Kazakhstani Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools are implementing their educational program including IGSCE Global Perspectives course. This is the course being taught in 11th grade that develops student critical thinking and research skills through project based learning. During one academic year students are to write their social research project work, exploring alternative perspectives on certain social issue, as well as establishing and refining their own point of view concerning the chosen problem.
One of the essential components of project-based learning is critical reflection. Teachers, working out of the project-based learning mainframe, usually include reflection as a final component of their lesson, in order to prompt students to think about what they learned during the class. For NIS Global Perspectives teachers, it is very important to focus on “critical reflection”, which has definite educational value for project based learning process. The main difference between reflection and critical reflection is that the former is an attempt to understand life events in order to be more engaged in the process, whereas the latter one bears the power of individual’s transformation and leads to a perspective change (Fook, 2007). Thus, critical reflection focuses primarily on analysis, change, and learning from contemplating about one’s own experience (Fook, 2007).
Such attributes of critical reflection hold a transformational power for subjects with project based learning, due to the fact that students are expected to think critically about various global issues, which mean they need to uncover their personal perspective and observe how it evolves throughout their research process. Critical reflection may help students to reach the “paradigm shift” momentum in their thinking process, when they question a previously established interpretation of an issue or process (Mezirow, 1990).
Global Perspectives teachers use various ways of critical reflection in their practice. Just as any other skill, it needs to be developed systematically, from lower to more higher-order tasks according to Bloom’s taxonomy. Thus, teachers may start developing the skill of critical reflection using such basic things as oral practice (Socratic discussion), handouts with questions, various checklists that require students to evaluate their work and slowly move towards more complicated products of critical reflection such as reflective journal/ writing blogs and video blogging (vlogging).
Critical Reflection for Global Perspectives
1) Oral practice –Socratic questioning/discussion.
Oral practice for critical reflection may be done in the form of Socratic questioning/ discussion. Such practice triggers student cognitive abilities and prompts them to self-reflect and change their view of various concepts (Yang, Newby, & Bill, 2005). Students may reflect on various practices and issues orally in the following way: all students form a circle and start reflecting on some global topic or on their experience. Each student has a right to ask any higher-order question and has a right to freely express his/her opinion. It is a must to create a welcoming and accepting atmosphere for students so that they could freely express their thoughts. Teacher is not a leader of the reflective practice, but rather a facilitator. Teacher must give students a list of higher-order questions for pre-discussion thinking.
The sample of the questions is provided below:
1) What does research process mean to you?
2) In what ways can you apply research practice in your everyday life?
3) If you were on the place of that person, how would you feel/act?
4) Has anything like this happened to you? How did you feel back then?
Quite often students tend to discover alternative perspectives on the discussed topic during such discussions, and as a result, shape their own personal point of view. When together they reflect on some practice, they share advices and give constructive feedback to each other that benefits their learning process.
2) Taxonomy of reflection
During the project based learning practice, a taxonomy of reflection by Pappas (2010) based on the Bloom’s taxonomy is also considered to be one of the practical and simple tools to produce reflective learning. According to Pappas (2010), reflection on teaching and learning is not an easy topic to address as it takes time to think and recall the experience, particularly for learners to contemplate “abstractly about patterns, connections and progress of learning”. Thus, the developed a model of taxonomy of reflection can be practical not only for learners but also for teachers depending on the view from different angles. The worksheet includes questions from lower to higher thinking level used to reflect on the experience in six categories of Bloom such as remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Consequently, the questions are identified by each Bloom’s category. As Bart (2011) considers, reflective learning environment should be supported and challenged in order to promote lower thinking level to higher thinking one. On the basis of personal practice use of the given instrument, the worksheet might be adopted and used in the classroom as one of the effective tools that help to promote learners’ reflective skills for lifelong learning.
3) Reflective diary
The next beneficial and functional tool to facilitate critical reflection is a reflective dairy. According to Tang, (2002) reflective diary is also an effective instrument which has a power to reconsider one’s experience, values and ideas using some prompts like questions, which enable reflective environment to happen. Thus, reflective diary used during project based learning environment in NIS teaching and learning practice are based on the principles discussed above with questions. The only difference in this practice is the form of the diary constructed on the reflection of 5 lessons where students need to write what they have learnt, strengths and weaknesses of each lesson in short. Then at the end of fifth lesson they need to reflect on the whole experience of the week where they express their opinions sticking on exercise based on three questions: “What did I learn?, So what does it mean to me?, Now what am I going to do with this experience?”. At this stage students may reflect on their experience formulating their personal thoughts in different way such as stories, events, descriptions of the experience (Gray, 2007). The given instrument triggers not only to look at individual perspectives and be open to alternatives, but also to reflect on personal learning critically at each stage of the whole project writing experience.
Another critical-reflection tool used during project-based learning lessons is video blogging (vlogging). Research supports that incorporating vlogs into a studying process makes students become reflective learners, evaluating and appreciating their learning progress (Hung, 2011). This is a stage-like long-term process that goes hand-in-hand with research process. Students need to shoot three video-blogs: pre-, mid-, and post-research vlog.
Students are given a set of different questions to be covered in their vlog at each stage. Thus, pre-research vlog questions check the baseline understanding of the chosen topic, student initial perspective on the issue, and their expectations from the project. Mid-research vlog questions cover such aspects as challenges and unexpected moments of research process, and ongoing development/evolution of the student perspective on the issue of research or on the research process itself. Post-research vlog is focused on evaluating the whole research experience and reflecting on what went wrong and how next time it could be avoided. The most important part of the last vlogging stage is the final establishment of student perspective on the research issue. After students shoot all their vlogs they need to go back to the very first one and watch all three to see how their perspective was developing throughout the research process.
There is a lot of critical-self-reflection going on during this activity, since students are constantly evaluating their research performance and become more open to the fact that their perspective may change on the way.
Looking back at the experience with the use of critical reflection tools in practice of project based learning, it can be noted that critical reflection is embodied in teaching and learning environment in itself. Thus, being an essential component of the project based learning environment, critical reflection is likely to improve reflective skills of learners in terms of how to reconsider their experience about learning, developing their abilities to think about alternatives and to be able to make some changes in their own perspectives and construct the proper vision for their future actions. As all the tools discussed above are based on the project based teaching and learning experience from teachers of Global Perspectives at Nazarbayev Intellectual School, the instruments are recommended to use in any environment in order to improve reflection components and enable to reflect on individual’s lifelong experience critically.
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