reflective thinking focuses on the process of making judgments about what has happened. However, reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.
This year I set myself a number of goals based on new things I wanted to try, one of those was to introduce student reflections to my course. The main reason for this was that the methods I use in the classroom are often alien to my students. Korean students are often used to a teacher centered approach to language teaching that focuses on listening and reading comprehension and recognition of complex grammatical patterns. Given this, I often felt like, and feedback indicated that, students were not sure why we were doing the activities we were doing. Rather than simply tell the students, I wanted them to form their own conclusions about the reasons for and usefulness of the tasks set in my class. Besides this issue, I also believe there are a number of other benefits to promoting student reflection:
- It will help students retain information and lessons learnt in English class.
- It helps develop critical thinking skills.
- It is an opportunity to check student comprehension of tasks and information from class.
- It will helps students organise, develop and evaluate their thoughts on English language learning.
- It is a chance for me to check what students are enjoying, whether tasks have worked as intended and to improve lessons for the future.
Of course, as ever I had a number of issues to deal with. Firstly, my school didn't want me to dedicate any class time towards this, I only see my students once a week and the English department did not believe we had the time available. Secondly, my students spend most of their time outside of school in private academies, limiting how much time I could expect students to dedicate to this outside of class. Thirdly, my students have never been asked to do anything like this before (I found out the true extent of this the hard way).
Failure #1. I wanted to keep things simple, so after the first class of the semester I set as homework the task of making 3 goals for the first unit of English conversation class and an explanation as to why they chose each goal. I gave examples, explained why this task was important and was expecting some interesting goals. Next class I took in their homework and read goals such as:
"I want to lose weight" "I want to play in the premier league:
"I want to get taller" "I want to eat more breakfast"
"I won't sleep in class" "I will get a boyfriend"
It was a massive failure. In retrospect, I believe there were a number of reasons for this, the main reason being that wasn't assessed and wouldn't affect their final grade. The students had obviously not read the question or example properly, had spent no more than two minutes on it and hadn't thought about it at all. I should have known really, Korean students are so focused on grades that if it isn't linked to their grade then many just aren't motivated or in a position to do it.
I decided to have one more throw of the dice, the course I developed is split into four units. At the end of each unit the students get a written assignment, I decided to use this written assignment as a chance to encourage student reflection on the work we had done in unit 1. I also made the decision to make this an assessed piece of work worth 1% of their final English grade (in Korea 1% if the difference between success and failure). However, it was a simple pass or fail, if the students answered the questions properly and put in their best effort they would pass. I made it this subjective as I didn't want to fail any of the students, but I wanted them to really think about the questions. The students were given three weeks to complete the assignment.
The students answers simply blew me away with their depth of thoughts and reflections. The students were also extremely honest which allowed me to learn about what they want from the class, for example many students commented to they would like more time for free speaking practice in class. I've attached a couple of examples just below the lessons learnt.
1) The teaching context will greatly affect how the best way to implementing student reflections. I recommend trial and error.
2) Keep it simple, if students are struggling with reflective work or have not done it before keep it very structured and keep the questions specific. There will be opportunities to make the process more open once students are accustomed to reflecting on their work.
3) Of course it would be great if students did not need to be baited by making the reflections assessed etc., but the most important thing is getting the students reflecting, so use whatever means you can to do this. Again, there is time to change this later once the students are more used to the process.
4) Be realistic, both in terms of what your students can do and what you have time to do.
Well, that's about it. I hope this encourages the promotion of some more student reflections. If you use student reflection I would love to know how you go about doing it or any tips you have for me regarding how I can progress my student reflections. If you decided to start promoting reflection with your students, please let me know how it goes!
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