A few years ago we decided to rethink homework for our students. Since most of our lessons revolve around a singular problem we wanted to create a structure that would allow students to reflect on what they learned in class, synthesize their ideas, and have an outlet for asking more questions based on what they had learned that day in class.
We decided to create a list of reflection homework questions that we use on a daily basis. Typically we pick one reflection question for the students to respond to each day. We also select 1-3 mathematical questions for them to think about (often times these questions are extensions of the problem we worked on in class).
Here is an example of a few of our reflection questions:
What were the main mathematical concepts or ideas that you learned today or that we discussed in class today?
What questions do you still have about_______? If you don’t have a question, write a similar problem and solve it instead.
Click here for the complete list of our questions. We are honored that Jo Boaler featured our approach to homework in her recent book: Mathematical Mindsets (see Page 46-49).
What Do Students Think?
Since starting this new approach to homework we felt that it was important to survey our students to see how they felt about this new type of homework assignment. On the mid-year survey we asked students to "Please provide us with feedback on your homework format this year."
The following are quotes from our students:
“I think that the way we do our homework is very helpful. When you spend more time reflecting about what we learned (written response), and less time doing more math (textbook), you learn a lot more.”
“I feel like the homework questions help me reflect on what I learned from the day. If I do not quite remember something, then it gives me a chance to look back into my composition book. I really like how we have less mathematical questions and more questions where we have to reflect on what we did and what questions we had.”
“This year I really like how we do our homework. I understand how to do my homework because of the reflections; those really help me because then I can remember what I did in class that day.”
“Having the reflection questions does actually help me a lot. I can see what I need to work on and what I'm doing good on.”
Although this homework format has been an improvement over traditional homework we are still concerned that homework is inequitable for our students. What do others think?
If you are interested in learning about research on homework, educational specialist and author Alfie Kohn wrote a whole book on the topic. Follow the link where you can listen to a short audio clip to get his perspective http://www.alfiekohn.org/homework-myth/
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How deep is your commitment to reflective practice?
Do you maintain a reflective journal? Do you blog? Do you capture and archive your reflections in a different space?
Do you consistently reserve a bit of time for your own reflective work? Do you help the learners you serve do the same?
I began creating dedicated time and space for reflection toward the end of my classroom teaching career, and the practice has followed me through my work at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. I’ve found that it can take very little time and yet, the return on our investment has always been significant.
Observations about reflection
- Reflection makes all of us self-aware. It challenges us to think deeply about how we learn and why and why not.
- Reflection deepens ownership. When we reflect, we become sensitive to the personal connection that exists between ourselves, our learning, and our work. The more we consider these connections, the deeper they seem to become. Reflection makes things matter more.
- Reflection helps us get comfortable with uncomfortable. It also helps us fail forward. It’s through reflection that we’ve discovered our greatest power as a writing community: our collective expertise and our willingness to encourage and celebrate risk-taking.
- Reflection helps us know ourselves better. It helps us sharpen our vision, so we can align our actions to it. Reflection also helps us notice when we’re getting off track.
- Perhaps most importantly, reflection helps us advocate for ourselves and support others. Taking the time to reflect enables us to identify what we want, what we need, and what we must do to help ourselves. It also helps us realize how our gifts and strengths might be used in service to others.
I find that often, we struggle to find time to support reflective practice. Deadlines drive instruction far too much than they should, forcing learners and teachers to value perfection, products, and grades more than the development of softer and perhaps, more significant skills. Devoting a few moments at the end of class can make a real difference though, particularly when you pitch a few powerful prompts at learners. These are the ten questions that elicit the most powerful responses from the students I work with.
Ten Reflective Questions to Ask at the End of Class
1. Reflect on your thinking, learning, and work today. What were you most proud of?
2. Where did you encounter struggle today, and what did you do to deal with it?
3. What about your thinking, learning, or work today brought you the most satisfaction? Why?
4. What is frustrating you? How do you plan to deal with that frustration?
5. What lessons were learned from failure today?
6. Where did you meet success, and who might benefit most from what you’ve learned along the way? How can you share this with them?
7. What are your next steps? Which of those steps will come easiest? Where will the terrain become rocky? What can you do now to navigate the road ahead with the most success?
8. What made you curious today?
9. How did I help you today? How did I hinder you? What can I do tomorrow to help you more?
10. How did you help the class today? How did you hinder the class today? What can you do tomorrow to help other learners more?
The learners I serve typically capture these reflections in a special section of their notebooks. These entries grow in number over the course of time, and eventually, they revisit them to prepare for conferences.
The influence that asking reflective questions has on the quality of our conferences is incredible. In fact, I hesitate to confer with kids unless they’ve had a chance to pursue purposeful reflection first.
Try it yourself. See how it makes a difference for your students. You can find a set of printable reflective prompts here.
About The Author
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.