Posted by: darcymullin | October 14, 2011

The Power of Reflection

On Wednesday I had an a-ha moment…only I didn’t realize it right away.  It would have been great to “get it” in the moment,  it might have made my class a better place to be, but I guess that’s why reflection is an essential part of learning.

The students were involved in a challenge to create the greatest mechanical advantage using three pulleys and limited materials.  It was a really cool activity.  The class was engaged, collaborating and using some great problem solving.  In my mind, I had the class rockin’ – they were getting their learn on.  At the end of the class I went into a really nice speech (in my mind) about reflection and how essential it is to the learning process and then had the kids write about what they learned.  It was important to get some feedback on the intended learning to see if they were ready to move on, and that my friends is where things went sideways.

About 80% of the kids got down to work and completed their reflections quickly and accurately – they got it.  Almost everyone else needed a little prompting and discussion, but ultimately they got it as well.   Everyone except Jonah (pseudonym)…he was sort of off task for most of the class.  It seemed to me that he was playing with the materials instead of exploring the materials.  He talked through the instructions at the beginning and missed (distracted) the discussion at the end when I explained the reflective part.  In spite of continuous cajoling on my part, when the lunch bell rang he had nothing done.

That’s when I got punitive.  I know that Jonah has serious issues with attention and written output, but I was frustrated.  He has produced on other days, so I felt that it was a choice and he was choosing to goof around.  I made him come down to the office at lunch to finish his work.  I was a bit busy during lunch, so I made him sweat it out a bit and struggle on his own.  By the time I got to him, he still had nothing written down.  I sat down and we started to talk.  As we talked about the day, he began explaining what he knew about pulleys and mechanical advantage.  Here’s the kicker, as we talked it became clear he knew more than anyone else, in fact he had gone a step further and figured the mechanical advantage mathematically.

As he is explaining all this to me, it hit me.  I was trying to get this student to fit into the system I had created instead of having the system meet the needs of the student. 

Jonah is not atypical, in fact when I was in grade 5 I was a lot like Jonah.  I should have known better, you can guarantee that next time I will.  Jonah and I have come to an understanding about different ways he can show me what he knows.  Guess what? The next class, he was almost the first one done and he felt empowered by the process. 

Students who don’t fit into the box need patience, not punishment.  We need to take time to understand them and create an environment where they can shine and demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways. 

Thanks for reminding me of that Jonah.



  1. Great post and a lesson to us all as teachers. I was a bit of a round peg trying to be squeezed into a square hole in school. I have sympathy for those who dare to think differently. 🙂

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the “a-ha”moment you shared above. .
    It is the struggling learners and the “misfits” that need us most, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Ross/Christina, I agree. Those students who don’t quite “fit” the traditional mold of school need more support. One of the most rewarding things about teaching is when we finally “get” these kids and they turn the corner and school is no longer a frustrating place. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. […] Kids who struggle with written output flourish.  Jonah was the first student done and he got to WOW! on his first […]

  4. Do you mean that the whole time we were in physics, you actually knew more than the rest of us? You’re as cunning as a fox, Mr. Mullin! Wait until I tell the others.

    All jokes aside, that is a really good a-ha moment. I wonder how Jonah does in group work? Do you think he would get involved and push the learning of his teammates, or would he sit in the background? Or maybe he would try to get his teammates involved with his distractions? Sometimes I tell kids like this that it is important that they help to help out and that their friends need the help. I try to do this to empower them, although I’m not sure it works!

  5. Funny you should ask – working in groups is hard for him because he is easily distracted. He is quite introverted and definitely produces his best work when he does not work in a group. See the end of my post on authentic assessment for more details.

    By the way…I didn’t know anything in physics. That is where Jonah and I differ. Thanks for bringing up those skeletons in the closet hahaha.

  6. […] I started this post while I was working with a student at lunch.  I have spoken a bit about Jonah in another post, but he continue to amaze me and continually forces me to re-think my assessment […]

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