Looking in the Mirror: Reflective Learning

Peter Richardson - Year 4 Teacher and ICT Leader at Walton-le-Dale Primary School, Preston.

This article looks at the use of technology in developing the process of creating reflective learners and the subsequent impact on learning. It covers hardware and software tools and includes practical applications within a Primary School setting.


Before we move on to effectively discuss the role of technology on learning, we need to firstly define the end product. A reflective learner is defined as someone who takes ownership of their learning to the extent where they are motivated to be independently and proactively engaged in the evaluation of their learning. They also display the following traits: 
  • They do not merely remember or recite a learning objective the teacher has written at the start of the lesson. They understand why they are learning that objective and have often had a say in the direction of that learning to begin with. They are enthusiastic and motivated to learn because the lesson is learner focused, not teacher focused. 
  • They do not tick off a list of success criteria that the teacher has on the next slide of their ‘interactive’ whiteboard. They have been active in the creation of the success criteria, whether as a class, group or individually. They are given the space to make their own mistakes whilst being supported on the path to new learning. 
  • A truly reflective learner does not need to get their book out or a laminated card to remind themselves of their target. They know their target and were involved in its creation, leading to personalised steps and a desire to develop their learning. 
The examples in this article focus on personal experiences of the use of technology in the classroom to support the development of learners towards becoming truly reflective in their learning and it covers three areas: teacher led reflection, student led reflection and reflection outside the classroom. 

Teacher directed reflection – the use of visualisers 

Whilst it is important that learners take ownership in the direction of their learning, I believe it is also crucial that we as teachers model processes clearly to give a framework of reference. This can be done in a number of ways with speech and behaviour. The visualiser enhances and amplifies the modelling process so it can extend to a whole host of situations including writing. As an example, during the writing phase of a unit the class shared individual written work through a visualiser and learners were guided and directed to evaluate their own writing in front of others and prompted to reflect on the success of what they were trying to achieve. Others were given the opportunity to annotate, comment positively and constructively offer suggestions for development. Whilst showcasing writing via reading is general practice at the end of the lesson or to revisit work from a previous day, a visualiser offers a small but extremely significant change in the reflection process by allowing for an immediate and shared visual evaluation, creating a far more joined up and overt approach to the learning process. 

The success of the lesson on writing in terms of sharing and evaluating work with a visualiser quickly led to the extended use of the devices in other areas of the curriculum such as maths. This had a measurable effect in terms of increasing confidence, self-esteem and the quality of discussion about what the pupils were trying to achieve. In particular, learners were given increased opportunities to review each other’s work in pairs and instead of using the visualiser at the end of the lesson, it became a regular feature to have mini-plenaries occurring fluidly as and when they were needed, showcasing either a fantastic example, discussing the next steps or to pick up on a collective mistake. Such was the effectiveness of the tool that I tried to move away from a teacher directed style of reflection to a group directed one. This proved less successful than anticipated because the learners focused more on role playing the teacher/pupil relationship rather than focusing specifically on the learning process that had occurred. 

As a tool for developing reflective learning, the visualiser was fundamental in helping to model the evaluation process from a teacher point of view whilst offering immediate opportunity for the learners to think about their learning. As a result of the above, visualisers have now been purchased across the school to support the whole school aim of developing critical approaches to learning. 

Student led reflection - record & playback devices 

The success of the visualiser as a teacher led method and its relative failure when placed in the hands of the students created an opportunity to think about the best tools for students in the critical evaluation process. The questions that created an opportunity included whether the students had enough opportunities to reflect effectively with their peers and whether the devices could allow some students to move on in the process but not disturb others who were at an earlier stage in the learning journey. We concluded that to be independently and proactively engaged in reflecting on their learning, learners need to want and be able to evaluate for themselves, individually as well as in groups. After much thought, it was decided that record and playback devices such as the Flip Video Camera, TTS Big Point or Easi-Speak Mic could really help explore the possibility left open by the rejection of the visualiser as a group tool. The full extent of these flexible products is beyond the scope of this article, but their use outlined below illustrates the role they played in supporting reflective learner development. 

Learners are twenty minutes into a maths lesson with the stated learning objective of using the grid method to solve multiplication calculations. One child using an exercise book presses a Big Point on his table. The recording he hurriedly created immediately after the whole class modelled process plays his version of the success criteria. This is the third time he has pressed it in five minutes. A few minutes later on the other side of the room a girl using a giant sheet of paper and counters to show arrays thinks she has the method understood. She has made her own examples and is now going through each step recording it on the Easi-Speak Mic ready to share at the end of the lesson. Five minutes later, a high achieving boy flicks a Flip Video Camera on and turns it towards his work. He points at different parts with his finger, explaining what he did to solve the calculation, going into detail where he spots a mistake he has made. Just before the end of the independent part of the lesson, the child using the Big Point records a question he wants to ask. During the plenary, the children gather on the carpet and the child with the Big Point brings it with them, so does the boy with the Flip Video Camera. The girl with the Easi-Speak Mic leaves it on the table she was working at. I discuss the method with the class, they listen to the Big-Point question and another learner answers it. The Flip Video camera is plugged directly in my teacher laptop and everyone watches the recording on the interactive whiteboard. After the lesson the girl comes to me on her own asking if I would listen to the recording over lunch to see if she has understood the steps correctly. 

It is clear that the selection of the tools used for this part of the reflective learning process are suited to individual work with the learners taking a greater degree of control in the lesson. 

Reflective learning outside the classroom – Voicethread 

The two examples above indicate the benefits of thinking about the learning process carefully in selecting the appropriate tools. However, they are limited to the classroom and we believe that learning should not stop at the end of the school day. Voicethread allows for learners to have the opportunity to continue to reflect on and share their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom in a unique way. First, it gives all learners equality in that their time to talk about their learning cannot be detrimental to other learners. Second, it allows for a more internal and private experience with less confident learners being able to share their thoughts without feeling intimidated by their peers. When evaluating learners extended writing pieces, I created a Voicethread with all the children’s scanned work in it. The children were given the choice of contributing through microphones or written comments as well as annotations. They started off with their own work before moving on to their friends and other learners they wanted to read and comment on. Their enthusiasm for commenting was only outshone by their excitement hearing and seeing others comments appear on their own writing. 

In addition to the advantages outlined above, the use of Voicethread has automatically created a re-visitable archive of reflection. Since our initial use, we have used it several more times for a similar purpose. Learner’s enthusiasm for using Voicethread hasn’t diminished and it has become an invaluable tool for evaluating progression in reflective learning over time. 

Conclusions 

There are several other technologies that could have been substituted for some of the above tools, for example the use of Audioboo or Twitter rather than the TTS Big Point or Easi-Speak Mic and a learning platform forum rather than Voicethread. This just further illustrates that it is not usually the individual technology that matters, rather its ability to enhance or deliver the key learning goal. 

In terms of fully supporting the development of truly reflective learners, the examples I have documented in this article are not yet fully embedded in my own teaching to the extent that I want and believe is ideal. I continually strive to develop both my own pedagogy and implementation of high impact technology across the whole school as a result of thinking about the learning. Despite this, it is clear through the examples outlined that by using enhancing and transformational technology to help motivate, raise independence and engage learners in reflecting on their learning, they take greater ownership and become increasingly independent and proactive in doing so.

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