Student Micro-reflections & What I Learned From Them

I don’t think that it’s unfair to say that South Korean education is, in general, not the most reflective learning environment. For a variety of reasons like educational culture and teacher-centred classes, time pressure to cover an unfeasible amount of content, or simply that Minsu is trying to better his high score on Anipang under the desk, students here may be focused (or otherwise) more on the whats of learning, rather than the whys and wherefores.

In my little corner of Korean education, I’m doing my best to counteract this. I’m working on communicating goals for each lesson, and each activity so the students have an idea of why they are doing what they are. More important than that however, is trying to get the students to wake up to what they themselves are learning, and how it might be able to help them improve their English. In academic terms, I’m trying to get them to destabilize their interlanguages, in order to rebuild them incorporating new knowledge and skills.

One way that I have tried to do this is through getting students to submit very short reflections on their learning, the class atmosphere, a new teaching style or their personal goals. My method was very simple. Take a piece of coloured card and some stacks of different coloured post-its, and have students write a very short reflection to a question/topic that I gave them. This has two advantages. The first is that it adds a lot of colour to a dull classroom wall (see picture below); the second is that it only takes five minutes, leaving plenty of time to root around in the textbook for something, nay anything useful to teach.

Micro-reflections

Over the course of this semester I tried to do one of these each week, though inevitably they ended up getting pushed aside towards the end of course to cover enough stuff to shoehorn into a written four skills exam for a “conversation” course. I will try to maintain a bit better next semester. The questions/topics that I used were:

Pre-course

  • How should we behave in class?
  • How can we help ourselves to learn English?
  • How can Alex help us to learn English?
  • What are our goals for this semester?

Weeks 3 & 4

  • What were the important things that we learned? (Categorized into grammar, vocab etc.)
  • What was the most important thing that you learned? (Uncategorized)

Week 6

  • Write a question that everyone in the class should be able to answer after this week’s classes.

Week 9

  • Complete this sentence: Compared to other weeks, this week’s English classes were…

Week 10

  • What is your personal goal for this week?

I don’t think I’m stretching student privacy too far if I share the results with you, so if you’re interested take a look at the results in the word document below. The white boxes are my level 1 false beginners’ responses, and the slightly shaded boxes are from my two level 3 classes who would be around intermediate level.

Student Reflections Fall 2012

What did I learn from this?

The first thing that strikes me is that reading these this morning (10 days after classes finished) was like reading them for the first time. This tells me that I was perhaps not paying enough attention the first time around. I was certainly guilty of sticking these on the wall and forgetting about them sometimes. Also, while I wanted them on the wall to remind students, I wonder whether this actually had the opposite effect. It was impossible to read the post-its unless you were very close, and so they were possibly reduced to very pretty coloured decorations.

Another point was perhaps that I didn’t really engage with these reflections enough. For example, many of the suggestions in the pre-course reflections were things that I put on my participation/behaviour rubric for the year, but before I asked the students. Perhaps next semester I could use this kind of thing to build the participation rubric, which might include student ideas a little more.

Despite all this, the students actually responded to this quite positively, and I think they enjoyed the opportunity to review (not often given in class in Korea) what they had done. In terms of reviewing their learning, they tended to focus on the details of what we had talked about in the lesson, such as the difference between words and the accuracy of phrases. These are things that I tried to focus on in class, so there may be an element of telling me what I want to hear here, especially as performance on the exam wasn’t especially good. Again, encouraging some deeper reflection here (demonstrating knowledge rather than declaring it?) might lead to deeper learning.

Finally, one interesting and unexpected result of asking for feedback through this kind of approach is that it can alert you to things that you were completely unaware of as a teacher. Having taught for a week using some of the things I had studied about the Lexical Approach, I asked the students if they had noticed a difference in the week’s classes. I felt like classes had gone OK that week, but almost all the students said they were bored or unfocused. Did this mean that my Lexical class had bored them to tears? Actually no, it was just that the school festival was going on outside, and they would all have rather been there. It served as a healthy reminder that as teachers we can’t control everything outside (or even inside) the classroom. I’ll leave the final word to one of my student reflectors:

It’s not professors fault!

