“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”
Reflection has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Not least because it lies at the heart of PebblePad’s pedagogical underpinnings, but also largely because I’m nearing the milestone of a year working for PebblePad. Milestones are often the catalyst for reflection, and I’ve been pondering the ‘hows’ of reflection and the demands it places on those who engage in it.
For many years I taught English as an Additional Language to adult migrants who had come to Australia seeking a new life. Over the years I observed many commonalities in the necessary stages that needed to take place in order for learners to successfully navigate linguistic and cultural challenges and become ‘fluent’ in their new environment.In many ways I’ve undergone a not dissimilar experience myself over the past year after leaving the classroom behind for the Wonderland that is PebblePad!And in talking to our customers about their learners’ experiences, I’ve come to realise that the reflective space itself can come to resemble a foreign country where things happen differently and I can’t help but notice the parallels between learning a language and learning reflective processes.
Some musings on how we can help our learners to translate their experiences into meaningful reflections - with a little help from Alice …
“When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
Having given our learners a nod – or a push! - in the right direction, it can be helpful to remember that the focus should be on the purpose and the outcome of the reflective task, more so than on the technique (Smith, 2011). One of PebblePad’s strengths is its capacity to support a variety of different types of reflective processes and products. Allowing learners some agency and autonomy in choosing their reflective paths may enhance their willingness to invest the requisite time in exploring the intricacies of their experiences. So long as the focus (or destination) of the reflection is clear, the route may not need to be explicitly mapped.
“It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.
It can be easy to get stuck in the moment. The term reflection, especially in its most colloquial, everyday use, is so strong in the connotation of looking back that even once deeper analysis has begun to take place the next crucial step of looking forward can be missed.Encourage the cycle of reflection to include planning, and to encourage learners to consider new options or raise new questions (Ryan, 2013). Again, this is where the introduction of models of reflection can help learners see the bigger picture.
“Speak English!' said the Eaglet. 'I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe you do either!”
Language. It’s made up of words, and while memorising vast slabs of vocabulary alone and out of context will not guarantee either the ability to comprehend or produce coherent texts, without a basic vocabulary the ability to communicate is diminished. While learners will expect to use the specialised vocabulary associated with their field of study, many won’t be as familiar with the language associated with higher order levels of reflection.Sophisticated reflections can be prompted by reconstructive language that encourages the incorporation of beliefs, prior experiences and future strategies (Ryan, 2013).
“It would be so nice, if something made sense for a change!”
My biggest challenges teaching EAL involved helping illiterate learners to learn their second language. When you can’t read a dictionary or make your own notes, keeping track of learning is so much harder. For newcomers to reflection, helping them to make sense of the making sense of experiences is our challenge, whether those learners are ready to tumble headlong down the rabbit hole or need a bit of a push…