Category Archives: Reflecting

Thinkpiece #1 – Reflection

Thinkpiece #1

Reflection by the students is an important piece of blogging. Letting them write their way into their own understandings and letting them discover answers to the questions they need to ask. They need a lot of help with this at the elementary level. The high school students I worked with last year could have used this even more. They have not been asked to do much in this area except at a very superficial level.

So, how do you teach reflection? I think you teach it by modeling it. I want to do a better job of that this year. I need to do more thinking aloud for them, blog more about this piece on the class blog, and develop better questions for them to ponder. I think if I pair them from time to time where they can pass ideas back and forth and talk about how they are learning will help.

Asking students to communicate the results of their thinking is difficult for them, both out loud or writing it. I need to work in times for this. They need the practice to learn to be clear, convincing and even precise. I need to discuss the meanings of the words that go along with reflection.
Hmmm, maybe start with what did you learn this week? How did you learn it? Did it mean anything to you? Why or why not? What would help you understand it better? How might you apply this learning? Can you make a connection to what you learned? Did it make something else you learned come into your mind? Did it clarify anything you had wondered about in the past? Is there anything else you might like to learn about this topic? Supposeyou had to teach this to a younger student? Could you write a description of how you would do this?

Now I am just brainstorming some possible questions. Maybe the students themselves could add to this list, call it something like “our reflection questions” or “reflect specs”.

A reflection is really a strategy for learning. We need to foster more reflection in our classrooms. Let them be creative, off the wall, branch out with their thoughts. Students need to think aboout what they are doing so they can use this information for future decisions.

We need more conversations, both verbally and on blogs. Maybe I could have short prompts that they respond to by picking one of the questions above. I’m throwing out quite a list. Of course, I would not use them all at one time.
I want them to use blogging to help them explore, clarify, and think a little deeper about the ideas and concepts they learn in their classrooms. We might need to use podcasts at the beginning to let them just talk together about what they have learned.

Now I have to work at creating the environment where they feel free to respond openly. They have to honor each other’s thinking and build together.

I know I won’t have time to do this as much as I want but I’m hoping I can model it so the teacher will be interested in continuing it when she can in other moments in the classroom, or better yet, let them blog!

This is a question I have used in the past with kids.

  • What was going on inside your head when you were thinking about that?

At first, they look at me like I have lost my mind. They have not been asked such a question before. However, I’ve found that it leads me down a road where I can really assist them in clarifying what is going on inside their heads. I need more questions that I can think about to help them reflect about their learning.
Now I am just letting it flow without trying to make this a polished product. Can you add to the list? What are your thoughts?  Have you done this in other areas than blogging in your classrooms? Any suggestions are MOST welcome!

I am not a techie

I can really identify with this on Barbara Ganley’s bgblogging:

As I have mentioned here several times, I am not a techie—I am a teacher of writing, all kinds of writing, and of Irish literature (when I get the chance).

I am not a techie either—like Barbara, I, too, am a teacher. I’ve taught mainly in the elementary grades, but once I became the ‘Instructional Technology Specialist’ I became a teacher of all content but the most enjoyable part for me was to become a better (I hope) teacher of writing. Blogging paved the way for me. Writing to learn, that’s what blogging is all about.

I am excited about next year’s blogging project. I am returning to my favorite school, J. H. House Elementary and I’ve got many ideas brewing for working with a classroom teacher to use weblogs to get the kids to reflect about what they are learning and how they learn. Letting students write their way into their own understandings and letting them discover answers to the questions they need to ask. Working together, reflecting, passing ideas back and forth and having the abilitity to reach out to such a larger audience to share and learn from one another. This technology is still so exciting to me and every time I can’t do some “techie” thing I realize it doesn’t really matter because you don’t have to be a “techie” to teach good use of technology. Plus, I have so many bloggers and yes, students who share and are so very willing to give a hand when help is needed.

I’ll also be working with a GSU professor who wants to build a research piece into this. Now that’s exciting! We’ll all be learning together and just imagine where it all might lead as we continue to take “responsible risks” and set high expectations to improve the teaching and learning.

