Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reflection of a Different Color

Reflection is critical to the improvement of instruction. Teachers are constantly reflecting throughout a lesson, after a lesson, and so on. This helps us change as needed to meet the needs of our students. However, there is a type of reflection that I think we often relegate to the background, a reflection of a different color. Being able to adequately reflect on student projects far exceeds our observations of the completion of student projects. We tend to look at what went well, what we think needs to change, but how can we do this in the best interest of our students? Sometimes what makes perfect sense to us, doesn't work in practice for students. We often blame their inattentiveness, but maybe it all rests in the design of the project. And to be honest, how many of us actually take the time to use our directions and our materials to actually complete the same project we have assigned our students?

This past school year I actually took the time to complete a sample History Our Way project. This collaborative project designed with an eighth grade social studies teacher was also recognized with third place in the Follett Challenge. Needless to say it has been an important project for my school and one that I have come to love. I spent countless hours using the resources we provided for students to complete my research and project. Let's just say that did not go as quickly as I had anticipated. I found that there were areas were we needed to make some huge changes. It was confusing to me, so I can only imagine how our students felt during the unit. I was constantly tweaking materials as I went through the process. I would stop all my research and make the necessary changes to proceed through the process. One of the most significant changes I made involved our note-taking guide. The existing guide was great if students were in a one-to-one environment, but the limited number of computers in our library makes that impossible. Placing myself in the position of my students truly allowed me to reflect on our project in a way that provided an opportunity for students to really drive their own learning. The process was much smoother this year, and I can't help but feel that is a direct result of the time I spent actually redesigning the project as a result of my own experience. In addition to allowing for improvements, I was able to provide samples for students to refer to as they completed their project. 

Here is the tower board (just one of the project completion options students could choose) I created for my History Our Way project.

While I know time is limited, I really encourage you to take the time and complete at least one of the collaborative projects you are assigning students. You might be surprised by what you learn.

**Note: Unfortunately, this school year was my last year of History Our Way. My collaborative partner has moved to another school. I will truly miss working with her, and I cannot thank her enough for her willingness to build such an amazing project. This project has opened many doors that has allowed our media center to thrive.