“Experiential learning takes place when a person involved in an activity looks back and evaluates it, determines what was useful or important to remember, and uses this information to perform another activity.” John Dewey*
Reflection is a critical component to learning and growing. As teachers, we want our students to actively engage in the educational process; to be transformed by their learning in a personal way.
But, I wonder, are teachers actively engaged in reflection about their educational process? Do they internalize what is happening in their classrooms in order to be transformed into a better teacher? Into better lessons? Into better learning?
Personally, I would try to reflect at the end of the day or lesson but that didn’t always happen. There were times when the final bell rang, I was completely exhausted by the day’s events, or my mind was preoccupied with the list of preparations and phone calls to make, that reflection time was the first thing to go. Once I was ready to reflect, many of the first-hand recollections floating around in my mind had disappeared. I no longer remembered that 2nd hour had specific questions about the homework or that Sue needed additional help in 5th hour because she had been absent. I overlooked that one group created a project so unique I wanted to share it with my other hours. I forgot. I moved on. I missed an opportunity to learn about my students’ thinking and needs. I lost a chance to grow in my craft. And therefore, so did my kids.
Here are three suggestions for teachers looking to incorporate the critically important process of reflection in their instructional decision making:
Annotate your day.
By creating short notes as the day goes on, a teacher is able to more clearly reflect at the end of day without worrying about forgetting a key point of information. I often took a few moments while I was entering attendance at the start of every class to jot myself some notes about the class that just finished.
Use technology as a reflection tool.
If writing thoughts at the end of an hour or a day seems impossible, use a phone or tablet to record your thoughts in a digital voice memo that can be revisited when reflecting for planning upcoming lessons.
Make it a habit.
Just like eating healthy and exercising, it takes time to turn positive actions into a routine and see results. Reflection is always good for classroom teachers, but the true power of reflection is found when it becomes an integral part of a teacher’s practice. By committing to the continual use of reflection for instructional decision-making, a teacher is able to refine their craft and better meet the needs of their students.
If good teaching encourages students to reflect and grow through the learning process, why wouldn’t teachers also utilize reflection as a tool for professional growth?
*Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.