Reflecting Out Loud

You kneel down next to the student and gently but firmly say, “I want you to think about what you’ve done.”

The student’s eyes look off into the distance for a moment, then return to yours. “Kay. Done.”

“No,” you say. “Really think about what you have done.”

The student’s brow furrows, trying to mimic what they think you think “really thinking” looks like. “Mmmmmm. Kay.”

Being reflective is not an easy thing. Adults struggle with it. Children need to be taught to do it. Sure, they can remember what they did, but can they pick it apart, look for things they liked and didn’t like? Things that could have been improved? This is a skill that must be directly instructed. Assuming a student can just reflect is like assuming they can just multiply multi-digit numbers. You can remember, so you can reflect. You can add, so what’s 654 x 387?

Students, because of how their brains are developing, are good at thinking concretely. But reflection is a metacognitive act. We’re asking them to look inside their own heads and pick things out. We need ways to make that act more concrete so more of our students can be successful.

Blogging is a great way to do that. Blogs can act as journals, or diaries (depending on which children’s book series is popular at your school). And that’s a great place to start. Have students write about everyday things, but then ask them to focus in on one or two things and ask that all important question- Why? “It says here you liked this. Why?” “Because.” “Nope, try to do better.” Students can write their way through discipline problems and interpersonal conflicts. We can teach them that writing is one way to take their heart out and look at it. No one else has to see, reflective blogging doesn’t have to be for the teacher. It’s for the student. This is a tool for life.

From there it’s a short step to reflecting on assignments, which is a great way to get them to revising assignments (which is actually the hardest thing to teach). In my own classroom I make videos of every presentation my students give. I upload these videos to our private YouTube channel and then I have them do something that would make many adult’s skin crawl- I make them watch themselves present. A couple of times. And I give specific guiding questions to look for on each watch.

  • What do you like about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it?
  • What don’t you like about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it?
  • If you had it to do over, what would you do differently? Why?

Then we blog about it, to make our thinking visual, concrete, and permanent. A record, so that the next time I can ask them to look back on old reflections before preparing the next presentation. “Remember what you saw.” In this way I’m training my students to be reflective humans, to think about what they are doing and why. To create a cycle of thinking that grows as it goes. And blogging makes that easier and more possible. On top of all that, I’m sneaking in writing practice, typing practice, and revision practice.

Once we get really good at reflecting on the final product, we can start a more constant reflection process. Project updates, attitude check-ins, whatever you want to call it. But by blogging we can teach students to think about their actions more clearly, because sometimes you don’t know why you did something until you tell yourself why you did it. Reflective blogging allows that conversation to happen.

I think. Let me write about it and get back to you.

About the Author
Doug Robertson is an eleventh-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the novel The Unforgiving Road. He is also an active blogger and the editor of the CUE blog. Doug regularly speaks at teaching conferences, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words). Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

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