Worcester’s premier college-preparatory co-ed day school serving students from Central MA and MetroWest, Pre-K–Grade 12

MS Head's Blog

Mr. O in his 2nd floor office on a dress-down day

In the Middle of It All

Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School

Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.



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Room for Reflection

The other day I was talking to a Middle School student about a project he recently completed. As he explained some of its key elements, the conversation took an unexpected turn when he stopped mid-thought and said, “Honestly Mr. O, I am pretty disappointed in my work.” The statement caught me off guard, but I somehow resisted the urge to fill the brief silence with reassurances, platitudes, or weak praise. Instead, I asked him to explain more. And then I kept quiet and listened.

What I heard in the next few minutes (and over the next few days as we picked up the conversational thread at various points) was a thoughtful, insightful, and on-point assessment that demonstrated some impressive reflection skills. What I did not hear were excuses. And what I concluded was that this boy learned more from this personal disappointment and reflective insight than anything his teachers, parents, or I might have told him about his project.

“We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience.”

That's one of the most quoted lines from the seminal education reformer, psychologist, and philosopher John Dewey, whose work is still powerfully relevant and important almost 160 years after his birth. A 2014 paper published by the Harvard Business School, titled “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance,” set out to examine the impact of reflective practices on learning. The authors’ findings support Dewey’s words, asserting that “learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.” Additionally, the authors concluded that reflection “builds one's confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.”

Essentially the message is this: take the time to reflect on what you've done, even if the price of that reflective time means you have to do a little less — you are apt to learn more and more often achieve goals in the future.

While my interaction with the student may have been unexpected, it was not completely surprising. Bancroft Middle School teachers are very intentional about making time for students to reflect, whether it’s on a daily basis as part of a lesson’s closure, in the wake of major projects, or at our annual Student-Led Conferences. Making time for reflection is no small feat, especially considering the myriad demands placed on all of us as we compete in a zero-sum game of priorities versus time. While it might be easier to skip the reflection and move on to the next thing, it's important we carve out room for reflection. And the need to build routines around reflection is not limited to our students. The adults in our community hold themselves to the same expectations, and it’s safe to say reflection is in our School culture.

As we look to wrap up the school year, in the Middle School we have team and divisional agendas full of reflective prompts and questions. When August rolls around, we’ll be eager to build a future based upon our synthesis of what we’ve learned from past experience, just like our students.

For more about reflection and learning:

Learning Through Reflection,” excerpt from the book, Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind

Let it Marinate, The Importance of Reflection and Closing

Full text of the Harvard Business School paper “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Learning Lab Method (LLM) on Friday May, 19, 2017 at 02:09PM

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