Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thinking about thinking

You're giving a 20 minute lecture and you don't want your students to drift away while you're passionately talking about your slides. What would you do? (Let's say "I wouldn't lecture my students for 20 min. in the first place" is not an option.) Apparently, there is a lot you can do to win your listeners' attention. You could ask your students to stretch their legs, for example. Or ask them to take notes and give them some time to check their notes with their classmates at some point during the presentation. You could ask them to write down a few questions about the lecture. Discuss a question, take a short test, brainstorm keywords, watch a video clip, and... reflect, that is, ask your students to "take three minutes to think about what we have dealt with so far." And, of course, remind them to "Stay quiet so as not to interfere with others' reflection."

Reflection is often thought of as a planned activity, a learning strategy, and the list by the University of Sussex clearly illustrates that. It is often an afterthought. The thing is.. all the strategies I mentioned above to engage students are a type of "reflection" as long as we consider students as thinking human beings, consciously or unconsciously. Our reflections could be formal (as in we may be asked to think about thinking) or they could be informal (like asking "are we there yet?" when stretching our poor legs). 

I'm not really against the lecturing method, although it may sound like it because of the way I protest against how the University of Sussex frames student engagement during lectures. (In case you're wondering why I was looking at their website, it all started with a simple search on student reflection in lectures.) So after thinking about (reflecting on) the structure of the assignments on thoughtvectors, I am almost convinced that in formal schooling, what matters most is to allow students ask questions, get them excited about their learning, and help them see the world from a different perspective. Regardless of the pedagogical model--inquiry based, project-based, lecture, etc.--we need to design the learning activities in such a way that reflection must be allowed and encouraged; it should be understood as part of the learning process, at all times. So you might use an inquiry-based approach and but if you don't really have time to attend to the learner experience and work with surprises, what is the point?

I'm still thinking. I need counter-arguments. Please help.