Reflections on student work can teach students ethics, aesthetics, and empathy

Reflections on student work can teach students ethics, aesthetics, and empathy

Reflections on student work can teach students ethics, aesthetics, and empathy

This article was originally published on MindShift.com

How much should we let our students reflect on their work?

Some educators may be uncomfortable with the idea, because they seem to be putting student focus on doing what is right, rather than thinking about whether what they are doing is “right.” But considering what these students are learning in these reflections would actually have a tremendous effect on their learning.

Reflection on student work provides lessons in ethics, aesthetics, critical thinking, and empathy. And the ideas we learn from these can impact how we help students perform better in school.

Ethics—The Power of Seeing

The ethical principle of responsibility for the outcome of what you do (“I, therefore, do”) is often debated between utilitarian and positive psychology circles. They agree that responsibility for outcomes is an ethical matter, but they disagree about which outcome is the best outcome for everyone (positive psychology) or the wrong outcome for everyone (utilitarianism).

For example, if someone gets a happy college grade instead of a demotivating one, there is a clear moral difference.

Cognitive science research, however, shows that when we look at what we learn from an assignment, some of it gets lost in the abstract. Often we rationalize a no-good performance by saying, “It is not the teacher’s fault if I am not as motivated as I should be.” This has to stop. It becomes automatic, because “it is not the teacher’s fault.”

Cognitive science research also shows that when we look at what we learn from an assignment, some of it gets lost in the abstract, and this abstract reasoning is what has to change. Think about it, imagine the best you could do at a puzzle puzzle with only 25 pieces. You see that there are 28 pieces, the deck of cards are 11, and so on. The consequence of not being able to see all those pieces, and the problem, becomes real. Would you get worried if you could only see one piece that is missing?

As students reflect on how they did on their assignments in class, the conversation shouldn’t be about blame or what the right thing is. Rather, teachers need to shift how they see their students’ problems and then how they teach the problem.

By bringing the problem to light, by asking the students what was missing, teachers create a foundation for them to reflect on and think about the problem and how to solve it. They make the problem personal, and that personal connection helps students figure out how to solve their own problems, too.

In my classroom, students get feedback by saying “I missed one card” or “I was out of the game.” And my response is, “I see you’re struggling. You see the cards and the solution. And now, you have a really big problem.” I then play the video, that I edit in class, that helps the students understand the power of all that they are doing and the opportunities they have to learn.

An example from the video below shows the enormous difference that students would be making if they took what they had learned, understood the problem, and applied it in a new way.

(Next page: How reflections can benefit learning)

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