“It’s like a period at the end!”

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.

5 responses to ““It’s like a period at the end!”

  1. Wow, this sounds like powerful learning! Would you be willing to share your questions?

  2. Great to see the reflective model in action and I’m pleased to see it’s working in the classroom. I really enjoyed your approach to using documents. You might be able to use some of my material at: “Work, Culture and Society in Industrial America”: DBQ’s for student historians http://bit.ly/bOhWhG

  3. When you teach with primary sources, critical thinking is already built in. You extended this idea to a reflective piece that pulled learning together at the end of the project and set the stage for future primary source analysis, synthesis, and reflection. That’s so powerful! The girls’ comments show real ownership of their learning, too. Wow!

  4. Hello! My name is Bliss Beasley and I am in the EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. As one of our assignments we are asked to follow specific teachers’ blogs and post, on our own blogs, about what we have read and learned. Our class blog is http://edm310.blogspot.com/ if you wish to visit it. You can read all of my posts about what I have read and learned from you on my blog on March 21st. My blog address is http://beasleylaurenedm310.blogspot.com/. I think it is amazing what you are doing with your class. It is a great way to get them to think and interacted in the project and to view it from another standpoint.

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