I have the wonderful opportunity to use blogging to learn right along with my students and everyone else. Actually blogging can save time. How about that for a new twist? All the time that we teachers have to spend answering students’ questions can give way to guiding students to write (blog ) their way into an understanding of concepts that they could not get before by simple reguritation of facts. Through the connections and collaborations we can all form answers together and build bigger understandings. Blogs really do give us an avenue to learn together. Can’t wait!

Reflection articles

I came across two interesting articles on reflection : “Making Reflection a Cornerstone of School Culture” – Part I and Part II. The authors are Bob Garmston and Bill Powell. The first article opens with the question “By what criteria should schools be evaluated?” It compares the differing views of politicians, parents and accredictaion agencies. It then refers to Roland Barth’s classic work, Improving Schools from Within.

Barth suggests the quality of a school is often reflected with remarkable precision in the quality of the adult-to-adult relationships within the school house. He observes that the manner in which adults speak to each other, share ideas form work partnerships and even manage conflicts is often a profoundly accurate predictor of the quality of learning within the classroom.

I have previously pointed to Barth’s writing. I like where this article heads as it reflects on what adult-to-adult relationships have to do with student learning. The article suggests the process of professional reflection. It goes on to say that we learn not from our experience in the classroom but from our reflection on our teaching and the corresponding student learning (Kusuma-Powell & Powell, 2001.

The article acknowledges that is is possible to engage in professional reflection as a solo activity by keeping a professional journal but the value increases when this reflection is expanded to colleagues and the instructional improvement can be powerful. The article goes on to suggest seven reasons why schools should embed reflection in the fafric of their culture.

Blogs can really be a great vehicle for sharing reflections. I really would like to see the day come when we educators, along with our students, are able to spend a good portion of the school day doing just this…reflecting about what we are learning.

The second part explored how to initiate and develop reflection in schools. It talked about not assuming the skills sets for reflection and collaboration are already present and may need to be taught. I have found that students have had little practice with this, both at the elementary and yes, even the university level. Actually, teachers also. One interesting example they gave was one of administrators and teachers using “walk through observations” as a springboard to promote teacher reflection on differentiated instruction.

How about a walk through observation on the use of technology and how it is being used? That would make for some interesting discussions.

I’ve been thinking about some ways to use blogs to help students develop the ability to assess thier own work and their thinking “about their thinking”. If we gave short assignments on blogs where they talk about their thinking this could help. I’m going to think of more ways to foster making connections between related concepts. I’m going to work at ways to think aloud more in front of students and encourage them to do the same. Regular writing is a must and what better way to do this than through blogs. It doesn’t have to be a big project.

Some possibilities:

Write down the most pressing question that is on their mind after a lesson. If they don’t have one have them imagine what another peer’s question might be? Then the next day have them comment to one of their classmates’ questions.

Re-state something said during class discussion and add something to the conversation.

Could there be another point of view on resolving a problem or an issue? Develop it.
Pose one multiple choice question and one essay type question for the material we covered today. Which one would assess learning better and why? This could make for a great classroom discussion on assessment.
Imagine yourself as the expert of this subject. Predict what will change in the next five years and give your reasons.

If you had only a few minutes to summarize the lesson today what would be the best way to do that so someone would remember what you said?

Can you give an example of how we could check to be sure if the information we are using is accurate?

State what is unclear to you about what we discussed. Have another student try to clarify for you.

Write down a “think aloud” about something you are interested in learning about that you believe is relevant and is related to what we are studying in class.

Hmmmm, I’m still thinking about this but we really need to be thinking of ways we can use blogs to get the students engaged – not cover more and more content but let them read, write, think, rethink – hmmm, let’s blog!

Sharing our reflections

This past Tuesday I visited the class of a University of Georgia colleague, Gretchen Thomas. She invited me to be a guest speaker on my favorite topic, blogs and education. Several in the class knew about blogs but the definitions were consistently those of it being an online journal only. I love being able to dispel those notiions. It is exciting to be able to share the possibilities that blogs offer us in education. The majority of this bright class were Elementary Ed majors so I took them through The Write Weblog and modeled how you can use your blog to teach and learn from each other and then empower the students with their own blogs to explore their own learning. Each time I get the opportunity to talk about blogs I continue to be amazed at how interactive this process can be as you stand back and see the writers with distinctive voices emerge. There is really nothing like it. We talked about potential, possibilities and the need to truly listen to our students.

