The Art of Reflection

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As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on my teaching practice and Thinking about how my year has gone so far. I know that in our job, it is so easy to focus on what we haven’t done – there’s never enough time, always too much curriculum to cover, and one more read aloud we really want to fit in. But this school year one of my Resolutions was to focus on the positive when I reflect – to know there’s always further to go, but to make sure I take the time to look backwards at how far we’ve come.

This year I have made an effort to institute regular reflection times in my classroom. At the end of each month, students fill out a reflection sheet, giving them the opportunity to think about their successes, where they would like to focus for the coming month, and how my teaching partner and I can help them. I have really enjoyed reading these reflections which I adapted from Pernille Ripp’s blog (here). I love the insights I’m getting into what students enjoy and what they have found challenging over the month. (I also love how many of them ask me for more reading time :). They take the reflections very seriously and their insights into the workings of our classroom and their own learning processes are both informative and poignant. One question asks students what they would like to focus on for next month and I’m impressed that so many of my fourth graders make choices that I would have chosen for them based on where they are both academically and socially. Sometimes I don’t think we give our students enough opportunities to reflect on where they are, how far they’ve come and where they want to go. With the reams of data we are asked to collect and interpret, it’s easy to lose track of the students behind the numbers. It is my firm belief that taking the time to do this kind of activity provides just as many valuable insights into how we can help our students as any standardized test does.

These monthly reflections have been a way for me to do some self-assessment too. What has been successful? What has stuck with my students? What are they still unsure of? What do I need to re-visit?

I’m looking forward to re-starting the school year on January 6. I love that both teachers and students have these two weeks to rest, reflect, and recharge. I can’t wait to get back into my classroom and talk about what we read over break, share how far we’ve come since August, and set goals for the rest of our school year. We will celebrate our successes together and hopefully create a feeling of trust and support for our future goals. Nothing would make me happier than to see my students working together to achieve our classroom goals and being there to support each other with their individual goals. In fact, I’m looking forward to asking them how we can do this. I know they will undoubtedly come up with ideas that I would not have thought about.

Here is My challenge to you as you return to your classrooms next week:
1. Write three things you are proud of achieving in your classroom so far this year (could be as big as implementing a program like readers’ workshop, or it could be as ‘small’ as making a perfect book recommendation for that reluctant reader. Take five minutes to pat yourself on the back and celebrate your successes.

2. Write three things you want to focus on in your teaching practice from January-June. It might be reading a professional book, implementing some new technology in your classroom, or re-working your reading conferences.

3. Now, ask your students to do the same. Give them the opportunity to reflect on their learning and set goals for the future. Then make sure you revisit them regularly (once a month) so they can see their progress. Of course if this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, you’ll need to provide plenty of scaffolding for your students. Generate some lists of curriculum areas and behavioral goals together, and provide them with some sentence starters. Keep goals specific and attainable for example “I will read three books by the end of January” rather than “I will become a better reader”.

Enjoy the rest of your break and I wish you all the best for 2014.

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