Empowering Children

Student Reflections and Responsibility
Renee Goularte

There are a few things I do to help students learn to reflect on their work. Here's kind of an overview:

Group Weekly Reflection

This is a process I have used for years to address classroom behavior as well as teaching and learning strategies. I do it on Fridays. I use a T-chart on the white board. Left side says "What worked?" or "What helped you learn?" and right side says "What did not work?" or "What did not help you learn?" Students give me the items for the chart, and tell me which side they go on. Excitingly for me, sometimes the same thing will go on both sides, and we can talk about how some things work for some people and not for others. Ideally, I give this about ten minutes during the last half hour of Friday. It stays on the white board and then on Monday morning we look at the chart and decide together on one whole class goal, depending on what's on the chart. I sometimes point out if there are similar things on the chart in order to expedite this process, if students don't see it. Then I create a question that students can use with each other for redirecting behavior, which goes on the top of the white board and stays there all week. A question here might be "Are you being respectful?" if there has been a lot of disrespectful behavior, or "Are you getting your work done?" if students have been bothering each other, etc. By the way, I always have substitutes do this T-chart at the end of their day and leave it there for the next day. This way, when I walk into the classroom after a sub and before students arrive, I can immediately get a sense of how the day went, and then we review the chart and talk about the "sub day" as a group.

Individual Weekly Reflection and Goal Setting

This is basically an expansion of the "three cheers and a wish" concept that I got from Jesse Turner (remember Jesse?) who got it from somebody else. Students use a half-sheet frame/format that I have zillions of copies of, and which are available at the supply area. On the front there are two prompts: "Three cheers...." (big space for writing) ".... and a wish..." (smaller space for writing). Students write down three good things that happened during the week at school, and one thing they wish they had done in the classroom. On the back, it says, "My goal:" (little space for writing) and then "What I can do to reach my goal:" (space for writing) and then "Reflection:" (space for writing). Students use their "wish" from the front to establish a goal for the next week and two or three things they can actually do to help them reach the goal. So, for example, if under "... and a wish..." a student wrote that they wished they had finished their book, their goal for the next week might be to read more each day, and the things they might do to reach that goal might be to sit alone during reading time, choose a shorter book, read during choice time, etc. These papers are kept by the students inside their "think books" which are basically writing notebooks that are always on their desks, so they are always handy. On Monday morning, time is taken during the beginning of the day to review what was written on Friday (and this is the time for students who were absent on Friday to fill one out). Then the next Friday, they fill in the "Reflection" part by telling whether or not they reached their weekly goal, and either what they did to reach the goal, or what happened to prevent them reaching their goal. We do this every Friday. Portfolio Reflection
-- I have two different "portfolios" for students. One is a public file crate in the classroom with legal-size hanging files, in which each student has a labeled compartment where they can put writing samples and any other work they want to keep and revisit later. The other is in my file cabinet where I have a folder for each student, in which I put periodic assorted writing and math samples, literature responses, district assessments, random work samples that show something specific, completed reading logs, report cards, conference reports, etc. About a week before parent conferences, students look through all their collected work samples and go through a kind of guided reflection process. First I ask them to sort their papers into reading, writing, and math piles. Then sometimes I have them go through each pile and find one work sample that they think is particularly good work and put this paper on the top of each pile. Then I have them look at those three "good" papers and choose just one "best one" to write about. I ask them to write what they like about the work, why they think it's good, and what they learned by doing the activity. This reflection writing is stapled to the work itself, then all their work is piled back together with this reflection on the top of their pile, and the whole thing goes back into the folder, which I then use during the student/parent confernce, where the first thing they do at the conference is talk about this one piece of work, and then we go through the folder itself and the student tells his or her parent about their work. I ask questions to lead them through this sharing. There is more about my student-led conferences at http://www.share2learn.com/wlclassrooms.html in the "Parent Communication and Involvement" section.

Organizational Skills

I have always had those tables with little storage compartments in them, which I hate so I don't have students use them. I turn the tables backward so they can't even get in them. Instead, I have file and milk crates in five or six areas of the classroom where students keep all their work folders and reading books, and even their lunches and snacks if they have those. These files are alphabetized by first name with five or six students per crate, so that the first crate might have files for Amber, Anthony, Billy, Brandon, Chris, second crate would have Cody, Cory, Cynthia, Diane, Darren, etc. (When we get a new student, they get realphabetized if necessary, because I want to be able to find a students' materials easily if I need something.) School textbooks are kept on library shelves instead of at the students' desks. All pencils, pens, crayons, and erasers are in bins and cups in the center of the work tables, which are arranged for students to sit in groups of four or six, depending on the classroom. There is a supply table with extra pencils, pens, and crayons, markers, highlighters, more erasers, pencil sharpener, stacking files with assorted papers, and anything else that we might need in the course of the day. I have been working with this arrangement for years, with students from first through fifth grade. It eliminates all the "desk mess" problems and because students store their materials in common crates, they are accountable for each other. It's not uncommon for one student to rag on another student for making a mess, and there is always somebody at each crate with an anal streak who arranges library books in the crates or straightens up the files. I LOVE this arrangement and the fact that there is no desk-cleaning to do, no crumpled papers, no lost pencils, etc.

Renee Goularte is an elementary teacher and writer who has worked with students from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. She has been teaching since 1988, and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education. Her favorite book on teaching reading is Radical Reflections by Mem Fox.

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