Augustana Center for Teaching and Learning
Faculty Narrative: Is it Learning without Reflection?
Have you ever wondered exactly what does it mean to reflect? Interestingly, the word comes from the Latin reflectere which means “to bend back.” When used in the Latin verb form, reflectere requires an object, something needs to bend back. So what are we bending back when we and our students are asked to reflect? As a pedagogical approach, I would suggest we are bending back our thoughts, our perspectives, our understandings of what we are learning to make that learning deeper, richer and fuller.
Over the years I have found a few strategies that help me with the “bending back” process of student learning. One strategy I use after teaching is to ask the “So what” question. This is basically asking students, after learning new information through various learning experiences, “So what does this have to do with you? So why learn this? So what will you do with it or it with you? So what that you’ve learned this?” There are various ways to have students ponder and answer the “So What” question. They can write a response, create an artistic expression using drama, music, visual arts, literary arts, dance, give an oral presentation, interview others in their class on how they answered the “So What” question, or participate in a group discussion. The “So What” question invites students to make connections, to stretch their thinking beyond the classroom learning and hopefully use the question as a springboard to more questioning about what they are learning and why they are learning it.
A strategy that can encourage student reflection prior to a class is using the Triangle, Square, Question technique. Along with a reading assignment, students are asked to write a reflection response of one to two pages addressing three questions: 1) What points (Triangle) do I want to remember from this reading? 2) What connects (Squares) from this reading with my previous learning or experiences? 3) What questions (Question) do I have after reading this? Often times I ask students to choose only one thing—the one that is most significant to them—when responding to each question. In class, students use their reflection responses in the large or small group discussion on the reading and usually have some rich conversation as a result.
A way to engage and wake up students for reflection during class is what I call a “Walk and Talk.” This can also be called peripatetic teaching, which refers to the method Aristotle used in the Lyceum of ancient Athens, walking about engaging others in discussion. There is strong evidence supporting the importance of physical activity and the learning process (Jensen, 2005). With movement, cognition is enhanced. A “Walk and Talk” can be used in various ways and times in a class period. Typically, students pair off and take a walk (usually an agreed upon time or route is established) and talk about a question or two presented by the teacher. Generating rich, essential questions is the teacher’s challenge. When students and teacher return from their “Walk and Talk” they tend to engage in higher level thinking, problem solving and discussion.
Using these strategies helps me as well as the students. I’m challenged to bend back my own thinking, learning and perspectives when listening and learning from the students’ reflections as well as doing my own reflection. It’s something likened to peripatetic teaching— walking about, engaging in reflection, enhancing teaching and learning; doing something ever ancient and ever new.