After each round of activities, students complete reflections on their essential questions and their standards:
The EQ reflection explains how the texts or research are helping the student answer their questions; it provides specific evidence for the student and teacher and serves as a synthesis piece, which can be a hard skill to master. During the first reflection, students may be focused on only one or two texts, but in order to develop a more useful understanding of the time period or theme, they must look at how multiple texts interact with each other to answer the questions. Ultimately, students want to ask themselves, how do the texts of the unit relate to each other and create a unique argument?
Perhaps most importantly, the EQ reflection aids students as they work through the inquiry process–it helps them work out their confusion and have really fabulous a-ha! moments. To do this, they have to determine what they’ve learned and what new questions are arising. Where do they go from here? One of my Brit Lit students writes this as part of her first reflection:
When I started this unit, I figured that with so many female authors, females would have gained respect and position in society. When I started reading pieces written by males, however, I found the same stupid views of how weak and second-class women are. Wilkie Collins wrote several derogatory comments a paragraph, such as “do all a woman can (which is little, by the by)” or “I am inaccurate as women usually are.” No wonder there are so many essays from the time by women angrily protesting men! As I move forward I would like to try to find a text that is by a woman written from the point of view of a male, so that I can find out whether or not women would sneak comments into the dialogue of male characters like Collins did with his female characters. In the future I think I will probably stick with this question, because I like tracking how the answer changes from time period to time period.
She’s established an overall viewpoint of one author (her activities also examined Mary Robinson’s “Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination.”) and sets a goal for her next round of activities; she went on to read excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She is now working on an essay in which she’s exploring how femininity is seen as weakness, both in women and men.
These reflections often lead to students refining their essential questions. Another Brit Lit student is still wrestling with the driving force of the unit and sees a need to keep asking more questions:
In the beginning, I started out with questions whose answers would help me better understand what literature of the time period would be like…The questions I created all involved reason in some way–whether it was about England as a society or the individual literature. However, for this round of activities…I have concluded that the writing style of the time period was based more on creativity than reason, and with this knowledge I set out to find out if this creativity sparked the creation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. My writing activity claims that Alice in Wonderland was a key turning point in the creativity of literature, so I created questions that focus on the before and after periods of the publication of the book. I also wanted to go more in depth and find out what exactly did the book change in the time period (if anything) and why they wrote this way.
Clearly, reflections don’t have to happen after the finish line–they can and should be used as check-in points along the way. It provides opportunity for students to record how their insights are changing, make adjustments to their strategy, and sometimes see new directions and connections that were not realized during the activity. And of course, it also provides the teacher with a clear place to intervene before a student gets too far into the process.
We’ll explain the standard reflection in a later blog post!