When I was a campus-based interventionist, we picked up and dropped off our students each day, giving me a few extra minutes with my students as I walked them back to class after our lesson. Knowing that every moment in the school day counts, I decided to use that time to promote student self-reflection. I started by asking each student individually what they thought they had done well during class. I quickly found that my students needed a little coaching on reflection. I got responses like, I was good, I behaved, I listened, or I paid attention. All admirable behaviors, to be sure, but I wanted my students to dig a little deeper and provide a more detailed justification. So I changed my question and began asking, What did you do to improve as a mathematician today? The question was better, but sadly the responses were about the same.
Coaching Students on Self-Reflection
To help the students frame their thinking, I created an anchor chart with specific behaviors—such as talking like a mathematician, learning from mistakes, noticing, etc.—and posted it by the door so they could refer to it on the way out. I found that, although their responses were getting better, I was still having to do quite a bit of prompting. I decided to create a new and improved anchor chart that included verbs (describe, tell, explain) and highlighted key components for mathematical growth. This was the missing element!
- I learned the word product today. The product is the answer when you multiply.
- I didn’t look carefully at the place value positions, and I made a mistake. I learned I have to be more careful and read the numbers to myself.
- I learned that stacking my numbers and lining up the decimal point helps me compare numbers.
- I challenged myself by not giving up when I didn’t understand the problem.
And they only got better as the year went on! Can you guess which prompt turned out to be their favorite? Describing a mistake they had made!
Student Self-Reflection and Growth Mindset
The new self-reflection practice fit perfectly with my emphasis on growth mindset that year. As powerful as the idea of promoting a growth mindset is, there has been lots of chatter recently that it is being poorly implemented. For example, there seems to be the false belief that by simply praising effort or building a child’s self-esteem you are promoting a growth mindset. There’s actually more to it than that. Carol Dweck, who pioneered growth mindset research, recently revisited the idea and pointed out some common pitfalls in an article for Education Week. She directly addressed the effort myth:
A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. –Carol Dweck
Sound off in the comments and share how you help your students reflect on their learning!