Posted in Education, Reflection, Teaching

Teaching the Research Process in a Reflective Manner

In life, I realized early on that there are no redos or extra lives.  When something happens and the present becomes the past, what was done becomes done and cannot be changed.  For example, after seeing a Lisa Loeb concert in Boston, my friend waited by her tour bus to get her autograph.  He was a huge fan.  When she arrived at the bus, she signed autographs for all of her fans.  As I was standing by my friend so as to not get lost in the big city, she assumed I wanted her autograph as well.  She held her hand out to take my ticket to sign and I said, “No thanks.”  Really?  No thanks?  How rude was I?  I was super rude to Lisa Loeb that day and I can’t take it back.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of her music, the respectful thing would have been for me to have her sign my ticket anyway, regardless of how I felt.  I wish I had a redo for that moment and many other mistakes I’ve made in my life, but I don’t.  What I do have is the power of reflection.  Learning from my mistakes by reflecting on how I would have done things differently if a similar situation or issue arose again is sort of like a backup redo.  It allows me to, hopefully, never have to make that same mistake again.  Reflection is a powerful tool that can foster great growth and maturity when used effectively.

As a teacher, I want my students to see the benefit in reflection as well.  My hope is that they will reflect on their work process and products in a meaningful way so that they learn what they need to do differently next time to improve and grow as learners and students.  Following each big project or objectively graded assignment, I provide the students with a chance to reflect on their work and effort in writing and through discussion.  They address and ponder guiding questions provided to them as a way to examine their work process, understanding of the content and skills, and overall effort and focus.  Prior to the start of the next successive project or objectively graded assessment, I remind them each of their past reflection and what they need to be mindful of this time around.  It seems to help motivate and focus the students to grow and develop as learners.  Perhaps that’s why their work and effort improves much over the course of the year.

In Humanities class today, the students continued working on the I-Search Project they began a few weeks ago.  They worked on gathering online resources that will help them address and answer their guiding question regarding a self-selected topic.  Most of the boys worked diligently in class today locating sources, examining their validity and relevance.  It was impressive watching them interrogate their online sources as though their laptop was a holding cell in a prison.  How do I know you are a reliable source?  Who’s your author?  What does he really know?  Who sponsors your site?  Can I trust them?  They really delved into the websites they chose to review prior to selecting sources to use for their research project.  It was refreshing to see the students take the necessary time to assess the reputability of various websites.  In years past, most students would research their topic on Google, click on the first link, which was usually Wikipedia, and begin extracting facts from that source, without questioning its credibility.  This year was different.  Perhaps the difference came about due to the way we taught online source assessment.  Maybe because we spent so much time introducing, explaining, and allowing the students to practice utilizing this skill, the students really know how to question the trustworthiness of websites.  I was amazed.

At the end of the class, my co-teacher and I had the students reflect on their work process and in-class effort.  They answered and addressed three questions in their I-Search Document on Google Drive.  They needed to explain how focused they were today in class and what that focus and effort allowed them to accomplish.  They then needed to brainstorm ideas on how they can maintain or improve upon their focus to accomplish even more work in class tomorrow.  Many of the boys spent quality time answering the questions thoughtfully, effectively reflecting on their work process.  My goal is to have the students review the suggestions they made in their reflection before getting back to work on their I-Search Process tomorrow in class.  I’m hopeful that this will allow them to learn from past mistakes or capitalize upon their great effort to grow and develop as students.

Throughout the I-Search process, the students will reflect upon their work and effort so that at the end of the project they will be able to see how they grew as researchers, questioners, note takers, and critical thinkers.  This living document will also allow us as their teachers to note their progress and how they changed and grew throughout the lengthy process.  Metacognition is a vital skill students need learn in order to grow into meaningful global citizens: Growth comes from within through reflection.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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