By Sara Krauskopf
A key component to any project is reflection. Teaching students metacognitive skills so they become aware of their own learning process is where some of the most meaningful growth occurs during the course of a unit. Reflection helps them become critical thinkers and problem solvers–skills we all value for the long term and want to build in our students. There are a number of points during a project where it may be appropriate to ask students to stop and reflect. Longer projects may require multiple reflections, whereas shorter projects just one. This blog entry will provide some examples of ways to have students reflect.
1: Improve group work. Group dynamics are some of the biggest challenges to project completion. This is an early intervention which asks students to pause and consider problems with their team. What obstacles do we already see with our group dynamic and how can we overcome it? I usually share these reflections with the class so students see multiple ways they can improve their process.
2: Daily check-ins. Mentioned in my previous blog entry, this is a way for students to examine daily progress within their team. They can celebrate success, think of what took their work off course that day (positive or negative developments), and decide what adjustments they should make as a result.
Sample Daily Check-in
- Did we meet our responsibilities for today? Why or why not?
- What do we need for tomorrow?
- Do we have homework?
3: Mid-project reflections. This is a more formal way to consider progress towards the project goal and make mid-course modifications. Again, this should provide an opportunity for positive reinforcement of current systems and behaviors; or time to make adjustments to get back on track. This individual writing assignment is turned in, helping me understand where individual students may be having trouble so I can jump in to facilitate changes where they are most needed.
Sample Mid-project Reflection
Students were challenged to design, build and test a solar box cooker to melt chocolate during a Wisconsin winter. We stopped to reflect after students tested the first iteration of the cooker.
- What went well with our design stage?
- What went well with construction and testing?
- How well did our team work together?
- What specific improvements need to be made?
4: Final project reflections. Never skip this type of reflection. It is the most important part of the project and helps students review what they learned: not only related to the content of their project, but also about how to plan and implement a complex activity. This is a formal individual writing assignment given after all of the products are constructed and presentations are given.
If this were a straightforward science experiment I might ask students to reflect on experimental error and to suggest additional investigations they would try to further their understanding of the processes involved. However, in project-based learning, I ask them to think beyond what they learned from the content. They consider the impact of their work on others; and most importantly think back on what it took to complete this project and assess what they learned about navigating a complex process.
Sample Final Project Reflection.
You just finished an intensive group project to create a solution to the question, “How can we reduce the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill?”
- What did you do?
- Why was your project important?
- How could this project be changed?
One of the reasons students at PBL schools get better and better at conducting projects is because of this reflective process. They learn the importance of planning, the value of good partnerships, the need to stay organized and on task, and myriad other skills. They are able to transfer those new skills to the next project and to their daily lives; and develop the ability to design more complex projects and solve more involved problems.
As teachers, we always run out of time on units and need to cut out certain activities, but I strongly believe that you should leave time for reflection. It is better to cut the project short and ask students, If you had more time what would you have done? Without giving them time to reflect they will not develop critical thinking and other lifelong metacognitive skills that will help them successfully navigate the world as adults.
Sara Krauskopf is a secondary science and math teacher and educational consultant. For questions or comments, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org