Tag Archives: reflection

Remote Reflection in PBL

Fake Dewey quote that we all love…

This is the ninth of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.

Velcro Moments

Reflection is an act of metacognition, thinking about one’s one thinking. Although the quote on the top of this post can’t be directly attributed to John Dewey, it’s an accurate portrayal of his ideas. I am a huge proponent of active, hands-on learning. I believe whoever is doing, is learning. If the teacher prepares an engaging lecture, the teacher is the primarily benefactor from the research and preparation of it. Students who passively listen to the lecture gain only slight knowledge. But as Dewey advocated, we need students to be actively engaged with their hands and their minds. Word searches, crafts, or even projects without direct ties to content concepts can just end up being busy work.

Taking time out for student reflection creates velcro moments where the learning sticks.

Slowing down, silently thinking, and sharing thoughts with each other cements moments of clarity in learner’s minds. In Constructivist theory, reflection gives mental space for learners to place their new knowledge or skill in relationship to what they already know.

Reflect on What?

Reflection is about self-assessment of one’s knowledge, performance, abilities, or state of mind. It is important to be clear on what we want students to reflect on. The kinds of reflection topics should mirror the Areas of Assessment. Reflection should not be limited to only one area but be balanced between the social-emotional state of the learner, content, and SEL skills.

It’s important that teachers check in with each student daily to build relationships with them. We are gauging the state of the learner and making sure that they are ready to learn. But we should teach students to reflect on their own emotional state. For example, when students enter the classroom we might use a mood meter to have them consider their social-emotional state and ask themselves if they are ready to learn. Some teachers use a calm corner as a designated spot for students to reflect or decompress if they are upset. It is important for students of all ages to recognize their emotions, how they affect their feelings, and to develop coping skills for when they are upset or unhappy.

Mood Meter

Other times we want students to reflect on new concepts or skills that are the purpose of the day’s activities. Consider prompts that ask them to analyze problems or situations, evaluate evidence and sources, rate their confidence with a newly learned skill, or connect to previous learning. Creating their own concept maps is an excellent way for building content connections. Reflection builds bridges between the different schema in our brains connecting new learning to old knowledge.

Lastly, sometimes we should have students reflect on their Social and Emotional Skills. How is their group functioning? What personal areas of strength are they contributing to their team? How might they function more efficiently? What are their next steps in their project? How have they shown empathy with their audience? What is their SEL goal and how are they achieving it? You may choose to focus on one competency at a time or have students reflect on all of the competencies at different times throughout the project cycle. Reflecting on SEL practices is essential part of teaching, practicing, and assessing the competencies.

Mixing in a variety of all three types of reflection throughout the day or week leads to consistent improvement in all areas. Ultimately all three areas are connected and addressing each one in turn leads to the greatest growth in both content knowledge and development of the entire child.


In the classroom, reflection takes on many forms and does not need to be time consuming. It can be a private, written reflection such as a 3-2-1 exit ticket.

  • 3 things I learned
  • 2 things I wonder
  • 1 area where I am stuck

Other written approaches are a quick response on individual whiteboards or in a journal as part of a daily warmup routine. Mixing up topics and focus areas keeps reflection fresh.

Reflection can be verbal and communal as well with a Think, Pair, Share or Turn and Talk with an elbow partner. Something as simple as 1 minute of silent think time before allowing responses in a class discussion integrates reflection into classroom culture. This is an equitable practice because it accommodates slower processors. Each of these protocols starts with individual thinking and then adds social aspects of sharing with a partner or small group. Students build upon their own knowledge with the reflections of others.

Reflection can be a simple, non-verbal checkin with Thumbs up/Thumbs down or Fist to Five. These formative assessments instruct the teacher on how students are feeling about their understanding of a topic or a skill, revealing vital information from students self-assessing their current level.

Other times, like at the end of a project, reflection might be longer, with a paragraph of writing. I like to use open-ended questions on a Google Form to have student evaluate me, the entire project, and their group collaboration. I also have a class discussion on the same topics. Some student will write things that they would never say out loud, while others will share verbally what they wouldn’t write so everyone reflects and gives feedback in ways that they feel comfortable.

Remote Strategies

All of these areas of reflection and the protocols translate easily online. I often use a mood meter or “On the scale of…” to checkin with students as they enter the virtual room to check on the emotional state. Even my students who don’t want to turn on their cameras or unmute themselves will share in the chat.

There are probably a thousand apps and tools to collect answers from students. As I have said before, it’s not about the tools, but picking a few that you and your students are comfortable with. I like to use Google forms and Padlet for students to submit exit tickets. Flipgrid is great for students to record talk alouds of their verbal reflections. I use protocols such as Visible Thinking Routines with Google Slides. Concept mapping can be done in Jamboard or other online whiteboards.

