Recent neuroscience suggests that reflection is necessary for learning to take place. This means that it is not normal or helpful for children to spend long periods “listening to the teacher.” They need time to reflect on their learning. Contemporary educators are beginning to pick up on this idea and suggest many clever ways to help students assess their own understanding. Most of them have children ask, “What am I learning?” “What gaps are there in my understanding” and similar questions.
In contrast, we want students to ask themselves this question, “What are my best ways to think and learn?” Neuroscience also tells us that each brain is unique and each person has a unique way of thinking and learning. We ask that the children themselves be part of the curriculum and that the teachers and students study the students. So, we would add “about myself as a thinker and learner” to the first set of questions: “What am I learning about myself as a thinker and learner?” What gaps are there in my understanding about myself as a thinker and learner?” Other questions along these lines include the following:
- How can I best characterize the unique way I think and learn? For example, little David may think very linearly and need to take one logical step after another while little Cindy needs to move quickly through material in order to grasp the main idea.
- How can I appreciate and learn to work effectively with others who think and learn differently? Think of it: Children being different without one being better than the other. Children sharing their diverse talents to come up with great ideas and possibilities.
- How is my unique way reflected in the products I create, solutions I devise and innovations I discover? There are many clues we teachers can find if we look beyond just noting if the child got the right answer.
- What technological and other materials best support my way of thinking and learning? Little Rock may need three-dimensional materials, while little Susan needs to draw, and little Pedro needs to create films.
- What kinds of local and global problems could benefit from my unique viewpoint? Each one of us has something to contribute –wouldn’t it be great to discover our strengths early in life–rather than waiting until we are grown to “find ourselves?”
And what might happen if children reflect on their own thinking and learning? I recently saw a video of a young entrepreneur from Kumasi, Ghana, who is creating bicycle frames from locally-grown bamboo. The product is completely recyclable and easily customizable. For every bamboo they harvest, they plant ten more. Her company not only sells the bikes, but also donates bikes to the local community. She is making a “green” product even greener. Her work is affecting transportation all across Ghana and spreading to the rest of the world.
Don’t we want all children to discover and use their best ways of thinking and learning like this?
Learning academics is important and reflection can help students make sure they understand—but think of what might happen if students came to understand themselves and develop the confidence to use their strengths to better their lives and their world…