This I Have Learned: Diversity of Reflections

Written by Linda Harris, Ed.D.; Associate Professor; Department of Educational Sciences, Foundations, & Research; UCO — 

When it comes to assessing student transformation, providing students with one or more writing prompts that that enable them to effectively reflect on their learning and growth in a critical way is the gold standard—and with good reason! From a student’s own perspective and voice, critical reflections provide us with a ringside seat to students’ experiences with our course content within and outside of classes. In fact, critical reflections often provide course instructors with much better insights into their course design and instruction than the end-of-course SPIES (evaluations) students are repeatedly nudged to complete.

Of course, the challenge to this gold standard is relying entirely on one method of assessment, and we know from the oft-misattributed to Einstein quote, “…if we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Stated another way, writing is not every student’s best means of demonstrating growth. Best practice dictates we assess our students multiple times and in a variety of ways to make the most accurate inferences regarding student learning. Just the same, despite the excellent job that the University of Central Oklahoma’s Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning does to encourage a variety of assessment artifacts—and our willingness to assign additional artifacts, we often default to using students’ written critical reflections to assess transformation using our campus-wide STLR rubrics. I’d like to suggest an alternative—MP3 podcasts or video reflections.  Here’s why.

Recently, as I was chatting with one of my student participants in a STLR-funded Transformative Learning project on school leadership, I asked her how her interview with a local school administrator had gone. It so happened, this administrator was from the school she would have attended—had she not been selected by lottery to attend a local charter school. The interview went great and she learned much, she reported. Then the conversation meandered to her observations as she walked through the different schools she had visited. I asked, “What do you suppose accounts for the different school climates you observed?” and without hesitation, she replied, “leadership!” Of course, that was the expected answer given her research topic. But she didn’t stop there. In fact, she became more animated and intense as she focused more intently on her own school experience and compared it to what she observed at her neighborhood school.

Of course, my student had much yet to learn, but as she continued to speak, she was clearly becoming more agitated, so I asked why it bothered her so much—and she decried the lack of high expectations and suggested students were being denied an education. I followed up by asking if it was possible she was upset because these were her neighbors and friends, and it was her intended school. She became very quiet and said, “It could have been me.” In that moment, us and them disappeared, and the injustice of unequal educational opportunity suddenly became very real to her.

The conversation ended with her commitment to teach and eventually go into administration in an urban district, but it also ended with a recording—on my phone—to capture what had transpired. Transformation that may not have been captured in a critical reflection was captured in a conversation.

Of course, one-one conversations with all students is not feasible. However, nearly 70 years after first being introduced on NPR, This I Believe, has continued by transitioning from a radio program to student essays to podcasts and can still be found on thisibelieve.org. What if we challenged our students to create a podcast or brief video clip on their growth as an alternative to the written critical reflection?  I’d be happy to start a site called, This I Have Learned… where we can share student voices of transformation. Let me know what you think by commenting below or with an email to lharris29 ‘at’ uco.edu.

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