Who is better prepared for life: Person A or Person B?
- Person A is an excellent reader and writer who crosses each job accomplished off her list with a sigh of relief (a little smile for the ones that felt particularly good, and trying to forget as quickly as possible the embarrassing lapses or confusing mixed results).
- Person B is an excellent reader and writer who pauses after each project to reflect on what went well, why, and what she could learn for the next time.
Now consider Person C and Person D:
- Person C is a struggling reader and writer who sighs with relief when she finishes a job, mostly just tries to forget it and hope that next time will somehow be better.
- Person D is a struggling reader and writer who pauses after each project to reflect on what was difficult or confusing, how she could resolve those problems next time, and what had at least gone better than the last time.
Which one will be a better reader and writer next year this time? Which one will be better equipped to deal with any challenge life throws them, even if it’s not related to reading or writing?
Of course I want students in my English class to be good readers and writers. And whatever their level of reading and writing ability when they enter my class, the ones with a habit of reflection will build their English skills and their life skills.
How do we teach a habit of reflection? In part, by requiring it—not just suggesting it. “Ask and you will receive” applies to more than just prayer life.
So to the 10th grade first semester culminating project and presentation just before Christmas, this year I added a final reflection, including the following component for process: What went well? What was difficult? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time? (50-100 words)
It was exciting to see the thoughtfulness with which most students responded:
- Next project, I’ll hopefully get started on the works cited from the very beginning to make it easier later on.
- I liked the way the animation came out on the slides, the difficult part was thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. During this project I got to think more about morality, how humans act, what makes good, and what makes bad. Next time I would like to go more deep into the subject and make my presentation shorter.
- I found it difficult to find reliable sources because I came across websites that wrote of false information. After I realized such websites existed, I had to double-check all my sources to see if they were reliable before continuing on with my research.
- It was difficult trying to organize everything and getting it done on time. If I had a next time, I would probably to have a more tight schedule, making sure a part was done each day (one page a day perhaps).
- I would practice more before the presentation!
- The hardest thing in the process was the lack of time, due to our individual schedules and other semester assignments. But we learned to use our time sufficiently, such as talking on Skype.
- Since I get nervous in front of the audience and my head goes blank so that I forget what I want to say, I had to practice many times to almost memorize it.…I learned that slides or images are a really good tool to help the audience to understand what I’m trying to say. Next time, I would do differently by speaking less monotonously…and having more eye contact.
And every teacher’s favorite:
- I learned that if you try hard and take your time that you can do better than you normally would.
Of course not every student who wrote that next time he wants to manage his time better will do it. But what if the next time they started a project, students reviewed this reflection before beginning to plan? That’s my assignment—designing a pattern of organization to facilitate the cycle of reflection and launching the next project from that reflection.
Shoot—what if every adult got into the habit of reflecting briefly on each project—successful or otherwise? There might be fewer of us making and breaking the same New Year’s resolutions each year.