The importance of reflection!

I have just read a post by Pat Hensley : Dark Clouds or Sun? and it has triggered a chain of thought in my mind. I definitely agree with Pat, light and dark live together inside everyone. We are human beings and therefore, we are full of contradictions inside ourselves. For that reason, it is extremely necessary to reflect upon whatever we do, to realise when we are turning into dark clouds so that, we can go back to the right path and shine again.  This reminded me  of a situation I’ve had with my teenage students, in which I believe I have been able to become a sun again, and make them reflect about their role as students.

What are you? (I love this photo. I took it in my last holidays in Tucuman, Argentina)

On Friday, my teenage students were reluctant to work. I have the last two hours on a Friday, so I generally find it quite difficult to make them do some serious task. For that reason, on that day we generally work on movies, games or some light speaking activity. However, last week, apparently I was a bit lost in time and I brought a reading activity (quite difficult I must admit!). My students spent like 15 minutes trying to convince me not to do anything on that day. We finally agreed that when we finished the reading activity, we would play a game. They spent a lot of time doing just nothing and wasting their time. I was starting to get a bit angry (just a bit!) and I had no better idea than to ask them to hand in an assigment that was due on that day. And guess what? Only one student had completed it! You can imagine that I really got on my nerves. I told them off and I was very surprised at their reaction. They just did nothing! They were there staring at me in silence! They said absolutely nothing!  I found it really strange and I told them that as they didn’t want to do anything, we wouldn’t do anything. I thought that they would start talking and enjoying their free time. I was wrong. They continued looking at me in  silence. I started feeling unconfortable, but I wanted to wait for their reactions. When the bell rang, I asked them why they had reacted in that way, and they told me: “Because you are right. Everything you’ve told us is true.” Why hadn’t they told me that before? I imagine that they are too used to being told what to do, so when they are encountered with a problem, they just can’t react.  I left school with a strange feeling. I knew that I had to do something about it, but what? While I was reading some blogs, I found a great solution (thanks @english raven). I was going to use this activity to make them reflect on the importance of occupying spaces and voicing their opinions.

The following class (on Monday), all my students entered the classroom. I greeted them, and I passed a piece of chalk to one of them. He looked at me wondering what he was supposed to do. I said nothing and pointed at the blackboard. He got the hint and wrote: “I’m Gino and I’m 14 years old”. Good start! Then, I asked him to pass the chalk to another student. One by one they came to the blackboard and wrote something. Some of them wrote interesting sentences, some of them wrote just a word and some even wrote funny things. They even had the cheek to make a joke about me (which I loved, but don’t tell them!). Finally, something similar to what happened to Jason here happened to me. One of my students didn’t want to participate. I grabbed at this opportunity. It was perfect for letting me show them what I wanted to teach them. I took the chalk myself and wrote: “Today we’ll have lots of homework.” The students started complaining of course, and I laughed a bit. I was having great fun. ( Of course, I was not planning to give them lots of homework, I’m not that evil) I started asking questions about what they had written and we had a nice conversation. I taught them some new vocabulary and grammar based on what we were talking about. And when we got to my sentence, I asked them some questions for them to reflect on what had just occured:

  • Why do you think we did this activity?
  • What happened when Marila didn’t want to write on the blackboard?
  • Can you make any connections to what happened here on Friday?

They concluded that it is very important to occupy spaces when they are offered to us, because if not, they are occupied by somebody else (in this case the evil teacher that was going to give them lots of homework). We talked about the importance of expressing our opinions, of apologising when we’ve done something wrong, of talking about our feelings and expressing our anger at the moment in which things happen, and most important of all, of being responsible for our learning.

I think that my students have learnt a lot from this lesson. They have acquired skills that will serve them for life. The ability to reflect is one of the most important abilities we should develop at school. School is not about transmitting information anymore. As David said in his post, information can be found online. Maybe, we should start teaching/guiding our students on how to access that information, how to become better learners and better citizens, what to do with all the information we have in our hands, how to be critical with what we read, how to create their own content online, how to learn collaboratelly, and so on and so forth. To sum up, how to become autonomous learners. As David said:

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.
– Thomas Carruthers

Posted on October 27, 2010, in Reflections on Tefl/tesl, web 20 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi Sabridv,

    You recount a situation which every teacher can relate!

    It isn’t easy, is it? To maintain our enthusiasm, to be polished about all our lessons, to sparkle and to get all our students thriving and engaged. That’s life and a great teacher IS a teacher that has hard times in the classroom. Greatness is how you react to it.

    You did great to allow reflection into your classroom. We should do it always, and it is always so powerful a thing to get ourselves “seeing” / “thinking” about where we were and where we’ve come and how we got there. And more things inbetween. Often, we talk about teachers using reflection for professional development but it works the other way around too. Students benefit and they gain ownership over the learning. I think that’s the key to your activity as nourished by Jason – the act of going to the board empowered the students. They had more invested and reacted to that. We have to find more ways to let students control the “car of learning”. That way, they’ll drive more and do more…

    Really great that I can drop by again and read about actual classroom experiences. Too often we get caught up in ideas and not the reality therein.

    It is terribly frightening for a teacher to give away control to students – but it is a must if we really are to change with the world around us and use technology as it should be. Without hidden agendas but free and with lots of serendipity and detours! I’ll do more and hope you do too.


    • David! Thanks for passing by. I think you have set up a challenge for me, you and all teachers. We should take the plunge and give more control to our students. It is extremely scary at the beginning, but once you get started, you end up being surrounded by such an amount of magical moments in which you see learning taking place “now and there” that you cannot stop, you just have to continue along that path. Let’s keep on learning together!

    • I agree with David and I love seeing motivated teachers, you guys are the future, keep up the spirits!

  2. Very nice post, Sabrina, and I loved your account of another wandrous whiteboard, but more particularly how you have tied this in with the overall priority of reflective teaching and learning.

    Fascinating stuff! I can relate to your experience here, but also learn from it…

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