Friday, September 19, 2014

Reflecting on our Learning

I use a variety of techniques to get students to "think about their own thinking". Most are quick-writes where I ask a pointed question about what students make of a lesson or a unit. Sometimes I'll use exit slips. I lean heavily on weekly take-home journals that students complete over the weekend. I ask questions to compel students to reflect on how what we do in class relates to their “real lives” (as if school isn't real), what they make of the material, and how they experience their own learning. Here are a few sample questions:

After introducing the concept Rhetoric: In what ways does "rhetoric" apply to your everyday life? With any of your other classes? Your intended major? Your intended career? 

After two labs focused on learning Google apps: What are your thoughts and feelings about using Google slides and docs? How comfortable are you using this technology? What benefits do they possibly bring to your writing process? What risks and obstacles do they bring to your learning? Give examples from class, i.e., setting up your G-Drive, sharing slides, starting your Google.doc sharing.

After a particularly tough group-work session: Discuss one moment in class where someone said or did something that helped you understand the material better.  Or, write about a specific moment in class where you helped somebody with the material. What was that like?

After our first "Jigsaw" activity: What are your thoughts and feelings about the Jigsaw Protocol we did today?  How does discussing and sharing answers with your classmates compare with reading alone or listening to a lecture? What are the benefits of using the Jigsaw? What are the risks? What do we lose by doing the jigsaw? How can we make the process more effective?

I ask students to use writing to discover the relevance of the material we cover in class. I want them to consider the ways in which community and inter-dependence can help with learning. I want them to compare and contrast different methods we use in class so they can evaluate for themselves how they learn best.

In all cases, I’m not looking for an accurate or right/wrong of answer. My purpose is to help students develop a habit of introspection, specifically, a practice of reflection that relies on writing. I am, after all, a writing instructor!

Sometimes, I’ll preview the questions prior to assigning them for homework, letting them answer them in pairs or small groups. Other times, I’ll compose the prompts after class, tailoring the question to reflect on a particular moment in class,  and post them on our learning management system.

I’d like to make my questions stronger and a bit more varied. A quick peek at Pinterest, and look at the anchor chart I found for formulating different questions! I’m also looking carefully at reflective questions we are using in this blog challenge (the reason I’m writing this blog!) to see what I can adapt for my classes.  I like the creative ways these questions get me to think deeply about my own practice, my own habits of mind. I've already “hacked” three of the questions to use for my own students’ blog challenges (I stole that idea, too).  Perhaps I’ll feature a few of their blogs in a future post.