The Power of Reflection
"A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it."
-Frederick Douglass

Yesterday my students competed in The National Paper Airplane Contest. They had one week to undergo the Engineering Design Process in order to design and engineer their paper airplanes.  My students worked in groups of 4 to 5 students and they each had a specific responsibility to the group.

The students were so excited on the day of the competition because we were going down to the football field to measure the hang-time and distance of each paper airplane.  They had been working so well together all week and they were ready to test their designs. However, when we got outside, the students completely lost control of themselves.  They were running around, horse-playing, not following directions and worst of all, it seemed like they just didn't care about the contest anymore.

I was extremely upset and disappointed by their behavior.  I was shocked, because I always have great behavior management in the classroom and my students are always engaged in learning.  If it weren't for a few students that showed leadership and really wanted to see the results of their paper airplanes, I would have taken the whole class back inside.  

After we finished the contest and recorded our data, I took my class back inside.  As soon as we entered the classroom, I directed my students to have a seat, silently, because I had an important announcement to make.  I explained to them how disappointed I was in their behavior and how disrespected I felt.  I expressed to them that I was so upset, I might not let them do another challenged-based project like this ever again (even though I would never let that happen).  I explained to them that they did not prove to me that they were mature and trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility of the project.  Their new assignment for the remaining 15 minutes of class was to write a "Reflection Essay" on their misbehavior and the consequences that could potentially impact their learning. 

Below are two of my favorite responses to the impromptu Reflection Essay.

"Dear Mr. Lands, I am sorry that I acted up.  I think the reason for all of us was because we had all been inside the whole day and needed to release some energy. I want to continue doing fun things in TECH.  Its the only time a day we get to do hands on activities and projects."

"Dear Mr. Lands, I am very sorry for my inexcusable behavior outside.  I would understand if you don't let us do activities like this again, but here are some reasons why you should.  It is fun and educational especially if we work together, it encourages us to think more positively about school, and after all, everyone deserves a second chance. If you do let us do these fun activities again, it will make us very happy."

After giving my students this writing assignment, I started doing some reflecting of my own.  I discovered that providing my students the opportunity to stop and reflect, enabled them to put their learning into perspective.  My students were able to effectively take a step back, and see the big picture of their situation, which is no small feat for anyone, let alone sixth-graders. In just fifteen minutes, my students were able to view their own education through the lens of their peers as co-learners, and even through my lens as their teacher.  This simple, yet powerful assignment allowed my students to uncover a deeper appreciation for my class.  I realized that it wasn't because of what they were learning in my class, rather, it was how they were learning in my class.  It saddened me to see a student write that "TECH is the only time a day when we get to do hands on activities and projects".

Learning About Learning: Why teachers and students should both reflect.

My Takeaway

My own reflection has given me the courage to act on my STEM Ambassador responsibility that I acquired at the 2011 Siemens STEM Institute at Discovery Education.

I now challenge my students to value their education a bit more and take advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided for them.  I challenge myself to provide professional development for my colleagues about Project-Based Learning and 21st Century Teaching.  Lastly and most importantly, I challenge my colleagues to value these best-practice teaching strategies and implement them into their instruction. If we want to improve education in America, we need to start from the ground up.  It is every teacher's responsibility to do what is best for our students. We owe it to our students, we owe it to our future!

Takeaways for Teachers:

  1. Reflection is a powerful tool for all learners
  2. Model critical self-reflection to your students
  3. Provide opportunities for your students to reflect during each lesson.  This will help them to deepen their learning and understanding. 
  4. Reflect after every lesson.  Ask yourself, how did my lesson go today?  What worked? What didn't? How can I make my lesson better next time? How can I enrich, extend, support?
  5. Reflect on your own teaching.  Ask yourself if you think your teaching is effective.  Teachers are learners too. We need to continue reflecting, learning, and sharing to keep up with our students.  

The inspiration for this blog post was just from an impromptu reflection assignment ... Now that's what I call The Power of Reflection.

Helpful Information on how to integrate reflection in the classroom.


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