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Learning Resolutions: Improve Through Reflection

Perhaps you recently got a fitness tracker for the holidays or as a way to keep up with your New Year’s resolutions. It’s always interesting to see how having data can motivate us to change our behavior. Seeing that pedometer step count or viewing those Apple activity rings might push you to move a little more each day. We adults know how difficult it is to get an accurate picture of our habits without data, so gathering information can help us make better health decisions.

Better data can also inform better learning decisions. If we can use feedback to grow, we will learn more and learn better. But if we never reflect on what we have done, then it is harder to improve. Unfortunately, there’s no app in the Apple store that will easily and comprehensively track a person’s learning. There is an easy strategy to try though!

A great way to track learning is by building a portfolio of past graded work. This is something I used to do with my homeroom students when I taught the sixth grade, and you can easily replicate it at home. At the end of an academic quarter, I would have students choose one assignment they were proud of and one assignment they thought they could have improved. I then asked them to explain why they selected these assignments. In my classroom, students wrote these responses, but they could easily voice their responses in discussions at home. Using prompts, I would guide my students to explain what the assignment told me about them as a learner, what they gained from doing the assignment, what they would improve if they were to do it again, and what strategies they learned that they might apply to future work. I pushed students to think about what they could apply to future units, like “I learned that going to the optional review session helped me to raise my grade from a C to a B” or “Keeping vocabulary flashcards throughout the unit helped me to do well on the multiple choice section of the test.” If I read an answer that was “The teacher gave me an A,” I would give the reflection back and ask “What did you do that you are proud of?”

As you go through the school year this exercise should help your child to develop the metacognitive (thinking about thinking) skill of self monitoring. Knowing how well one is doing so as to make appropriate adjustments is an important skill for adult life. It is, however, an abstract skill that requires time and coaching to develop. The process of reflection should also improve your child’s study skills as he considers what is and is not working well for him.

At the end of the year you will have a slim folder with no more than eight assignments in it. These small portfolios are a simple way to review the progress that a child makes in one school year, which is often hard to see when we are in the middle of so much work and activity. If you’re inclined toward sentimentality, this is an easy thing to save in a memory box. For practical types, such portfolios can be helpful when meeting with new tutors or having conferences with new teachers.


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