Attitudes to Reflection

The start of a new school year is always filled with anticipation of the unknown, it is truly an emotionally mixed time for both teachers and students. So, as we embark on getting to know our students as learners it is apt to pause and reflect on how we go about this. The building of a learning community takes sustained nurturing throughout the year, however to what extent do first impressions have a lasting impact and how do we question and process the validity of these first impressions as the year ensues?

I think these questions connect well with the concept of becoming a reflective practitioner. I am a firm believer in the value of reflection for learning, yet also believe reflection in education is undervalued and often over simplified into three distinct components – recollection of events, evaluation of performance and subsequent goal setting / modification. Of course these are important facets of reflection, however when they become the only facets then reflection runs the risk of becoming mechanistic and procedural, yielding little long-term value. Dewey on the other hand summarises four characteristics of reflection and reminds us that it is a complex, rigorous, intellectual, and emotional enterprise that takes time to do well…

1. Reflection is a meaning-making process that moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper understanding of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and ideas. It is the thread that makes continuity of learning possible, and ensures the progress of the individual and, ultimately, society. It is a means to essentially moral ends.

2. Reflection is a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking, with its roots in scientific inquiry.

3. Reflection needs to happen in community, in interaction with others.

4. Reflection requires attitudes that value the personal and intellectual growth of oneself and of others.

I particularly like the concept of reflection as a set of attitudes, they are so connected to what we do in a PYP classroom and so important. Attitudes can open the way to learning or block it. Dewey suggests that reflection is best realized when individuals express attitudes of whole heartedness (a passion and curiosity for learning), directness (confidence to question and evaluate without being too anxious), open-mindedness to new ways of thinking and understanding and responsibility to act upon carefully considered lines of thought.

In education circles we need to raise the bar on reflection, yet it is still relatively ill defined and understood. “In an age where measurable, observable learning takes priority, it is easily dismissed precisely because no one knows what to look for” (Rogers, 2002).

For an enlightening read and an intro to the work of John Dewey see:

Rogers. C (2002). Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. Teachers College Record. Volume 104, Number 4, June 2002, pp. 842–866

About Gareth Jacobson

Head of Primary / PYP Co-ordinator, International School Moshi, Tanzania
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3 Responses to Attitudes to Reflection

  1. rolat2 says:

    Thank you for writing about the importance of Reflection and the connection to leaning and inquiring. I like what Dewey states that We do not learn from experience we learn from reflecting on experience.

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  2. JSA says:

    Thanks for this–it’s rare to find anyone challenging the received wisdom about reflection, even as sympathetically as this. My take on it can be found at http://www.doceo.co.uk/heterodoxy/reflection.htm if anyone’s interested (yes, it is meant to be a little provocative).

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  3. James Forsythe says:

    Love the post. I used to make my students reflect on just about every presentation/portfolio sample because I thought that is what all PYP teachers did. It sure doesn’t take long for reflections to become mechanical and faked when this happens. Loved the the point on “whole heartedness” and it’s importance in sound reflection. When working with a social and emotional learning lens, thinking with the heart and listening from the heart (suspending judgement) are valuable skills to have and lead to meaningful reflection which gets back to Dewey

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