One of the problems of asking first year students to “reflect” is that, typically, they don’t know how to reflect. It’s not a skill that a lot of students come prepared to University with, nor have developed. Yet, it’s a critical skill to have – to think about what you’ve done, and identify what worked well, what needs improvement and what can change.
Reflection is really not a simple process, but it’s crucial to learning, and really important to deep learning. Think of all the life lessons you’ve learned, and I bet you’ve thought about them often, and sometimes deeply. They change you. Similarly, good educational experiences (whether that’s reading a book, attending a lecture, practicing a lab, or just trying something out) cause you to think about them, and again, sometimes deeply. It’s that deep learning that the Learning Portfolio wants to get at.
The activities we have unveiled in the first year of the Learning Portfolio were good – but mostly course based. Anecdotally, we didn’t see a lot of extracurricular activity, or if we did, it was part of the program. One potential reason was that we didn’t give any student a reason to actually use the tool. So one way to solve that will be to post writing prompts, to offer students something to reflect on and a reason to use the tool on their own. Each writing prompt will help students connect their academic work to their “outside” life, connecting academia to reality. I consider this sort of thing “translational” – an effort to break academia down to understandable language for the average person. In the process, hopefully students will engage with thinking about what they’re doing, set a goal for themselves and maybe get a little bit more out of their experience here.
This week I read chapter 6 in bell hooks’ “Teaching to Trangress” and chapter 11 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.
hooks takes some great pains to discuss the “authority of experience” – something that many teachers use to justify bad teaching even when faced with evidence that their practice is harmful. She struggled with it in a way that I won’t be able to fully understand, but I can appreciate; she struggled with the authority of experience to make her voice heard. I’ve been thinking about the neoliberal policies of education, how education is no longer really about critical thinking but about learning a trade, getting a better job, improving your wealth, and those changes fall on the system of government that we live in – one that values neoliberal economics over people. Neoliberalism values the sort of anecdotal stories that reaffirm it’s position – things like the wealthy are job creators (when in fact most people are self employed or work for small businesses), things are too big to fail, unions are corrupt and so on and so on ad nauseum. I recognize these talking point for what they are, but I respect that they are coming from a place of inequality. Why are unions bad? Well, not everyone is part of one, so there’s a privilege that is extended to those who are in the union, and excludes those who are not. This sort of class privilege is something that isn’t really covered explicitly. It was interesting to see hooks’ self identified growth from an academic who relied on authority of experience, to one who took the experience and internalized it, and found ways to explain it in other’s theories, research and work.
In Brookfield’s chapter he discusses the four risks of critical reflection – the imposter syndrome, cultural suicide, loss of innocence and finally recovering from a failed experiment. I don’t have much to add – except that these are all things that when developing a workshop or course that one has to consider. You will feel all these things, go through each of these risks and will be affected by your process for coping with these ideas. I suspect that in the process of developing a workshop around the idea of class in the classroom one would have to be aware of these potential feelings, adn try some strategies that Brookfield suggests would be useful to diminish the effect of these risks.