by John Larmer
Editor in Chief
In our older model for the Essential Elements of PBL, one was “Reflection and Revision.” It had a nifty alliteration, but we changed it for reasons you can read about here, so now in our new model for the Essential Project Design Elements, Reflection is on its own and we also have “Critique and Revision.” I got into a great discussion about this on a recent hangout with two of our National Faculty members, Angela Marzilli and Kevin Armstrong. We were joined by BIE staff member Stanley Richards, who manages our work with Lucas Education Research to study the effectiveness of a project-based AP curriculum.
Angela mentioned that it is sometimes hard to separate reflection from critique and revision, because of course students are reflecting on their work so they can make it better. But she offered a nice distinction: “critique and revision is focused on the product, and reflection is focused on the process.” The process involves how students are learning both content and success skills.
Kevin talked about how, for elementary-age students, he thinks about it as reflecting on their progress as well as purpose. Great example: when kids come home from school and say, “We had fun today, we did Minecraft” which may sound good, but that can’t be all. Without reflection, it’s internalized as “fun” which is fine, but not the point. “They need to reflect on the thinking that was involved, to know the rigor involved. So we have to help frame that for them so they can articulate what that means.”
Stanley, who btw taught math and physics for 14 years at the Envision Schools, mentioned that reflection has to happen throughout the process in a project, not just at the end. “It’s cyclical, so you can have conversations about what you did.”
This conversation reminded me of one of our favorite ideas from John Dewey: “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” So reflection is at a metacognitive level.
You’re going to have to listen to the recorded hangout to get all the details of a very rich discussion, and to hear examples of projects that included reflection. But here are a few highlights about best practices for reflection in PBL:
I’ve got to stop there, but my guests offered a few final words worth sharing.
Angela advised teachers to “enjoy reflection with your students – some things will be funny, and sometimes they’ll be a “wow!”
Kevin reiterated that students of all ages can reflect, and if they’re reared in a culture of reflection it’s so valuable. He told a great anecdote about how Junior High School teachers love how the students they get from his school, Katherine Smith, are able to reflect when things are not going well and think about how to improve it.
Stanley said things can come out of reflection that are so affirming for a teacher, and it’s “a privileged time to think about what they’ve learned.” Some of the best reflections, he noted, might come from “the most difficult students, the most jaded high schoolers,” and it affirms the work we do: “they learned!”
Do you have questions, tips, or stories to tell about reflection in the classroom? Please enter them in the comments below.