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Posts from the ‘Common Core’ Category

Reflecting to Learn

I recently came across the book “The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching”, a practical approach to teaching and learning that focuses on meaning, purpose and motivation in the classroom and incorporates social and emotional competencies. One of the practices in the model is engaging the self-observer, which the authors Weaver and Wilding (2013) define as cultivating the ability to notice, observe, and then reflect on our thoughts, beliefs, biases, emotions, and actions to make more conscious choices.

critical thinkingThis principle asks students and teachers alike to acknowledge their feelings, thoughts, and actions in order to make better, more conscious decisions, instead of functioning on autopilot. In the classroom, it might translate into creating time and spaces for reflection and self-analysis. This reflective practice, if build as part of a daily routine, will develop students’ self-awareness and self-management, but also help them make sense of their learning. Dewey (1962) claimed that we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. Reflecting helps us to clarify what was learned and, hopefully, it will inspire new thoughts and actions.

Engaging in reflective practices becomes even more necessary now as educators and students transition to the Common Core. Being a critical thinker, which is highlighted in the standards, involves being an active observer, asking pertinent questions, evaluating arguments and being open to examine own beliefs and assumptions (and change one’s mind!). Most of those skills require being able to stop and observe, study and think, and also wonder.  Building time and space for reflection about our thoughts and feelings, and what we have learned, will help students and colleagues to make more conscious decisions and be ready to develop new learning.

Reflective activities will vary depending on the audience, the desired outcome or the amount of time available. These are just a few examples that can be incorporated in the classroom:

Journaling

  • Journaling. Students (and educators) may record activities, thoughts, feelings and questions in an individual or group journal. Depending on the desired outcome, you could ask students to reflect on the day, what they wish to accomplish or what they have learned. This could also be a time for free writing. Journaling works really well to help students focus after recess or lunch, but it can also be used at the end of the day or following an activity.
  • Group discussion. Listening and speaking are also ways to reflect, and they enhance students’ social and emotional competencies. You can facilitate discussions focused on the content and skills that students are learning in your class, address classroom concerns or build a sense of community. These shared spaces can assist learners to make sense of their learning and the learning of others.
  • Portfolios. Essentially portfolios are a collection of pieces from a learning experience. They help students make connections among interests and skills, and how they relate to what they are learning in school. Portfolios bring a great opportunity for students to reflect on their strengths, and how they could use them to accomplish their goals. Digital portfolios, such as slide shows or multimedia presentations, provide a forum for students to both construct the fruits of knowledge while simultaneously reflecting on it.
  • Art. Some students might prefer to express their feelings or thoughts visually rather than verbally or in writing. Offer students the chance to draw or paint, especially for younger students, as a way to reflect about themselves and their learning.

self_reflectionThese opportunities for reflection should occur, when possible, before, during and after key activities or events in the classroom. We want students to develop self-awareness and self-management skills by encouraging reflection of their starting point and their progress, and by allowing students to evaluate their own learning. Incorporating reflective activities like the ones described here into your teaching practices will develop students’ social and emotional competencies and will help students consolidate what they know so new learning can take place.

Dealing with change

I have recently started rereading Carl Rogers’ classic book On Becoming a Person (1961). It has been a refreshing read, as I reflect on how we (educators, administrators, and parents) deal with the changes and challenges that the Common Core Standards bring to our lives, and how we can use Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to support that change. Here are some quotes that resonated with me:

“The more I am simply willing to be myself, in all this complexity of life and the more I am willing to understand and accept the realities in myself and in the other person, the more change seems to be stirred up.”

i_am_proud_to_be_myself-3979This idea of accepting the realities in myself starts with one of the core competencies of SEL, self-awareness; the ability to assess your feelings, know your strengths and weaknesses, and identify your interests and values, so you can maintain a well-grounded sense of self-confidence. According to Rogers, being yourself is a first step for change and growth. Implementing the CCSSS is going to ask us, at least, to reflect on our teaching practices under the lens of these new expectations and check how aligned those two are. In other words, before thinking that you have to start from scratch because your students will be evaluated on a different set of measures, identify the strategies that are part of your practice that already support 21st century skills.

“It is a very paradoxical thing-that to the degree that each one of us is willing to be himself, then he finds not only himself changing; but he finds that other people to whom he relates are also changing.

change is a processChange can be energizing and a motivator for improvement, but it can also be frightening. The uncertainty of accountability demands for schools, as well as the worry about how well students will perform on the new assessments, or any other concern you might have about the CCSS is going to affect how you feel and deal with this change. One strategy that I have often used with students is having them write how they feel about a particular situation. Try it for yourself! Considering that the transition to the CCSS is beyond your control, this exercise might help you clarify your fears and worries about this change, and reframe your worries to focus on the potential positive outcomes for your students.

When we engage in innovative processes, in our work or our personal lives, we are often faced with uncomfortable situations that might be stressful. Changing or developing instructional practices is a process that takes time; it is something that happens over time when supported by cycles of action, analysis and purposeful reflection on the practice. Dealing with this process of change asks teachers to use another of the SEL competencies, self-management; the ability to regulate emotions to handle stress, persevere in overcoming obstacles, and monitoring progress toward goals. Does this sound like the skills you are trying to develop in your students?

SEL is a process to develop social and emotional competencies in children, and also adults. In this transition to the CCSS, teachers and school leaders are faced with the challenge to respond to these new demands. This transition won’t come free of concerns and stress about how to best support student learning. In this process, remember to notice and identify your emotions, clarify your concerns, and set up realistic goals to improve your teaching practice. Change is a journey, not a blueprint (Fullan, 1993)!

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