Reflecting on reflective practice

Seems like everything is a bit different these days, and supporting reflective practices within our classrooms is certainly no different. I know from my work with design thinking, and my practice in creating experiential and active learning classrooms that instituting a reflective practice within learning time is critical to the success of all learners. Without taking the time to reflect in a critical and contextual manner, we can’t ever hope to internalize and realize the impact of what we are learning. I’ve seen reflective practices make a massive difference in the experience of the learning community that I support in my classrooms, and in the connections that CEOs and Not for Profit leaders make during design thinking training sessions – I’m convinced that it is the secret sauce for a meaningful learning experience.

That said, it ain’t easy. Instituting a reflective practice in the classroom takes time, it takes effort, and it takes some sweet talking too. Students are reluctant to think critically, regardless of what their year of study is. And corporate community members are even worse! Poorly executed or surface level reflections are never useful for any learner, but the resistance to taking the time to sit quietly with our thoughts and think carefully about our thinking sometimes seems to be universal.

So how might we institute meaningful reflective practices in our new forms of alternative learning delivery and online classrooms? How might we bring meaningful reflection to a time when it seems like all we do is sit around in the quiet and think, without ever really getting anywhere? I’ve been experimenting with the following model in order to translate what I usually do in the face to face learning interaction (an exit check in the last five minutes of class using the what, so what, now what model which then guides our first five minutes of the next class as well) in an effort to integrate this critical skill into the online asynchronous environment.

1. Students go through a calibration exercise where they select the stronger or more complex of a series of paired reflective statements in order to practice their understanding of what reflection is in the first place. These are presented as an online quiz formatted as an AB test – a research skill that they need to master in the class as well.

2. Students take the first week to submit their worst, most awful, most ridiculous reflective statements. Extra points for the most benign and banal statements, and extra extra points if they can somehow use more than 3 clichés within the paragraph limit.

3. Once we’ve developed the skills of “how” to write a reflective statement, students chose from three templates to use for the rest of the term. These are based on a) the what, so what, now what model (learn more in Arson, 2011), b) a design thinking prompt: “in the time capsule of today, we found the following insight from this classroom’s discussion” (borrowed from IDEO) or c) a Kolbian model of reflective practice.

4. Throughout the rest of the online term, students use their selected template to contribute their reflective statements about each chapter’s content/course session learnings to a personalized Padlet (my favourite online collaboration tool) where they can collect reflections on sticky tabs posted to a common wall. I have access to the reflections, and we can both work together on grouping them by theme at the end of the term for studying and review purposes. Final reflections from the Padlet are exported for each student prior to the final exam so that they can review their growth an identify their challenge areas from the term itself.

The reflections submitted to date using this model have been extraordinary – the permission to be terrible at first seems to have enhanced the student’s ability to excel as we move into the selection of templates and the posting of reflections to their Padlet walls. I’m so excited to see how this can be used as a learning tool for larger groups in our new alternative delivery and online learning world, and to consider how we might enhance team-based learning using this model as well!

Learn more

Aronson, L. (2011) Twelve tips for teaching reflection at all levels of medical education. Medical Teacher, 33(3), 200-205.

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