I wanted to write about building community through food this evening, but I think I’ll put that post off until the holidays. For the past two weeks, students at my school have been winding down their first project cycle of the year. Two weeks ago, students presented their projects to their advisory (advisory = 15 multiage high school learners). Last week, students defended their learning to two advisors and facilitated student-led conferences with their families.
It’s been an incredible two weeks. I wanted to take a moment and put in a quick plug for something that gets talked about a whole lot, but is rarely taken apart and defined in its smallest parts. That something is reflection. “I want you to reflect on…” When I hear that, I translate it into, “I want you to shut your mouth now and listen because you couldn’t possibly have the answer to the the current statement I’m making about you.” The other negative connotation regarding reflection my mind jumps to is for the people I’ve come in contact with who seem to be in a permanent state of reflection. These consultants or professors make statements that my head translates to, ”Reflecting on past reflections have caused me to reflect about the reflecting I needed to do and brought about reflexive consensus making apparent in our team.” I think reflections have gotten a bad rap. Maybe I’m the only one providing reflective writing with undeserved cynicism. Here’s my plug: reflection is awesome.
Reflection leads to improvement.
Reflection which changes future behavior = measurable growth.
Tonight, I want to share with you a work in progress…
I need your help to improve this practice.
Periodically throughout the year, I provide students with a writing prompt, titled, “Question For Reflection.” I know writing prompts are not always in favor. And writing by hand is something that also comes in and out of favor. But my goal with the Question For Reflection activities is to empower students, attempt to find out what adolescents are thinking/feeling, and facilitate a better advisory. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find the Google Folder where I keep the prompts. Harvest away…at the time of this post, four prompts are in the folder. They are:
1. Student Voice
2. Local Community
3. Profession of Choice
I’m looking to add a few more, and will add prompts to the folder as the need arises.
What’s important about these reflections is that unlike journal entries, I read every one of them. In my advisory, we have have a strict no read policy when it comes to a persons journal. Journals are private. They are not to be read by anyone. To hammer this point home with blunt force, when putting in the practice of journaling, I like to tell my students a story told to me by one of my favorite musicians. My wife and I were at a Ben Folds concert. Prior to him playing his song Trusted, Ben Folds told the audience he divorced his wife for reading his journal. Relaying this story to my students early in the school year seems to set the appropriate boundary I’m aiming for with our journals. Questions For Reflection are different though. The chief difference is that I print off the reflections, hand them to the students, ask them to put their name on it, and then have them turn in the writing when they’re complete. I print off very little paper with my advisory, so when I do bring something, I want them to know it has value and their writing will be read.
I did the Student Voice prompt two weeks ago. I like to do that writing early in the year to see what needs to be done to increase the amount of participation and action in advisory. To walk the talk, I’d like to do my own reflection. As I stated earlier, student presentations were two weeks ago. I shared four takeaways with my advisory. I want to reflect on these four areas in the hope that I’ll get better at preparing students to present their learning.
My four takeaways from student presentations on October 8 – October 12.
1. You are the expert. I am not. Please define technical terms. For six weeks, I watched students enmesh (or at least hopefully engage) in a single topic of study for three hours per day. By the time learners presented their learning to their peers, a language gap existed between the presenter and the audience. Whether the student had dissected and modded a Gameboy, studied Indie Music, assembled a fuzz face clone guitar pedal, or dove into dreaming, these young folks spoke jargon foreign to others. This first project was an “Interest Project;” meaning, students were studying a passion or topic that interested them. I think this exacerbated the jargon. I was shocked at the technical language used by students in their presentations. When I asked for definitions to the terms after the students had completed their presentations, they were able to define the terms. Going forward, I need to have students outline their technical terms somehow. That way, they won’t lose their audience (but maybe I was the only one lost and this is just me being selfish).
2.Work hard to connect with the audience. During presentation week, we watched Amy Cuddy’s Your body language shapes who you are TED Talk. Not only is this talk powerful, but it really works. But hearing about becoming a powerful force for presentations and being that powerful force are going to take many many more repetitions. I wonder, how many PowerPoints have my seventeen year old students received over their years of schooling? Are they carrying out the same behavior that was modeled to them? Do they realize that teachers have been connecting with them every day? Maybe I need to phrase connecting with audience as having students visualize the best teacher, preacher, or other performer they’ve ever encountered. This is an area I’d like to see growth in during the next project cycle. Student presentations should be awesome! They should be exciting, informative, and hopefully entertaining. I need to keep looking for ways to have students connect with their audience.
3.Teach us. Please. Teach us what you learned. Connect your amazing learning with our lives and teach us why all the things you learned matter. This is one of the coolest potential opportunities of a project-based learning school. Students develop expertise and share their powers with other students. We’re a young pbl school. We’re not to the point where students are providing 3-5 minute demonstrations and in-depth half day long workshops. We’re not there yet, but we will be.
4.Create with Youtube. Youtube is underutilized. In my district, as in many districts, Youtube is blocked for student use. Youtube, just as Pinterest, Facebook, and countless other creative sites are filtered & off limits to students at school. The students who did the projects which required deconstruction and step-by-step DIY (Do-It-Yourself) hacking used Youtube. But I didn’t see the students participating in this forum. They did not post videos. They did not comment on videos. They did not site Youtube videos in their sources. If we’re going to be a dynamic PBL school, we have to leverage Youtube better. It might mean sending students to the local library to access the service. Students need to access the sites where the experts post content, and right now, the biggest site outside of Google is Google’s Youtube. What’s more, many of my students did not think they could use a video gleamed from Youtube in their sources. Youtube is a great place to have young learners launch their folksonomy.
There’s my brief plug for reflection and my brief reflection. Next week, I’ll dive into Making a Case For Experience Week & The Elementary Design of Discovery Week.
(There’s a likely chance that I stole the Question for Reflection verbiage off the Internet within the last year. If so, please let me know who coined the phrase. Thanks for the read:)