Learning Reflections. It’s one of my soapbox items. I am always complaining that we don’t take enough time to do that in education because we get caught up in keeping pace with the curriculum and covering all the bases. Even though I firmly believe in the importance of allowing students and ourselves time to reflect, I am no exception to skimping on it all too often.
I am the art resource teacher for an elementary school for students in grades 2-5. We run a trimester school year so I cover dance and movement in the first trimester, visual art in the second trimester, and musical theater in the third trimester. We are just finishing our winter visual art term and it is the shortest of the 3 trimesters.
In addition to it being short-term, students are constantly being pulled to finish work in their classrooms, to participate in testing of various kinds, to receive services for special needs, etc. I understand teachers wanting to use that time to work with students or complete necessary testing. I understand the struggle of providers of special services trying to work around lunch and recess schedules. But that means that my already limited time becomes even more limited. It also means that I have students in various states of project completion.
Taking Time for Learning Reflections
At times I have allowed myself to get stressed about all that and keep pushing to accomplish more projects, cover more standards. This term, however, I really wanted to give students the time to delve more deeply into one project. I also wanted to allow those students who were being pulled often from class, the chance to finish something and understand fully what it was they were trying to accomplish. With my fifth graders, I even managed to work in some time for self-reflection and sharing.
My fifth graders created a culminating piece for which they created a smaller sketch first and for which they wrote an Artist Statement to include with their piece. They had to name their individual pieces and explain the meaning of the title as well as discuss how they achieved a certain mood, unity, and variety in their own pieces. I LOVED this learning reflections process!
Strategies for Reflection
The students engaged so much more deeply with the principles of design than they would have otherwise because they had to explain them in writing. I had wonderful conversations with students about their pieces and end up learning more about them as people in the process. When engaging in the gallery walk and partner sharing, the students had much more to say to one another. They had a firmer grasp on the principles and could discuss them with more authority. Some students were still finishing their pieces and did not get to share their work with others but at least they had a chance to think about and jot notes about mood, unity, and variety even if they had not written a final draft of their statement.
Although those fifth-grade students did not create much work this term in regards to different projects, they did gain a deeper understanding of the content we did cover and I gained a deeper understanding of my students. My goal for next year is to find a way to manage my time to be sure that all my grade levels have more opportunity for learning reflection so we can all enjoy and be more deeply engaged in the learning process.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.