Near the end one of the students asked me what I thought the next big thing would be. The question kind of threw me as who knows? I told her that we just needed to be open to the ways that education needed to change and that they needed to be a part of these conversations. I pointed this group to wikis (which none had heard of) as a way to explore other possibilities and collaborate with others who are learning, too.

If any of Gretchen’s. students are reading this I just want to say that there is great value to this collective wisdom that can come from the voices of students and teachers on blogs. Let your voices be heard! We need to share our reflections.

“Bumping up” reflections

Brainstorming possible questions for students for reflection about their learning:

Have you ever thought about how you learn? Think of times, either inside or outside of school, where you learned something really well. What helped you learn? Try to be as specific as you can. Was it the setting? Was it the teacher? Was it your motivation? Was it your attitude? Think hard about those things that are helpful to your learning. If it was not one of those listed, what was the thing that turned you on to learning?

Think about a time in school when you were excited about learning and you felt that you learned something that was important to you. What was that? Be specific about what made the learning exciting.

What would motivate you to learn if the topic was not something you were particularly interested in? Again, be as clear and detailed as you can.

How could teachers do a better job of making students a part of the solution to making class a place where learning is something to enjoy and look forward to?

What ways could technology be used to help teach some of the things that are already being taught in your class?

Think of something you’d like to change at this school. Focus on something that affects your learning. Explain the steps that need to be taken to put this change in place.

What skills do you think are needed to prepare you for the real world? What should you be learning? Give reasons. If you think something is irrelevant that you currently are being taught, give reasons.

When you learn something new at school do you make a connection to something that you already knew that was related to it? Give an example.

Visualize the ideal classroom. Write about it in great detail. Make the class come alive through your writing.

Be creative. Think of ways to teach and learn some of the same skills that teachers seem to have to teach over and over.

A lot of adults are saying that education needs to change. They believe we are teaching like we have for years and years and years. They do not think we are preparing students for the 21st century. Jobs change, information changes and the feeling is that we need students who are critical thinkers and problem solvers. Do you agree? What do we need to change about education to achieve that? Do you disagree? Why?

Now I know these are tough, especially knowing that we don’t have the answers ourselves but I have found that if you present these questions to students and give them practice they begin to think “deeper”. When I taught in the elementary, I always headed for high school resources when preparing my lessons. The elementary material was dumbed down. They are worthy of far more “stretching”. They don’t know how at first, but you guide and get them thinking. Bump it up! (as I say to the kids!)

Of course, you wouldn’t give them all of these at once. I usually let them pick one to blog. They love having choices.

I welcome input or additional questions……

Locked in on reflection

Today I was thinking about reflections, Bloom’s Taxonomy, blogs, teaching and learning. I know, what a combination! But thinking about and discussing how we learn is time well spent in our classes. I was looking for a piece I wrote to parents on the school web site where I worked in the past. It had suggestions for parents on fusing Bloom’s Taxonomy throughout daily activities at home. I wanted to revisit that. I haven’t found that yet but I will.

My brain keeps locking in on the importance of reflection, but reflection from students mainly. I wish more teachers would use blogs for reflections about learning in our schools. I have tried to include as much time as possible for students to reflect about their learning when blogging. They really need to be thinking about what they are learning. Writing about this thinking can give them practice in discovering the meaning and the relevance of what they are studying. They can do this from their viewpoint. We teachers could learn so much. We need to give our students time to do this. I think this would be time well spent, actually it is a form of evaluation that can be of more use to us than any other test available. Also, we get the opportunity to guide them in thinking about their own thinking and foster independence in their own learning. These skills have to be learned, practiced and developed. If we have lots of students doing this, just think about the conversations that could develop and the connections that could be made. We have our students so conditioned to deliver what we want. How many times has a student asked you, “Is this what you want?” or “How many pages do we have to write?”, We need to work at creating a mindset with our students where they learn to defend what they want and write as many or as few pages needed to get their point across.

