Self-reflection all year round – some practical activities

ef1h5yttmz8-annie-sprattWe’re just hours away from welcoming a new year and as it always happens with new beginnings, most of us – consciously or not- give promises to ourselves. Promises that the new year will be filled with moments of the “new” us. Learning from past mistakes and setting new goals can be powerful, but normally when change is seen as one major step forward instead of small, meaningful steps then change becomes a burden. Which might explain why so few of us stick to our resolutions and new-me promises.

This is often what happens when we work on Resolutions activities with our students after the holidays. Most students are a bit puzzled as to what they would like to achieve in the new year, especially if they rarely practise self-reflection themselves. That’s why resolutions tend to focus on goals that aren’t realistic or that can’t be achieved in the near future.

Self-reflection to me is a valuable skill that we should help our students build throughout the year (and their lives for that matter). It can help them have a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses but also familiarize them with the idea that success involves lots of setbacks that can become learning experiences if we decide to treat them as such. How can we then introduce self-reflection in our teaching?

  • Start with journals or diaries: These should be personal and not read or assessed by you, the teacher, unless your students decide to show them to you. They could focus on everything your students feel relevant or helpful writing about. It helps a lot if you also keep a reflection journal yourself and share a few pages of it with your students.
  • Thinking boxes: These are empty boxes which you can draw below your students’ work and ask them to fill in with comments on the feedback you’ve given them regarding their work. Did it help them? Were there areas they felt they had done better/ worse? Was it balanced – did it take account both their strong and weak points?
  • Mistakes matter: Turning mistakes into a learning tool is a process that should preferrably start at the beginning of the academic year. Ask your students to identify the areas where they feel they make the most mistakes and break the mistakes down into more specific sections. The more specific (and smaller) the sections, the easier it will be for them to set practical goals. Introduce self-correction and peer-correction whenever this is possible and also involve your students in giving constructive feedback to each other and their teacher.
  • Wall of Courage: This could be a piece of constuction paper covering an actual wall or an online wall (using Padlet for instance) where students upload encouraging quotes, songs, poems or short stories that help them focus on their goal and keep going.
  • Share your failures: It’s easier for students to accept failure as an inevitable part of learning when we as teachers share our moments of failure with them. One way of doing so is by taking a negative experience of yours and turning it into a story-based lesson (without giving away the end) where your students could give you advice on what you could have done next.
  • Encourage them to share their failures: Ask your students to present their own stories of failure in class and say how these moments have empowered them and made them try harder for what they wanted to achieve. If they feel these moments have discouraged them from trying harder you could have a class discussion where your students could exchange advice on each other’s moments of failure.
  • Breathe in, breathe out: Controlled breathing helps your students to relax, relieves their stress and allows them to focus on the task at hand. Although it’s not a self-reflection activity per se, it can gradually help them control their negative emotions and focus on what they can do well.
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