Reflection, a Nobler Way

Reflection, a nobler way words Rebekah Nivala  illustrations Rufina K. Park

As I reflect on the role of reflection in my own journey toward wisdom, there are several experiences I would like to share with you, which may be of interest to you and your family. Confucius once said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”. Not fortunate enough to be a student of Confucius, much of what I have learned about reflection came about through the easier and bitterer forms of enlightenment. Yet, becoming aware of what I do not know makes me wonder if others similarly struggle with intentional reflective thinking in the face of life’s myriad distractions. Wherever you are on wisdom’s road, I hope you may find a helpful signpost within this missive that may serve to direct toward Confucius’ nobler way.  

Growing up in small town America, I was privileged to study as a home-schooled student. Like any form of instruction, homeschooling has its own fair share of pros and cons. However, homeschooling has great potential to capitalize on the student’s interests [1], which can determine the course of study that may or may not include collaboration with an established education institution. In order for such a seemingly free flow method of schooling [2] to attain its aim, the student and homeschooling parent must mutually understand the student’s interests, proclivities, strengths and weaknesses. For this, reflection is needed. Indeed, my parent teacher often urged me to reflect deeply on subjects that interested me most – science and music – and to pursue every opportunity to broaden my exposure and connections with those in relevant fields.  

Reflection also promises substantial dividends in the traditional public or private school classroom setting. In a study involving 350 students [3] and 27 pre-service and in-service teachers, the practice of reflection was linked to improved knowledge, awareness, self-control, and classroom practice related to science teaching and learning. Reflection has also been correlated to enhanced test taking strategies. Research led by Harvard Business School [4]  found that reflecting after taking a test may positively impact future performance, thereby increasing the productivity of experience.  

During my master’s study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Personalized Learning Platform  (PLP) [5] came into view. An online learning tool that allows students to customize and take more ownership of their education, PLP works by having students create individual plans and set personal goals of both short and long-term length. PLP uses a “backwards planning” method and solicits students to reflect on their learning as well as where they want to grow. Students are then given opportunity to collaborate with teachers to create a plan that will help them reach their goals. Essentially, PLP has created a platform to help students pursue their interests with purpose – similar to homeschooling, but on a digitized and larger scale.

Though testing of PLP has been centralized in California’s Summit High Schools, the platform is expected to increasingly gain traction. It may be especially helpful to students who wish to add meaningful depth and focus to their learning. Yet again, reflection is an essential ingredient to this recipe of building self-concept; PLP has provided a set of blocks, but knowing where one is currently juxtaposed to the self one is trying to create is the first step toward drafting the study blueprint.

My current work for a local foundation in Indonesia also points me to the importance of reflection. Collaboration with Universitas Gajda Mada, one of Indonesia’ premier universities, as well as with leading experts in the field of psychometrics led to the development of AJT COGTEST – the first intelligence test developed specifically for students in Indonesia aged 5-18 [6]. Based on Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Theory, this test works to identify students’ cognitive domains, reported in the form of mountains and valleys or strengths and weaknesses. The psychologist’s report is then used to inform development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) [7], which helps student, parents, and teachers work together to achieve the student’s learning goals. Reflection is an integral component throughout this process: teachers reflect on how her/his students are doing in class and request an observation from a psychologist. If after reflective observation the psychologist gives recommendation, a tester administers and reflectively scores the test with qualitative input and a psychologist develops the report. A Case Management Team (CMT) is formed and works to develop the IEP, the implementation of which is greatly enhanced by daily reflection on the progress of the child.

Despite evidence on the positive returns associated with the practice of reflection, it is too often seen as a non-essential and languorous activity that requires long hours of quiet solitude and deep thought. Additionally, the terrific tempo of life and school coupled with occasionally invasive use of technology presents a formidable barrier to the quality of attention, focus, and thinking integral to reflection [8]. However, with a little creativity and experimentation, reflection can become a powerful tool with which to help yourself and those around you form self-concept, identify goals, and find the path to take you there.

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