Over the past years as an English teacher to both junior and senior high school pupils I have experimented with different ideas and ways to get my pupils thinking and reflecting on their learning. One reason I wanted to do this was to overcome the obstacle of students yelling at me , ""Why did you give me this grade !!!" I wanted to encourage them to understand the role they play in the learning process and the grade they got was not given but earned! At some point in my teaching career of 23 years , I came to understand that teaching must be a joint process. It is simply not enough for the teacher to prepare lessons, and impart them to passive, docile students. In order to progress in the subject being taught all the students in the class, must play a part.
For a good part of the last decade I have worked on ways to teach my pupils how to take responsibility for their learning. I have worked on myself as a teacher to learn how to listen to the voices of my pupils in order to help them progress. In my case, this has been for them to progress in acquiring the English language. I have worked with them on how to set goals which they can and do achieve. I have used a myriad of feedback pages in order to get them to learn how to think critically and reflect on their progress and on their experiences as learners. And most recently I have taken my techniques of feedback one step further. I have asked my pupils to write reflection journals.
These reflection journals are plain notebooks where each pupil writes down his or her thoughts. The pupils are given a short period of time to sit quietly in class once a week and reflect on their learning during the previous week. When I say, reflect , I mean to think about what s/he did in class and how s/he feels about this. The students might relate to their behaviour and how it affected their learning or they might reflect on a grade they got and why it was high or low. Their reflection must be a look inward at themselves and how they functioned in any aspect of the learning process.
In the beginning I gave the students certain prompts to get them going. For instance, the first entry had to be a short paragraph about the pupil's responsibility . The second week each pupil had to reflect on the lessons during the previous week and relate to four different aspects of the lessons. They were asked to write about one positive thing, one negative thing, one interesting thing and one thing s/he had learned. By encouraging the pupils to relate to four specific issues I felt I was enabling them to focus better. Other issues I plan to focus on is how their behaviour affected their learning and how the study skills they used to prepare for an exam helped them . For example, "How did you study for the exam and was this useful ? Did studying this way help you know the material. ?? "
For the first few months I hope to structure the once a week reflection entries by using such guided questions as : "Think back over the week and write down what you most strongly remember doing in class. How did this make you feel? Did you like it, or not? Why? "Another guided question might be: "What did you learn this week and how can you apply what you learned in class to other areas of your life, either in school or at home ?"
Each week at the end of the week, the students are now asked to write in their reflection journals. I hope that by reflecting each week on different aspects of the lessons, their behaviour, their successes or failures they will grow from within as critical thinkers and begin to understand the role they should play in the classroom. The experience of writing about how they feel, how they have progressed or not, will permit them to learn to assess themselves and make changes where they feel they are needed. The idea behind learning to self assess oneself is to be able to understand where changes need to be made (in themselves) in order to continue learning and progressing.
It is important to note here that I do not grade their writing. I don't check spelling , grammar or word order. I simply comment with a few words such as "nice thoughts", "that's interesting." etc... I do however; tell my pupils that writing something in the reflection journal is a class requirement. Even the few rebels in the beginning eventually began to write and even expressed their enjoyment !!
These questions are meant to stimulate the pupils' minds and have them become more aware of the part they play in the learning process. I want my pupils to become pro-active learners who engage in the learning the subject at hand and don't expect to be spoon - fed.
My long term goal in teaching English as an international language is to get my students to use it. I want my pupils to go into the world, able to express themselves in English both orally and in writing. I want them to feel confident when they speak, write and take part in any activity where English is being used. Even if they are not as accurate as they need to be in the beginning I hope that by encouraging them to be aware of their capabilities they will be able to keep learning, growing and developing.
I am quite aware that in the short span of the four years I have with my pupils I am not able to teach them the entire English language especially given only 4 hours a week. I can only hope to instil in them the understanding of the part they play and to provide them with the tools they need in order to keep on learning.
Reflection journals are a tool which can be used by both pupils and teachers. Reflecting on what we have learned, how we have learned it and how we can use it to progress and learn in the future is crucial to healthy development in all learners. I believe that teachers should use this process too. Teachers can also use reflection journals to figure out how they feel about a certain lesson which went well and analyze why or to analyze the way they handled a specific problem in class. Just because teachers have many years of experience doesn't mean that they have learned from this experience. One year of experience repeated 20 times without any growth or change does not build a healthy foundation from which to work and advance.
In their busy lives many teachers rarely have time to keep up to date on new ideas and methods of teaching. However I believe if they too spend some time reflecting, they might just learn more about themselves and this is also what I want my pupils to learn.
I have discovered that the time spent on this reflection is time very well spent. It is time learning to learn. It is not an easy request to make when I ask my pupils to reflect and to do it in English but it is unquestionably a positive tool they gain for future growth.
Learning is change. Change is not easy for anyone. Teaching our pupils to become critical thinkers, to learn from their own experiences will be one step toward their emancipation. I hope that when my pupils leave school I will have given them a few tools to take with them and use for life in addition to the little bit of English I have taught them. I also hope that I too will have become a better teacher and grown with them.