Optimal learning occurs when students are active participants in their own learning, rather than passive recipients of teacher-delivered content. For this to be effective, students really need to think about their learning. I worked with a group of teachers recently who felt their young students were not capable of writing meaningful reflections for their end of semester reports. That might be true. But only if reflection and meta-cognition are not integral parts of the learning in their classes.
How do we encourage students to think about their learning?
1. Focus on process, as much as on content.
Guy Claxton calls this ‘split screen teaching.’ Think about the learning process. Talk about the learning process. It’s not just about tasks and results or material to be covered.
2. Focus on learning, not on teaching.
Stop thinking about how to teach the content. Ask yourself: How best will learning take place? How can I actively involve every student? How will this help them develop as learners? Share this with the learners.
3. Always know why.
Make sure you and your students know the purpose of every task and of how it will advance the learning.
4. Invite students in.
Encourage students to plan how they will learn and to reflect on the learning process. Tell them they own their learning.
5. Allow time.
Make sure students have time to stop and think about why and how they learned, not just what. Give them five minutes at the end of a lesson to record their reflections.
6. Ask the right questions.
How might you find this out? What skills did you use? How did your group function? What worked and what didn’t? What connections did you make? How was your thinking pushed? Why did you choose the approach you did? What did you enjoy and why? How could you have done it differently?
7. Write it down.
Have students record their reflections and date them, so that you (and they) can see the process of their thinking. Use a journal, a class blog or post-it notes that can be quickly collected and pasted somewhere.
8. Use thinking routines.
9. Make feedback meaningful.
Refer to learning attitudes and skill development, not just tasks and content. Refer to process and progress, not just product. Avoid saying ‘Well done!” Great work!’ ‘You could have put in more effort.’ ‘You completed this task successfully’ ‘Your essay is comprehensive’. This isn’t feedback about learning!
Talk about your own learning. Tell them what you learned and how you learned it. Talk about how your thinking has changed and how your skills have developed. Learning is continuous…