Realistic reflection: interactive session

Earlier in the academic year, I was asked to lead on a training session for some academics at the University. The training was meant to support them
as lecturers and academic advisors in supporting their students, and specifically look at encouraging and scaffolding reflection.

Reflection criteria (direct instruction):

Because the outputs of the session were meant to be tangible and practical for the participants, I focused on actions that might be taken to support reflection. We started with a set of criteria for reflection:

Slide detailing reflection must be embedded, continuous, rewarded and revisited

For the purpose of this session, we decided that reflection must be:

  • Embedded–it had to be a part of the expectations and planning for the module or degree, seen as necessary and equal to other work.
  • Continuous–it had to be present during all parts of the learning/student lifecycle. Reflection needs to be recognised as more than just a last step.
  • Rewarded–it had to be shown to be valued by the University, either via linking it to assessment/marks or through some other recognised channel. It must not be optional/unacknowledged.
  • Revisited–it must be constantly returned to in order to support true change and learning. Ideally, this would be that students would revisit reflection from module to module and year to year.

Reflection as an assignment (direct instruction):

Next, we discussed what must be in place to make reflective practice a realistic part of learning. Here, we looked at what key components make reflection feel essential and accessible.

Image of “realistic” reflection where it needs to be directed, supported and build on previous efforts

Initially, in order to scaffold and introduce reflective practice, it is essential that it be clear whether the reflection should focus on reflecting on understanding (for example, what do I know/what do I need to know) or practice (what habits do I have that I might need to change). Asking for a student to reflect on both simultaneously could lead to confusion (which do I focus on? What should I pay most attention to?) or to the pedagogical goal of the reflection being missed (for example, if a student spends the majority of the time reflecting on time management, but doesn’t identify areas where further study is needed.)

After the direction is established, it is crucial that any changes that are needed are supported (and possible). Again, the goal of this is to move reflection into habit and embedded practice. With this in mind, support for the goals or changes that come out of the reflection must also be built into the reflective process.

Finally, there must be an explicit drive to link previous reflection, current reflection and any and all of the ensuing changes. Reflection as an ongoing habit must be connected across assignments, assessments and modules to make a real impact on learning.

Guiding Reflection (interactive activity)

For this activity, participants were asked to create a series of scripts to encourage students to accomplish specific goals with their reflections. This served two purposes: first, it helped participants think carefully about how reflection is presented, supported and assessed in their modules

list of possible scripts for guiding reflection

Staff were given seven minutes as individuals and thirteen minutes in groups to sketch out the scripts. In order to create scripts that were immediately useful to the participants, we focused the activity on

  • building phrases that direct students to identify areas where more knowledge/understanding is needed (ie where do I need to revise/what do I need to know)
  • building phrases that direct students to identify areas where behaviour needs to change (ie am I procrastinating?/am I disorganised?)
  • building phrases to identify possible courses of action. In this case, it is not as essential to identify what is happening (ie procrastination) as what must happen instead (ie set small goals to accomplish ahead of crunch periods).

Next steps: moving from assignment to habit (direct instruction)

At this point, we need to discuss how reflection as a practice might “look” in terms of intended outcomes. It is essential that we know what we want students to get out of reflective practice in terms of habits or skills to carry forward.

Next steps for ensuring reflection continues

To ensure that reflection continues to be a part of learning after the initial assignment or assessment, it is crucial that students

  • are able to identify what can be done (actionable tasks) and what is happening (key behaviours) that can be transferred across assignments, assessments and modules.
  • have a system that allows for easy access to these tasks and behaviours, with a mechanism for creating action plans and revisiting previous work.
  • understand the purpose and potential of reflective behaviour–what might they get out of it? How might it affect their learning and success?

Model, model, model (interactive activity)

To draw the session together, participants were asked to place themselves in the position of the student. What did they need to reflect? How might they go about it? What do we need to do to give students what they need?

Questions for reflection and discussion

Groups were then asked to put together a preference list for reflection and a potential “support” list that would enable those preferences. These lists would be used, alongside the sentence stems in the previous activity, to build reflection and reflective practice into teaching across the degree programme.

Wrap up and final thoughts (direct instruction)

In a final discussion, we looked at a few last steps to ensure that reflection is successful for both students as learners as lecturers as facilitators of the process.

If we ensure that students understand what they are asked to do and what success looks like (the metrics), that they have the time to do the reflection (which also indicates the importance placed on it), and work to build individual tasks into a reflective practice (to make sure that students understand and can repeat their successes), then we can feel more confident that we have properly scaffolded reflection into our teaching.

teaching, learning, and small victories

I’ve been spending a lot of time, lately (well I should say a lot *more* time, really) reading books on habits and learning and thinking about how what I’m reading and learning applies to teaching and progress in general. After presenting on learning styles, and getting the first draft of a paper on feedback in, I have really started missing the day to day reality of teaching, and the opportunity teachers have to watch (and aid) the sort of small victories that gradually grow into big changes.

Those small steps to big changes come up in “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This book seems especially relevant right now because it deals with habits in three different areas: individual, corporate, and societal and lets its readers understand how habits exist on micro and macro levels. This is not a self-help book (although it does address (and follow up in the appendix) some methods that readers might use on their own habits or goals), instead Duhigg spends significant time explaining, from current research and historical perspective, how habits work–giving those who read it the understanding that enables change, instead of instructions on what to do–instructions that can’t cover for every eventuality and therefore might fall down at crucial moments.

That, in fact, is one of the key take aways from the book.  Habits are not changed by knowing a magic formula (although understanding the “habit loop” will help) or by sheer will power (although, again, knowing how will power can be affected by effort will help); habits are changed through an understanding of how they work and a series of small successes over the obstacles that can derail the best efforts. Duhigg works to make sure his readers understand the process of habit forming–something that I have found myself recently focusing on when talking about teaching and learning.

As exam season approaches, I’ve  been giving a few talks on learning styles (and study skills) around the Uni (and to random people at the yard–I have a difficult time not teaching…), and one aspect I keep coming back to is that giving students an understanding of a process is often as important as helping them to understand content. Once students (or anyone!) understand how they learn best, they can not only seek out opportunities to learn but also are better prepared to compensate for anything that makes their learning more difficult.  Differentiated instruction is not just about preparing lessons that allow all students to learn, it is also about allowing students to take control of their own learning. Continue reading

wackadoodle art installation or photosynthesis experiment: you be the judge

I really enjoyed Antwerp. Sometimes, when you go places for conferences (especially academic ones), you can end up far away from the city you are in, or so insanely busy that you rarely see more than whatever happens to be in between the hotel and the venue.

Antwerp was a great location for a conference.  The university it was held at is absolutely gorgeous (more pictures of that later), and the city itself is nicely navigable on foot, even for me (I can get lost on a straight line). There were also weird and wonderful things around nearly every corner from a printing museum (with the world’s oldest printing press!) to this bizarre combination of sculpture and science they had out on a side street. I couldn’t resist photographing it, but I really should have videoed.  There was steam shooting out bits and propellers spinning and just generally a lot of movement that the still photo doesn’t really capture well. It does look like something out of Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk adventures doesn’t it? It is almost too easy to imagine that it’s just one moment away from lifting up one of those spidery legs and skittering off down the street. Continue reading