By Kelly Ferris Lester
“How do you have time for reflection in your classes?” I receive the question from colleagues on a consistent basis. But for me the question is “How could I not make time for reflection in my classes?” As an avid reader of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993), I believe that reflection is where the learning happens, and that the reflection of my students guides how I teach them. As Freire (1993) states, “Hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action” (p. 83). Finding ways to incorporate reflection is a creative venture, and one that can foster an investment of self-actualized learners.
When framing my class with reflection, I consider the following ideas:
- What question will prompt reflection for this class period?
- How can I use the reflection as a transition into the next class period?
- How can I fit in substantive reflection and still stay on task with the content?
- How does reflection refine the end of the class session?
- How can I frame the sharing of personal reflection with peers in a way that softens the anxiety of being judged by a peer?
My discipline is dance, and many of my courses are studio based or incorporate application of concepts through movement. This adds a challenge to the environment, as paper is not always accessible in the moment of exploration. A few years ago, I explored how an app could facilitate the reflections in the studio classes and how the allowed use of phones could connect with my students. The students download the app Evernote at the beginning of the semester, and in each class, I begin with a question that students respond to in a note that they share with me. The question tends to relate to the overriding concept for the class, for example, “What does stamina mean to you?” At the midpoint in the class period, I may relate back to the first question “How is stamina supporting or challenging your class experience today?” or I ask a question about how they applied feedback in this present moment. At the end, I structure a new question that invites students to consider the concept more holistically and personally: “How are you approaching the details of the performance of this final phrase with attention to stamina?” At the end of the week, the students share their notebooks with me, and I reply to them with feedback and more questions. Then I consider the overall responses as I develop the next week’s class.
Reflect with Peers
Interpersonal reflection also guides the reflective practice in my courses. Often, an adaptation of Think-Pair-Share with purposeful questions is included in a class period. In my use of this strategy, I scaffold the ways that students reflect on their personal work and then transition to peer feedback. For instance, in the beginning of the semester, the prompts are “Tell your partner where you feel successful in this phrase and where you feel challenged.” Later in the semester, I add, “Watch your partner in those specific moments and offer feedback from your observation.” The layering through the semester strengthens the students’ willingness and confidence in sharing with another person. Ken Bain (2004), scholar of teaching and learning, says, “Simply put, the best teachers believe that learning involves both personal and intellectual development and that neither the ability to think nor the qualities of being a mature human are immutable” (p. 83). The purposeful sequence of questions through the full semester leads to the personal transformation and retention of concepts from class.
Lastly, the conclusion of class is an important moment that can often get rushed. Students need a summary of what was covered and ways to synthesize the material. A dialogical exchange can help. The questions should be purposeful and perhaps even hint at what will come during the next class period. Instead of telling the students what I think they learned or should have learned, I let them tell me. Sometimes I ask for one word or a short phrase in response to the questions “What resonated with you today?” or “What are you still curious about from today’s class?” These types of questions allow the students to recognize the class session’s key concepts through a verbal exchange. It also allows for variation among the students’ responses and for personal investigation.
The strategies for reflection in class are limitless. Students can draw, write, tell a partner, dance, think about the concept, share with the full class, and more, but the reflection questions must be deliberate. Reflection can provide transitions or serve as a check-in for the instructor about how the students are absorbing or engaging with the material. We can’t let time be our challenge when it comes to reflection; instead, we must let the reflection guide the course concepts and layering of work throughout the semester.
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum International.
Kelly Ferris Lester is the Director of the Center for Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include self-actualized learning in dance and somatic movement education. She earned her ACUE credential in December 2017.