Reflecting on Reflecting
by Rose Cappelli
Have you ever had the experience of discovering a new word or a new idea and then, as if by magic, you start to hear or see it everywhere? Sometimes it’s not necessarily something new, but something you have just been thinking quite a bit about. That is what it was like for me recently with the idea of reflection.
Before I sit down to write something, it is usually part of my process to think through what I want to say, perhaps engage in some internal oral rehearsal, maybe do a little research, and then start to write. So for the past few days essentially what I have been doing is reflecting on reflecting. It wasn’t long before I started to see or hear “reflect” or “reflection” everywhere. First, it popped up in an email I received from Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org), who said “Reading a poem is an opportunity to press pause for a few minutes, and to reflect on another’s experience and creativity, and on the power and possibility of language.” Then, in yoga, we started the class by reflecting on what was currently going on in our lives and what we needed to perhaps let go, or bring a sense of peace to. I also revisited old notebooks to see what thoughts they might hold about reflection.
I found the idea in my notes on a talk given by Jim Burke – “Reflections on Teaching the Common Core” – and in an entry I wrote after working in a kindergarten classroom – “Reflections on Kindergarten Writing Workshop.” Another result of this notebook mining was a reminder that “reflect” was my one little word for 2012 (www.myoneword.org), outlined in a graphic depicting all the ways and all the areas of my life where I could engage in reflection on a daily basis. What I have come to realize from all of this is that reflection is not something just writers or teachers or scholars do, but that it is a practice that extends to all areas and walks of life. It is an important practice that lets us press pause and think about what things mean, what we have learned, what we hope for the future.
As teachers, we are always looking for ways to fully engage students and make our lessons stick. We have learned about the importance of modeling our thinking and writing process in front of students, then gradually releasing responsibility to them through shared or guided work. All this needs to happen before we can expect students to independently apply what we have taught them.
But what makes teaching stick? What helps students organize and store in their heads the information they learned so that they can easily recall it when they need to, even long after the lesson has ended? I believe this is where reflection plays an important role. At the conclusion of our lessons, it is important to gather our community of learners and discuss with them what they learned. For example, in writing workshop after a lesson focusing on leads, your writers could reflect on what type of lead worked or didn’t work for them or for that particular piece of writing. They might discuss particular genres suited to a certain type of lead, or the feelings created by the words they used. And always, they should think about future projects – when could they use this new learning again, what would they want to try next.
Although reflection can often be solitary, in the safe environment of a community of learners, reflecting together can be powerful. As Peter Johnston says in Opening Minds, “Thinking well together leads to thinking well alone.” As students take time to press pause and share ideas they become a stronger community, they learn from each other, and they help ensure that our teaching sticks. As teachers, it is our job to guide our students through the reflection process by making our own reflection visible. It is our job to be a part of the community of learners in our classroom.
How will you press pause and engage in reflection this week?
Rose Cappelli is a 1996 PAWLP Fellow. She is the co-author with Lynne Dorfman of Mentor Texts, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts. You can read more of her reflections about teaching and living in her blog entries at www.mentortextswithlynneandrose.com, or follow her on Twitter at @RoseCappelli.