The Presents of Mind: Raising a Glass (Half-Full) to Small Victories

This school year, my beat has been all about reflection: I want to learn new strategies for prompting it and to help my students get better at writing it. Upon my own reflection, however, I know I coasted for most of my reflection quest in 2021. The spines of professional texts are barely cracked, and I haven’t explicitly addressed improving reflective writing with my seniors at all, but it’s a new year, and, to paraphrase Anne Shirley, one of my favorite optimists, “[it’s] fresh with no mistakes in it!” Given the year we’re having, I’m going to give myself credit for what’s been done rather than what hasn’t. 

Talking to students will tell you that 2021 (as tumultuous as it’s been) wasn’t a wash. And prompting them to celebrate their own progress is a great way to encourage more of those victories in 2022. Here are three prompts for mid-year reflections that have inspired some glass-half-full feelings:

A New Spin on an Old Classic: 

Following Alison and Rebekah’s lead, students in my reading writing workshop class often introduce themselves to each other through illustrated biographies like those found in Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff. The posters they make tell everyone who has entered our classroom. But what if they could illustrate another poster to show who they are becoming? As an extra credit opportunity, I invited freshmen to make a new poster that shared not their favorite foods or pets or strange collections but what they learned this semester. Here are just a few examples of the cool pieces I received.

These students wrote end-of-semester reflections, but no paragraphs could offer as immediate and clear a response to “What did you learn? What did you love?” as these illustrations. 

Any Questions?:

As a last-minute addition to ninth graders’ written end-of-semester reflections, I asked them: what is one question you wished I would have asked? And then I invited students to answer that question. The results were sweet and inspiring. Some students simply asked themselves which unit they had enjoyed most. Others asked what they wanted to learn how to write. And others used the question as a chance to share something more about themselves. No matter the response, I learned more about my students from the question they asked themselves than some of the questions I posed.

What Next?:

Inspired by ninth graders’ questions, I invited my seniors to reflect at the end of the semester, and I posed the question some freshmen had written: what would you really like to learn how to write? My seniors are in IB English, a class that tends to focus on literary analysis, but some accommodations made for these COVID-times have opened up time in our schedule. I have long wanted some portion of my senior IB English class to be an independent study of sorts; now might be the time to do it. With information about seniors’ writing interests on my brain now, as the semester begins, I’m more likely to create opportunities for them to practice those styles and genres later. 

So there you have it: three small strategies that can yield what feel like big victories as you learn more about your students and their needs. Buoyed by these small victories, I feel better about navigating the big challenges that might still be on the horizon.

How are you reflecting on one semester as you make your way to the next? What small victories are you celebrating? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman.

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