Thinking about thinking


You’re giving a 20 minute lecture and you don’t want your students to drift away while you’re passionately talking about your slides. What would you do? (Let’s say “I wouldn’t lecture my students for 20 min. in the first place” is not an option.) According to the University of Sussex, there is a lot you can do to win your listeners’ attention. You could ask your students to stretch their legs, for example. Or ask them to take notes and give them some time to check their notes with their classmates at some point during the presentation. You could ask them to write down a few questions about the lecture. Learners can discuss a question, take a short test, brainstorm keywords, watch a video clip-the list goes on. One final strategy is to ask learners to reflect on the lecture. For example, you can ask students to “take three minutes to think about what we have dealt with so far” while “stay[ing] quiet so as not to interfere with others’ reflection.”

Reflection is often thought of as a planned activity, a learning strategy, and the list by the University of Sussex clearly illustrates that. It is often an afterthought. The thing is.. all the strategies I mentioned above to engage students are a type of “reflection” as long as we consider students as thinking human beings, consciously or unconsciously. Our reflections could be formal (as in we may be asked to think about thinking) or they could be informal (like asking “are we there yet?” when stretching our poor legs).

I’m not really against the lecturing method, although it may sound like it because of the way I protest against how the University of Sussex frames student engagement during lectures (it all started with a simple search on student reflection in lectures). So after thinking about (reflecting on) the structure of assignments in #thoughtvectors, I am almost convinced that in formal schooling, what matters most is to encourage students to ask questions, get them excited about their learning, and help them see the world from a different perspective. Regardless of the pedagogical model–inquiry based, project-based, lecture, etc.–we need to design the learning activities in such a way that reflection should be understood as part of teaching and learning, at all times. So you might use an inquiry-based approach and but if you don’t really have time to attend to the learner experience and work with surprises, what is the point?

EDIT: I’m now thinking one thing that is missing in my post is metacognition or metacognitive reflection. I also slightly  edited the original post where I talk about reflection in class. I wanted to say something about reflection as a dialogic process, but that’ll probably be another post:)


4 thoughts on “Thinking about thinking

  1. I used to be against lecturing, but as a former student, I used to love lectures and grew tired of endless group-work. I like the reflection-in-process activities that you have, and I think encouraging note-taking and sketching help. I also find that with longer lectures (or videos, student presentations, or other), that requiring students to record 3-5 direct quotes that “stand-out to them” from the lecture for use in post-lecture writing or group-work helps them keep their attention, and leads to way more productive post-lecture work because they reference their quotes and why they picked the quote. Keep up the awesome teaching!

    • Thank you for your comment, Kevin. This was my first blog post on the site, so I really appreciated getting some feedback right away. Many of my students (all undergrads) over the years have mentioned that they don’t actually like group-work (possibly because there is too much emphasis on the end-product at an undergraduate level). I don’t lecture students in my classes but that is because all the classes I’ve taught so far are discussion-based and there’s not really anything to lecture about:)

      I really like the strategy of asking students to record 3-5 direct quotes from the lecture to keep them focused. I think the lecture method works best when students are able to follow the presenter (so as you mentioned attention is crucial) and when they are curious about the content. Both are really hard to achieve and requires a good deal of preparation, so I guess a good lecture is never easy:) Thanks again for the feedback.

  2. Well, Brookfield’s Tales from the dark side might be one counter-argument. I think we need to attend to the environment and the timing for reflection and this requires attention from us as educators. I once attended an xMOOC where the first letter the ‘educators’ sent was one saying that ‘if during the course I found myself in any psychological distress I should go to my local health clinic to ask for help as neither of them would be available for support.’ This is the dark side of encouraging deep reflection without presence or an understanding of our duty of care.

    I hope this helps your thinking about thinking. Well done on your blogging. I look forward to engaging with you here.

    • Thanks a lot for your comment and for sending the Brookfield article on my way, Mariana! This is a great comment; I’ve dived deep into a liminal space:)

      I agree that we need to design activities that encourage learners question how and what they learn. And we need to do that in a caring, supportive way, if we have a voice in the environment. But when is a good time for reflection? Shouldn’t it become a seamless part of the learning process (think about blogging, for example) regardless of the teaching presence? So I guess we can talk about timing “the surfacing of reflection,” making it more visible to others and ourselves?

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