learning that they are doing as educators and model ‘life-long’ learning in the process. How do you build a reflective environment in your classes?