Reflecting with Students

Photo by  Samuel Ferrara  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

As is probably clear to readers of this blog, I think reflection is a crucial skill for learning and teaching.  I’ve discussed making time and space for reflection as a language teacher, and ethnographic projects as a way to encourage reflection during study abroad. In this post, I’ll discuss reflecting with students, another valuable practice.

As we redo our Arabic curriculum (described in various places on this blog), we have had a reflection day at the end of each unit.  Students’ homework is to complete an evaluation sheet that asks about what went well and what didn’t in the unit, and their recommendations for improvement.  In class, students discuss their reflections in small groups, and then we discuss as a class while the teacher takes notes in a google doc displayed on the screen.  The exact questions depend on who is teaching the class, but I tend to stick to my standard set of reflection questions that I use to reflect on almost everything:

1) What went well?

2) How can we amplify this?

3) What can be improved?

4) How can we improve it?

So, for each question, students discussed it in small groups, and then we discussed it as a class while I made notes on the board.  I love this process because it gives me insights I would never have had without the students, and it gives me the opportunity to think with them through the details of actually executing some of their suggestions.  

For example, for our last unit on social media, both my co-teacher and I were under the impression that this unit was not that great, as students were attending less and turning in less homework.  Yet as it turns out, the students loved this unit as they felt it was relevant to their lives, and some of them even mentioned that they had started to use social media to engage in Arabic outside of the class, and they wished the unit was longer! So, this was an excellent opportunity for me to realize that what I saw as a problem with the unit was actually more of a problem with the end of the semester.  Similarly, while some of our assignments (like following hashtags of the Sudanese revolution) seemed really difficult, they were also popular with students because of course they are the most real.

In terms of thinking through the details, when students proposed things like doing this unit earlier, or having class social media accounts, I got the opportunity to ask them questions about things I thought might be challenging.  For example, do you think you could have done this last semester? How could it be modified? Would you be okay with using your own social media account or making a fake one? What platform(s) do you think would work best? If you all choose your own hashtags to follow, will you be okay with us not providing vocabulary lists? And so on.  

Of course students have different opinions too (we should use Facebook! we should use Instagram! We should use Twitter—elhamdulillah no one suggested Snapchat so I don’t have to learn that!).  However, the discussion also allowed us to discuss these issues (Facebook is great for groups, but hard to have a fake account, etc.) and think through ways that everyone’s needs could be met.  

Language issues also come up, and of course as someone interested in language ideologies and how they inform our expectations for language learning, I find these discussions fascinating.  In this case, I was thrilled when students asked for more lessons on Arabizi and internet language as it was clear to them through experience that these were important to understand online communication.  We did have a lesson on what to do when you are trying to follow an event through a hashtag and don’t understand all of the language (something I have ample personal experience in!) and they felt this could be expanded even more.  

So in addition to reflecting as a teacher, and with co-teachers, I find it extremely valuable to reflect with students, as they clearly have insights that I would not see otherwise.  Do you reflect with your students? If so, how?