Student Engagement in May: Time for Student Reflection

by Tracy Yarchi

At the end of the school year, we may not be thinking about teaching and learning.  In fact, with the anticipation of summer break, students are tired of assessments, homework, and focus.  We may be filling time, and the last thing we want to do is start something new, but instead of filling time, what can we do to make the last week or two of class meaningful and worthwhile for everyone?

Reflection:  A few years ago,  I created end-of-course surveys which I never got to read until I was home cleaning out my book bag.  Often the reflections were helpful, but they left me wondering more.  So, I revisited the ELA standards for speaking and listening, and instead of asking students to submit their responses on Google forms, we held panel discussions.  This gave them the opportunity to develop and deepen their thoughts through reflective conversations, as well as give me time to take notes and ask additional clarification questions.

After reviewing the standards I realized that I wanted students to read and write before moving into reflective discussion.  TED Talks very often offer quick “texts” that demand students to listen closely.  So I found Cory Alpert at TEDxYouth@ColumbiaSC, “The Most Important Things I Learned In High School”to use for our text.  In addition, I prepared a list of questions for students to consider in their reflections and presented these questions to them before they watched the TEDx Youth. After Cory Alpert’s presentation, they were to choose one odd and one even numbered question to reflect upon in writing before discussion.  Here are the questions:

  1. The speaker in today’s  talk said, “Connect the dots, just don’t collect them.”  What does he mean?  What have you connected this year at school/work/life?
  2. What did you learn to do this year?  Did you plan to learn it?  What did you plan to learn?
  3. What in the educational system needs to change?
  4. The speaker says collaboration is important.  When did you have opportunities in school this year to collaborate?  What did you learn from this experience?
  5. The speaker also said don’t wait to get picked.  What does he mean by this?  Do you agree with this?  Was this something that you learned in high school?
  6. The speaker says the following:  Choose one that you agree with and explain/show why/how.
  • Grades are an illusion.
  • Passion gives you an insight to reality.
  • Tests don’t measure value.
  • Persistence in the face of authority is essential.
  • What were you wrong about?
  • Fitting in is short term; standing out pays off in the long run.
  • If you care enough to be criticized, you’ve learned enough for today.

Finally after writing, we held panel discussions where some of the questions were asked and ultimately they considered how beneficial the course/class was for them.

The panel discussion gave students the opportunity to deepen their analysis and evaluation of the class. At times students were debating and expanding on ideas.  I was able to ask follow up questions and learn more about what they learned.  Also, the panel discussion was reflective for me as it was for the students. If I were to do it again, I would provide the opportunity for students to write questions for the panelists.  Students in the audience wanted to get involved, and though we changed panelists after about 15 minutes, not all students participated as a panelist, but they could have been required to ask questions.  In many ways this was a variation of a Socratic seminar; however, unique to panel discussions, these students were the experts with a full year of English 12 and 13 years of school behind them. The panel discussion was a worthwhile way for seniors to make their own learning apparent to themselves, and it was especially powerful evidence for me that students grew in their cognition and maturity.