When I was in college and working on my bachelor’s degree, I was an education major and the majority of my courses required some type of written reflection. We were supposed to reflect after teaching every lesson and after each observation in the local schools. Notice that I said supposed to. I was a great student and usually did as I was assigned; however, I never could get into the habit of writing written reflections and I love to write! This doesn’t mean that I didn’t reflect; I constantly thought about what had occurred and how it went. I just couldn’t always put my thoughts into words. I would continuously find myself waiting until right before the reflections were due and then I would write them, using different colored pens and pencils for each one to make it appear as though they were all written right after the lesson or observation (at the time, I thought I was so clever). I have to admit that I didn’t get very much out of these assignments (and apparently I’m not the only one as evidenced by this post – Reflection Isn’t Such a Bad Word). Now that I know more about teaching and learning, I know why these assignments didn’t help me.
First, I don’t think that the reasoning for the assignment or what I was supposed to get out of it was very clear. I was simply told to reflect – to write what I observed and what I thought about what I saw. Or, reflect on how the lesson went. Frankly, I saw these assignments as busy work. My professors couldn’t see me teach in the classroom or watch me observe, so I had to write a reflection to prove that I did what I was supposed to do. I admit that I’ve found myself doing exactly the same thing in some of the courses that I’ve created, but I’ve consciously tried to focus on meaningful assignments that are tied to student interest and content in the last few semesters.
Secondly, I think that reflecting is something that should happen naturally. Like I stated before, I do it all the time, as I’m sure most of you do as well. However, when it is artificially done, the results are artificial in nature. The key is to promote reflection and reflective learning – maybe without tying it to a specific grade (which is where formative types of assessments come into play). I have my students reflect, but I collect what they reflect as soon as they do it – mostly so I can read it and see their thought processes. It probably helps me more than it does them.
In trying to reflect on my reflective habits so that I could publish this post, I’ve researched and read quite a bit about reflection. One of my favorite finds is from the Keep Learning website. Yavapai Community College challenged its faculty to reflect in a 9X9X25 project. The idea is that participants write 9 papers in 9 weeks (one each week) and each paper consists of 25 sentences, and the writings have to focus on teaching and learning. Other colleges have followed their lead but have developed their own requirements (for example – one college did a 4X4X16). All of the “papers” are published in a blog each week, which is the reason for the number of sentences requirement (this post consists of 27 sentences to this point). For those of us at CAPE, we have already been doing a similar version as we have each written 9 papers in 9 weeks for this blog. We just didn’t set a sentence requirement or know that we were embarking on a similar challenge.
I’m highly intrigued with this idea. There are many benefits to establishing a daily writing habit such a journaling, reflecting or just keeping a daily diary; however, I’ve struggled to create this habit on my own. I think that a writing group or a challenge might give me the motivation to create such a habit.
What do you think? Is anyone here at Victoria College interested in reflecting on teaching and learning with us?