Today’s Contributor: Kari Eimer
Kari Eimer is a 3rd Grade Science teacher at Gullett Elementary. She enjoys learning new things that have a focus on technology.
Student reflection has always felt so far out of reach in my classroom. The concept seems so simple: Reflect on what you have learned by connecting it to your own life. Yet all too often, I was met with blank stares and silent pencils. A five- to ten-minute reflection on our current lesson consistently took more than 20-30 minutes of our class time. Teaching departmentalized science to four classes of third graders limits instructional time to 60 minutes.
In my experience, the average third grader has difficulty expressing the connections made in learning. Of course, when we had a verbal discussion, I heard from the confident learners. But how would I know if the quiet, shy learners were gaining meaning from the lessons?
My initial thought was that there must be a way to get students to think about how the learning connects to their personal lives, so I ended my lessons/labs with conversations that got their thoughts flowing. We talked about the connections to our family, friends and daily lives. We wrote down words that they would likely use in their reflections on a chart tablet. We told stories that related to our learning. We shoulder-shared with our besties. Every strategy I attempted to get the students productive during reflection got us one step closer, but we were still far off the target of meaningful reflection. I continued to feel like a pinball bouncing back and forth, trying to get all the reluctant writers to get their thoughts on paper. Students needed me to guide them along and encourage them with putting their thoughts into words. This took too much individual attention with little learning. I was close to throwing reflection out the window so that we would not fall further behind in the fast-paced curriculum. I needed to move on with or without the reflective part of learning. But deep down, I knew that reflection is where true learning happens. Connecting the concepts to meaning forges the pathways that form the brain.
It occurred to me that the students’ handwriting and keyboarding skills might play a role in why they do not share more during reflection. After some trial and error with recording audio and video on Chromebooks, I was finally able to guide the students through recording their reflections. When given the choice of recording or typing the reflection, more than half chose to type their responses. What I found was surprising. Initially, I had suspected that keyboarding was slowing the thought processes down. And it was for some. There was noticeable improvement in the very slow keyboarders. Many of them truly turned a corner and began producing successful reflections. It may not be the silver bullet, but providing another tool for reflection seemed to really make a difference.