I find that when you first begin this process with students, they are clueless. They have not been asked questions about their learning. Now isn’t that strange? Why do we just focus on the what and not the how? Our journey of learning is so rarely discussed. That’s one of the marvels of blogging for me. People are doing that and I get to be a part of the discussions. Wow! I still get excited. We’ve got to move those converations among ourselves to our students. We need to talk about how we construct meaning as we read and write (blog). We must guide them. We need to talk with them about how reading and writing are the tools for making sense of everyday life. I remember back to the days when I was a remedial reading teacher and found that most of the students had no clue what the main idea was, cause and effect, etc. They just did the worksheets. That’s another story though. These conversations need to be held with middle and high students. I find them just as awkward with it as the younger students. We need to push their thinking, have higher expectations and they will respond. I think I need to work on the questions to ask to get them to higher levels. That will be my next post. I invite input.

Technology Reflections & Observations

Today I was looking for something else and came across this list. Isn’t that often the case? I wrote these in December of 2001, shortly before coming to Georgia State. I was talking to my former faculty at an elementary school. Hmmm, it could be a depressing thought to think how many still apply. On the other hand, many of these issues are being addressed through blogs and at least the conversations are being held. Some of my thinking has changed as this list was made before I even knew blogs existed. Some I still firmly believe.
Here’s my 2001 list:
• A huge amount of money can be wasted and minimal effects upon student learning can be achieved by simply following the trend setters and publishing companies who market their product as the answer to all our problems.

• No one technology program can meet the needs of all our students.

• There are very few experts in the field…just a whole bunch who claim to be.

• The opportunities for failure and waste are there if we do not give much thought to student learning or purpose.

• Districts try to demonstrate that they are modern, wired, and technologically advanced and not enough thought is given to how the technology is used to improve learning.

• Murphy is always going to be loose in the technology aspects of instruction as we grow, learn, and strive to keep up.

• There are very few models of good practice and almost no data or evidence to guide decision making. What little data we have is tainted by vendors and publisher’s self interests and profit motives and our desire as a system to justify what we have purchased.

• We have to ask the right questions, make right plans, reserve funds for professional development and think before we leap.

• There is a huge amount of information on the web but many times it can be an exercise in frustration as you spend an incredible amount of time searching for information.

• What is the best use of technology?

• Skill & drill vs. information power and literacy

• We want to take what we have learned in all of our staff developments and make sure that we are using technology to improve the way students think and learn.

• Technology is not an end in itself. It is just the tool to take us where we want to go. It is up to us to make the connection between our curriculum and the tool.

• We have to prepare our students for the future they will inherit. We must engage students in solving problems, making decisions and exploring though provoking questions. They have to learn to work in groups and participate in interactive learning.

• We are doing an excellent job of teaching basic skills but we need to apply these skills to issues and questions drawn from the world around them. WebQuests provide a tool to do just that.

• Process is what is important, not a perfect product.

It’s kind of neat to put this piece of the past down on my blog. I know I am going to think some more on the various points. I still love WebQuests for student activities but blogs have taken over in my world. They can have a transformative effect but we need to keep the focus on the learning. We need to keep getting more voices in the mix, especially those of the students. Get them talking and developing a “new story”.

Inspiration for the next generation

On today’s posts the fifth graders at BlogWrite discussed their recent podcasting experience where they gave their suggestions and insights on blogging to second graders.

I love Jason’s title for his blog post, Inspiration for the next generation. I know he won’t mind if I borrow it. Now he’s a fifth grader talking to second graders. (short generation span there but it’s all in the eye of the beholder). Also, see these inspirations: Angel, Diana, Derrick, Marisela, Jadae, and Graciela.
Now this is the part that excites me the most about blogging – when students talk about the process and what they felt and learned. Here are some of musings from these young bloggers:

  • details are the gold in your story
  • how learning improves on a second try
  • experiencing a range of emotions and moving from being nervous, embarassed, shy to gaining conficence
  • a step-by-step analysis of the process
  • how it helps knowing what to expect
  • how important motivation is
  • how to make your writing “pop-out”
  • doing something more difficult than you are accustomed to

Everytime students blog about the process these postings can lead us in directions to really improve our teaching and learning. The students are leading us. That’s why it is so important to have them blogging about the process. I really believe this is the way we can begin to open the eyes of others. The stories that are not being told are the ones from our students. We have to help them with the kind of reflective thinking that is required. It’s not that they can’t do it, They just haven’t been given many opportunities to do just that. This networked learning is so valuable and it can be the spark to really foster change. We have to raise our expectations of our kids. We have to give them opportunities. They will rise to the occasion. We need their voices.

