Teaching “Reflection”

When I was doing my talk on Writing in the Math Classroom at TMC18, I was asked if I provide a model of a reflection statement, or give an example.

I don’t – at least not a mathematical one.

As I’ve played with different ways to get students to learn about reflection, tried to sneak more and more writing and meta-cognition into my classroom, I’ve had lots of failures  — giving an example of a reflection statement was one of my biggest.

Why? Because I ended up with ~120 journals with reflections that sounded remarkably similar to my example. And it was a lot of (unnecessary) work to break them from that pattern.

Instead, I tell them a “story.”

I am a tennis player. I’m very competitive and can be a little aggressive at times. I love to play at the net, when the play is very fast and unforgiving. However, sometimes I forget that aggressive play is only going to win games when I play smart and stick with my strategy.

But, in the heat of the game, it’s really easy to just go all out and play emotionally – it feels great to beat the heck out of the ball or hit a hard volley!  … But if I’m not hitting the ball to the right spot, I put myself and my partner at a huge disadvantage. I lose when I play with the heart, and forget the brain. I am most successful when I play with both.

Then I ask a series of questions:

  1. What type of player am I?  (competitive and aggressive)
  2. At the beginning, did I have a game plan? (yes: aggressive, play smart, stick with strategy)
  3. What happens sometimes during the game? (play emotionally)
  4. Why does this happen? (it’s easy and feels good)
  5. What’s the result of that? (at a big disadvantage and typically lose)
  6. What did I learn? (most successful when I play aggressively – and stick with the strategy)

Then I challenge them to take see how they can reflect about their learning and habits of mind. For some students, this is enough; for others, you might need a have a few more stories handy.

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