The built in features of video conferencing work great. Students can click on Thumbs Up/Down emojis to share their current level of confidence or submit Fist to Five as a private message to you in the chat. Small group reflections such as Turn and Talk or Think, Pair, Share can be done in breakout rooms.

In many ways, reflection is easier online as students are already isolated from each other so they have physical and mental space without distractions. Be aware that some homes may not have this advantage with multiple siblings or other interruptions beyond their control.

The most important takeaway on reflecting, whether virtual or face-to-face, is that it is vital for deeper learning. Teachers need to intentionally plan it into their lessons daily and make it a part of the culture of the classroom. Reflection builds thoughtful students who can solve problems with empathy and creativity.

Questions? Interested in an SEL infused PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele on Twitter.

Reflecting on Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills

Collaboration is a crucial skill that schools around the world are embracing as vital to teach. Every survey of “what employers want” includes it in their top ten list, and the divisive state of politics increases the necessity of students learning it. Collaboration (teamwork) along with communication, social engagement, and relationship -building make up the sub categories of Relationship Skills according to the CASEL Social and Emotional Learning competencies.

One reason why so many students’ Relationship Skills are underdeveloped is that in too many schools, students are still expected to spend the majority of their day listening to a teacher instead of interacting with each other. As I have argued before, PBL is the perfect pedagogy that gives kids the opportunity to practice and develop SEL skills such as Relationship Skills as they negotiate with each other the best path to complete their project.

 Reflection is one of the most effective ways to teach SEL competencies!

One of the best ways to teach Relationship Skills throughout a project is consistent student reflections. Reflection throughout the project on their group dynamics gives students opportunities to identify and solve relationship challenges. Students are going to disagree and have different opinions about how to approach their project difficulties. The teacher is the coach helping students to civilly navigate their conflicts in healthy ways. One of the most important ways to forge relationship skills is to have students reflect on how their group is functioning. Reflection helps both successful and struggling groups realize what is happening and how they might adjust if necessary.  

Reflection needs to be embedded throughout the project and not just at the end. It does not have to be time consuming. Effective reflections need only take a couple of minutes. At the beginning of class, assign a specific group behavior to focus on such as “Listening with my full attention, before responding.” or use one of the Norms of Collaboration. When class ends, have students individually reflect on the behavior with a Fist to Five or exit ticket or have students reflect with their group with a turn and talk. 

When groups are not clicking, refrain from rescuing your students. Instead, have them work through their difficulties. If students struggled the day before in a specific area, start today’s class by reviewing yesterday’s issues and having students reflect on what they need to change to be more successful today. Provide questions related to their struggles and ask them to journal about the experience.

For example, “What is preventing my group from being successful right now?” and “How can we fix this challenge?”

Then students can meet in their groups and discuss issues and potential solutions.

Epic Fail!

My co-teacher and I launched a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) video project on World War I and World War II in our integrated American history and English language arts class. The project married the concept of CYOA books with videos where viewers choose what to do next by clicking on one of two links. Rather than have small groups each make their own video, we decided to have our whole classes of fifty students divide up the tasks to create one giant adventure. Students were placed in different teams based on self-identified skills. The roles included writers, actors, directors, artists for props, lighting and camera operators, and video editors. 

Each class created a storyboard on a whiteboard wall, plotting all of the paths and choices like a sideways tree. Groups of students began writing scripts for each scene, including details of the setting and props. When it came time to film, we had students making props and shooting scenes all over campus, indoors and outside. The students did an excellent job of distributing roles and diagramming the big-picture storyboard, but they struggled with the rest of the project. 

The organization and management of a project of this complexity and scale were new to us. We underestimated the technology part of the project and did not devise a clear process for getting footage from the cameras to the video editors. Footage was lost and had to be re-shot. Main actors were absent. Costumes and props were forgotten at home. We had not provided students with tools like scrum boards to organize themselves. After several weeks, students still did not have a final product, and we realized that it would still take weeks to complete the videos. (Important side note is that students had learned the required content standards. They just didn’t have the “shiny” product finished). We made the hard choice to kill the project. 

Satisfying Success

Although we were disappointed that students never completed their CYOA videos, there was a silver lining. At the end of the year, the same students amazed us during the Water Project, by taking over in ways that teachers never dreamed of. This project involved the entire sophomore class working together as part of three self-selected groups. It was potentially a logistical nightmare, but turned into our best project ever!

During the final reflection of the Water Project, one of the student leaders told me, “Because we failed on the CYOA video earlier this year, we learned how to work together and succeed on the water project.” Using setbacks in projects as learning tools demonstrates for students how challenges can be turned into opportunities. It was a good reminder that students develop SEL skills gradually over the course of a class. Given time, opportunity, and the tools to manage themselves, students will forge Relationship Skills and become leaders who can work together to make meaningful changes.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.