Friday, September 19, 2014

Student Reflections

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 19: Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, and then discuss closely the one you use most often.

Moment of truth: Until this year, my students didn't reflect on their learning very often. I didn't have any structures in place to help encourage this practice, even though I knew it was essential for them in long-term processing of information. So this year, I've started implementing not one, not two, but three different methods that students are using regularly to reflect on their learning. This is completely typical of my attitude as an educator: Why try one new thing when there are two other great ideas out there as well! Sometimes this approach crashes and burns, but so far I'm really loving the results I'm seeing with these changes.

So here's a quick overview of the methods my students are using for reflection this year.

Model Progression
Credit for this idea goes to Trish Shelton (@tdishelton). We're collaborating on the curriculum for our Anatomy classes this year, and our students will be interacting with each other as well. We introduced the first unit by showing a short news report about a Georgia teenager who died of water intoxication in August, after which we asked the students to work in teams to create a diagram of what they thought was happening to the cells of the victim. My students just this week finished working through a progression of models to learn about kidney function, and we are now at the midpoint of the unit. Next week, they'll diagram a new representation of what happened to the victim's cells and compare it to their original diagram to examine the progression of understanding they've developed. At the end of the unit, they'll diagram the cells for a final time and reflect on the entire process.

Initial Student Diagram: Making their thinking visible.
Peer Review
I have found that students often have no conception of the quality of their own work, or their level of understanding of new concepts. This year, I've devoted a lot of thought and time into developing rubrics for all of the common assessments students have in Biology class, such as writing a procedure and organizing a conclusion. Now that students have rubrics for these types of assessments, they are able to evaluate each other's work more accurately, as well as their own. Before students submit their work to an e-portfolio (see below), they are required to have it peer-reviewed. As a reviewer, students are expected to score assessments based on a rubric and provide comments for their partner.  At this point, adjustments to the work are made if it does not reach the standard.

I've embarked on full-fledged Standards Based Learning this year. I wanted to harness a digital tool to curate the best student work and avoid hauling composition notebooks home every night! So my students have started to create e-portfolios. For each learning target, the students will evaluate their own work and choose an "artifact" to show their mastery of a given target. Only artifacts that are peer-reviewed and deemed high-quality will be included in the portfolio. With each artifact submission, the student will write up a description of how the work displays their learning surrounding the standard. So far, students have set up their e-portfolios on Weebly, and this week they will start uploading artifacts for assessment.

I'm hopeful for what this year will bring regarding student reflection. Even if only one of these initiatives ends up being successful, it will still be an improvement compared to previous years.

Image from Chung Ho Leung at Flikr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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