With my 8th grade class, I recently started including some form of reflection on their work as part of my major projects. I read a blog post by Peter Pappas about the importance of teaching students to think about their work and the process of learning when they complete a task. It seemed like a great step to include, especially at the end of larger projects. I wanted them to identify what they had done by looking critically at their final product. Then, the next step was to look at why the process and the learning were important. Where can these skills and ideas be used again? One of the joys of teaching 8th grade is that they love to think about themselves, and they are willing to share what they discover.
My class has been studying the Industrial Revolution in America, looking especially at the mill girls in Lowell. For their final project, after doing some extensive primary source work and roleplaying of the assembly line work, they worked in groups of four to create their own Lowell Offering. The Lowell Offering was the magazine that the mill girls wrote, containing editorials, poetry, sheet music and more. Each girl was to create two pages for the magazine, each one reflecting some aspect of the life at the mills. They could create more than that if they wanted. They had one 90 minute class for studying the documents; another for writing; and a final one for finishing their writing and creating the magazine.
I left 30 minutes at the end of the final class for them to do a reflection. I had them spread themselves out around the room, sitting away from friends and partners. I told them that this was about them and to pause before they wrote to think about the questions. After the hours of whispering, sharing and laughing, the classroom suddenly became completely quiet. Not a single student even looked around the room. Each was focused on how to talk about her learning. What had she done, and why was it significant or not? They took the task completely seriously.
After I collected the papers, I asked them about the process. What was it like for them? One of my quieter students immediately spoke up and said, “It’s good.” When I asked her why, she shrugged. I waited, and she then added, “Because it makes it feel really finished. Like a period at the end of a sentence.”
To which another student chimed it, “It helped me think about what I did well and what I would change, if I had to do it again.”
“I will know how to do something like this differently in the future. I like having time to think about that,” said another.
“It gives me time to appreciate the work that I did. I get a chance to enjoy it!”
And I knew that the reflection, even more than the project itself, accomplished what I want for my students. I want them engaged and involved with their learning. I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish their work or, at least as importantly, I want them to know how to change the outcome in the future.