Reflective learning

Rene Descartes’ statement “Cogito ergo sum, or I think, therefore I am” first appeared in my life when I was a freshman.  I wrote a short essay on him for my math class.  I know, writing in math class?  Today we call it “writing across the curriculum.”  I think my teacher called it “learning.”  The basic principles of education do not change; only the fancy names change.  It’s like a friend told me, “Today they call it ‘organic food.’  My grandmother called it ‘food.'”

I think, therefore I am.  There is much written about this philosophy and there is some disagreement on it.  I see it as thinking.  When I wrote my short essay, I learned about a mathematician.  I thought he had a girl’s name and was weird.  As I matured, I learned the French give weird names to their children, math was weird, and I liked to write.

Today, the term reflective learning is being bounced around education circles.  The idea is that students need to think about what they are learning.  I always thought that was learning.  A teacher’s job is to teach students to think, not what to think.  John Dewey expressed this philosophy over 100 years ago, so this is not a new concept.

I recently had my students listen to Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a pre-reading activity to the Walter Dean Myers’ novel Sunrise Over Fallujah.  Next, I had them write about what they learned from the veteran.  Then, I had them meet in a small group and share what they had heard.  It has been interesting to read that students did not realize the effects war has had on veteran or their families.  I have done this type of lesson since 1988.  The only difference this year is we went to a computer lab to listen to the stories of veterans.  (note to self – have students bring ear phones next time.)  In the past, I shared written experiences or background information and had the students write down what they learned.

I continue to learn that my students enjoy thinking.  A few have trouble with thinking on their own or being creative because they were never allowed to try it.  They were the kids who were told to only use the blue crayon for the sky, only write in blue ink, not indigo, and all paragraphs have five sentences.   But, the majority of the kids will think on their own when given the encouragement, support, and freedom to do so.

This is true of our employees.  Who were your best teachers?  The ones who thought up their own lessons, or the ones who seemed to use a formula method that was designed by a textbook company or someone else?  Our best employees in our businesses can think on their own and solve minor problems themselves.  We merely have to be willing to allow them to try.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Lessons from students

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