Why I blog with students

Nancy is planning to talk to a group of teachers on Saturday about blogging. She asked this favor:

One thing I want to talk about is why we blog with our classes. I would greatly appreciate it if you could leave me a brief comment here telling me why you blog with your students.

I love reading the various responses. Here’s mine (unfortunately, not brief, but I got carried away as I started listing some of my why’s). I could have added more.

Why I blog with students

Weblogs are unique spaces that we can use with students to make writing THE focus. We can publish quickly. We can set up an audience for them. We can give them ownership of their work in ways we cannot in our solitary classrooms. Students can get to practice writing through a diverse array of writing experiences. It’s a way we can make writing a joy for them and let our students know and feel that their writing matters. We have to set the stage and encourage the dialogue in our classroom that leads them toward understanding the power of the written word. I want our students to be a part of the conversations we have about education. It is a great way to reassess our teaching and re-examine student learning. It is also a good way to give our students a voice. We can listen and learn from them.

Another thing is that it lets us have the opportunity to truly integrate technology into instruction and build a community of powerful learning for our students. Weblogs can engage students in a purposeful practice of writing that can promote deeper learning.

Blogging can foster classroom conversations that matter. My having a weblog shows them that I make writing a priority. My having a blog lets me share my writing and learning with my students who have blogs. We’re in this together and we learn with and from each other. I use it as a tool in the classroom to ensure that the students and I are talking, reading and writing about how and what we are learning and thinking. We interact through comments. We have others outside our classroom enter the conversations. We work at building a community who respect and encourage each other. We learn to disagree agreeably. We write to learn. We blog to learn.

Be sure to add your reasons. It’s becoming a powerful list!

Puzzled but pondering

I’m going to get to podcast again with the kids next week. The last time they talked about comments and what they meant to them.

I began thinking about podcasting topics and a puzzling situation that recently occurred came to mind. There’s an elementary student in one of the blogging groups that I follow and work with some. This student has one of the best “voices’ I have read on blogs. He’s creative. The topics are well-thought out. Punctuation and flow is not always perfect but the writing is excellent. I’ve seen continued improvement since this student has been blogging. In one of my conversations with the principal it came out that this student was not a good writer in his classroom That floored me. His classroom teacher could not believe his good writing on the blogs. It just didn’t add up.

So I’m just going to toss out some thoughts and invite input from you.

  • Do blogs offer a different type of ownership for students that helps bring out their creativity and spark? Do they care more because many others will be reading their work?
  • Is blogging more fun and does it bring forth more effort on the student’s part? In the groups I have worked with we are usually blogging once a week, not daily. Is it the novelty?
  • Are the formal rules of writing getting in the way? In our classrooms, most writing projects are of a more formal nature. I don’t think we have as many spontaneous writing activities in our classrooms. This takes me back to one of my favorite posts from Elizabeth Lane Lawley, rules? I don’t need no stinkin’ rules! It has stuck with me. She was talking about blogging and concluded with this statement:

    Feh. A pox on all their rules, that’s what I say.

    Now maybe we should make the same pronouncement on writing rules. Do we impose rules upon our students that constrict their creativity? Now I’m not saying toss out all the rules but use them with common sense. Allow mistakes so they can learn. It is about the process. If the process is done correctly I believe they will want the product to be good and they will work themselves to create that. Perhaps too many rules too soon hampers writing. Do you have rules you impose upon yourself? I know I do and they get in my way and slow me down. I’m still thinking here but I think we need to dig deeper in this area. I’m just on the surface level.

I’m stuck on this and will write more later.

I need to pose the right questions to the kids. Many times they have the answers. I like having the kids reflect about such matters. This type of reflecting is new to them but they usually rise to the occasion and then some. They need lots more practice on thinking about their learning and talking about it – not rules, not facts but what works for them.

What about the middle and high school kids? What questions would you ask them?