Self-Reflection -why look in the mirror – part two

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; the Benefits of Self-Reflection’                         LRobbins 9/14

Part Two (of two): How to self-reflect

It used to be that the teacher spoke and the student took notes. Then the teacher set the assignment and the student completed it. The teacher created the examination and the student sat the exam. Finally, the teacher told the student what he did wrong.   The student frowned or cursed.

Modern educational reformers champion self-reflection, envisioning a student-focused learning, where self-reflection is crucial. Learning has to be student-focused because each pupil is unique, has his own way of receiving and applying information. Harvard professor Howard Gardner explored the special capabilities of humans in his theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983).   The student who excels in academia is adept in language and word skills. His colleagues may not be. Instead, one is ‘body smart’. Another shines in the creation of art or music. Some students are insightful when it comes to reading others – they exhibit an interpersonal intelligence. How can these disparate souls be taught together?

Ultimately, by not teaching them: by letting each student teach himself, in his own way, in his own time.

Today’s teacher ‘is not there to impose certain ideas or habits,’ wrote John Dewey, early 20th c American philosopher and educational reformer. Rather, the teacher ‘ is a partner in the learning process… a guide to in-depth discovery of meaning in the subject.’

Traditionalists argued that students who are incorrigibly lazy and uninterested in learning would not be able or willing to teach themselves. What these naysayers often find, however, is the opposite; because the student is offered a role in what and how and when, he does engage. Sometimes with passion.

Traditionalists ask, how it would work, this student-led learning? Through the lens of reflection, is the answer. The teacher holds up the mirror. As a guide, he asks the student what he sees and bids him report his honest thoughts. Instructive questions could be based on the taxonomy of reflection, a model that Peter Pappas adapted from B.S. Bloom in 2010. What was the purpose of the assignment and was it completed? How did it compare to others – in terms of content, process and end result? How did the student approach it? What patterns arose? What connections did he make? Did it work? Why or why not?

Reflection has benefits, argues the modern educator. To see in a physical mirror, we need light. To ‘see’ our performance, we need the light of awareness. This awareness teaches us to identify our selves, our abilities and interests. We interact with others and see how they see us. We avoid danger by not repeating past mistakes. The mirror allows us to become self-reliant. We hone our own tried and tested processes, developing competence and confidence along the way. We do our best work and contribute to our field.

Looking in the mirror, the student answers the teacher’s questions. His weaknesses are there to see. He might fly into a rage. He might run wildly into the deepest forest. At some point, though, he will trudge back for another assignment. Then he will learn from his mistakes. He might develop his strengths. For he will have gained the light of awareness, the experience to better assess his process and the wisdom to set his own goals. The product that emerges will be closer to his best. He may even like what he sees in that mirror.