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I have a group of undergraduate students who are best described as 'unprepared' meaning that they were not well prepared for life in university. They are, as a group, under-performers, although there are certainly stars contained within the group. One more point of complexity is that the students are studying in English, which is not their native language.

Reflection is something that has been identified as useful not just for performance while at university but also for encouraging life-long learning for the students. While strong students might take to reflection quite readily, critically analyzing the countless decisions that they have made on any given academic project, unprepared students seem to have a much more difficult time with this.

My question is, are there particularly effective techniques for teaching reflection to unprepared students (or academically weaker students)?

  • Are you talking about reflective teaching or teaching reflection? Or both? – scaaahu Nov 24 '13 at 11:53
  • @scaaahu I'm talking about ways to teach the students to reflect, specifically critical self-reflection (students reflecting on their own work). – earthling Nov 24 '13 at 11:56
  • So you want to find effective techniques for teaching students how to prepare themselves well? – scaaahu Nov 24 '13 at 12:07
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    @scaaahu I would like to find effective techniques to teach students how to look at their own work and see what they did right and what they did wrong, and what they could do better next time to improve. – earthling Nov 24 '13 at 13:12
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Almost certainly this is going to be a multi-stage, complicated process, with no simple answer. However, here's something relatively simple to start with, maybe.

I'd suggest starting with collaborative peer-evaluation. Create an assignment which has a peer-evaluation stage (with no reflection on the final grade). The peer-evaluation stage consists of sitting them down and working through each person's output as a group. Ideally, you'll act mostly as guard-rails for the discussion, keeping it on-topic and professional, while providing some initial thoughts.

The goal of the peer-discussion phase is to start getting them to think critically about the output, from both the perspective of a creator and a consumer.

After the discussion stage, then allow them to take the feedback and re-edit their work to improve it, grading only the final result.

  • I find this especially useful if both the original version and the edited version are graded (just the revised grade counts), so the student has real feedback about how the review process improves things. – Joel Coehoorn Jun 30 '15 at 18:21
  • Peer evaluation is not the same as self evaluation. Consider the possibility that students will find evaluation more threatening if it is performed by peers. They may actually get worse at it. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 9 '15 at 2:02
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I think you might be dealing with not only an ESL but also a cultural problem. I know from experience that some students have been raised their whole academic lives to remember and regurgitate and under no circumstances think. Two suggestions. 1) Learn about their cultures. It will only help. Ask one of your "stars" what challenges they face in the class and what they've done to overcome. 2) Communicate your expectations clearly. "I expect you to think." I find when I say things explicitly like "Don't look at me like a policeman, look at me like a resource" or "The most valuable thing you can do in this class is raise your hand" I get better results. Sounds a bit corny but I'm telling you, it works. And you won't reach all of them, but you'll reach more of them.

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I have two suggestions.

First, I think it would be helpful for students to see live demonstrations of reflective/critical analysis, compared side-by-side with non-critical (rote, superficial) analysis. As much as possible, the students themselves should be involved in these demonstrations, taking both roles.

(NOTE: I realize that many students are nervous and uncomfortable about going in front of the class and that they fear public embarrassment. But if everyone takes a turn, then it's possible to get past the concern that only certain people will be taking the risk, and it will support an ethos of "we are all in this together". A side benefit is that it will boost their skills and confidence in public speaking.)

These demonstrations should be very short. For example, you could give a prompt with only one or two sentences that make an assertion or an inference. Then ask the students to first write an uncritical analysis, and then to write a critical analysis. Their analysis would only need to be a couple of sentences. Then two students would come to the front, each taking one role but not announcing which role they are taking. They read their analysis to the class. Then you can have a short class discussion where students guess which role they were taking and why these were examples of critical analysis, or not.

The second suggestion is to engage students in Socratic dialogs, either in the class as a whole or with small groups or with students individually. You, as teacher, only ask questions aimed at revealing the basis and justifications in the student's analysis. Students could also do this with each other, either in small groups or in pairs. This could be done as part of homework assignments.

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When I was an undergraduate, written reflections (also called process notes) were required on many assignments. Learning to write them was part of the orientation. The overall strategy for teaching writing was

  • Free write
  • Focused free write
  • Write essay
  • Write reflection
  • Faculty feedback
  • Revise essay
  • Write additional reflection

I think the focused free write is a particularly good tool for helping students reflect on their process. It may be easier to start with reflecting on the revision process because students have a set of faculty comments which they need to answer.

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I'm working on a similar question in a different population. I developed a question rubric that they are using to learn analysis. I am hoping this self-questioning becomes ingrained as a metacognitive skill.

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    Can you elaborate a bit more? I'm having a hard time following how what you have written answers the question. – Mad Jack Jun 30 '15 at 18:11
  • Agreed. For an "answer" this is pretty vague. – Dave Kanter Jun 30 '15 at 18:37

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