If you have any ideas for making this exercise more effective, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment below.

Cheers,

Alex

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14 responses to “Student Micro-reflections & What I Learned From Them

  1. Great activity, I did a very similar one with my classes last spring. I did first day surveys to find out what they liked to do in class, didn’t like to do, and what topics they were interested in. After that, I tried to do a micro reflection about what they had learned that day. I got the idea from a workshop that Tom Farrell did a few years back – just ask them to write down one thing they learned in class. It didn’t even necessarily need to be related to what I was teaching (i.e., so-and-so has a new boyfriend/girlfriend). This helped me to see what was getting through and also to get to know what was important to my students. I got a lot surprises, some good, some strange. I wish that I would have thought of some way to better incorporate them as you mentioned for deeper reflection, but at least I got a small sense (appropriate for a micro-reflection?) of what was going on in class from my students’ perspective.

    • Thanks so much for the comment Gordon. Totally agree with you about the “micro” part. Looking for deep reflection here might be asking too much, but I would like to figure out a way for this to lead to something more intense, or at least find a way to use it again. Perhaps this would be useful in an exam review?

      Anyhow, hope everything’s well with you Sir.

      Alex

  2. Brilliant post Alex and a great idea. I’ve got a 10 day winter camp coming up so I’ll try something similar to this as think it’s a really valuable tool and as you say one that’s rarely used here. Thanks for the great idea.

  3. Great idea. I do a lot of surveys in my class, but I like the visual aspect of this and that they can see each others answers. Seems like it has more community building potential than a survey passed out and collected by the teacher. Will give it a go after winter break. Thanks Alex.

    • You’re welcome, as usual. Actually the letting them see each other’s answers is a good idea. I took to reading them to the class, and supplying the odd comment, but perhaps just letting them gather around it to read, and maybe responding to someone else’s idea, might be a way to take this a bit further.

      Thanks for the inspiration Kevin!

  4. I haven’t tried reflecting with adults yet but this is something that has come up in conversations. Am using edmodo which has a poll feature. Thought of trying to use that. Your post was very thought provoking.
    Naomi

  5. Thanks for your comment Naomi. I think any kind of reflecting is good, but perhaps the more satisfying answers that I got here were those where the questions had a more open-ended feel, like the “Was class different?” or “What was the most important thing that you learned?”. You might want to keep that in mind when you’re designing your polls (though I have never used Edmodo so I’m not sure exactly what it can do). For me, space is crucial in reflection and so students need some freedom to do it 🙂

    Alex

  6. Good point, appreciate the opportunity to discuss this.
    Though for sure using sticky notes is not an option. I have no budget for equipment and refuse to buy anything beyond the books that I need for my own well being.
    Will try to find a different medium. Edmodo is built like facebook, perhaps they should jsut write a post?
    Thanks for this discussion!
    Naomi

  7. Hey Naomi,

    Yeah, I think a post with a comments thread would be cool. It would definitely give an opportunity for them to be heard, and to see each other’s reflections, and probably some good opportunities to work those back into a class following.

    Honestly I only used the post-its notes as my class doesn’t have a huge tech basis, and they’re such fun colours. They’re also really cheap in the uni stationery store, and in an effort to reduce waste, I recycled the unused sides to write Christmas letters 🙂

    • I’ll let you know how the experiment with the posts came out. The course ends two weeks from today.
      Proud of you recycling the post its! Though I must admit that it is just a sore point here, at conferences , where foreign guests are always talking about using post its, We have such large classes and most of us don’t get budget for equipment…
      Naomi

      • Cool, I’d love to hear about the reflections.

        Where do you teach? I don’t get budget for equipment either, but fortunately I only teach about 50 students total, so a few pads of post-its isn’t too much of a hit, but totally appreciate the limitations for large classes.

        I’d quite like a go at using social networks, but getting time outside of class with my students is tricky, and with technology I’ve found it’s better to go to what they already use, rather than try and get them on to anything new, as the take up rate is pretty low.

  8. Pingback: Time to start | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

  9. Pingback: Student Micro-Reflections, inspired by Alex Grevett’s post ‘Student Micro-reflections & What I Learned From Them’ « Early refLecTions

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