Reflection on reflection

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

‘Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous’ – Confucius.

In the high school we spend 30 minutes a week, early on Friday afternoons, ‘doing reflection’. Some students see it as a waste of time, others increasingly see value in it but might find it an awkward classroom experience to just sit without social interaction. Amongst teachers there is consensus that reflection is an important activity to incorporate into the school day, and it is a central part of Montessori teacher education that teachers write reflections on their learning.

It is well established that for learning to be permanent and meaningful there must be space made in the learner’s mind to process the learning, to compare the new learning with knowledge and understanding from before. Teachers acknowledge that a 30-minute block on a Friday isn’t the most sophisticated way of providing this opportunity but having a timetable slot does give reflection the importance it deserves. Incorporating reflection time into classes might run the risk of having it side lined in the usual rush to get everything else done.

There’s value in having time for quiet stillness, a mental respite from the barrage of input provided by the post-modern world. The question may remain for the reflective person, what am I supposed to do in that 30 minutes?

Zena has expertise in meditation, and runs popular sessions with Tāwari students using resonant bowls that provide the sound for reflection. Silent walking is another popular reflection activity. Activities already subsumed into the subconscious can be suitable: driving on uncongested roads could work for experienced drivers, but for new drivers there is too much of the conscious mind devoted to the activity of driving.

One school of thought argues that a meditation industry has sprung up, one that prescribes reflection as a panacea for the ills generated by a post-modern neoliberal existence: find the solutions within yourself to the anxiety generated by an unfit for purpose system of human existence. The conclusion here could be that we should spend reflection time plotting the revolution.

Here is my proposed NZQA-style assessment schedule for the use of reflection:

Excellence: achieves awareness of what is in the conscious mind, and the deliberate control of which ideas and feelings occupy the mind. This may allow thinking about the nature of one’s existence, or reassessment involving bigger life questions, or higher creative thinking.

Merit: a functional use of reflection time in which the only activities are ones that are entirely subconscious, allowing the mind to do processing of ideas that must happen for learning to be effective, or an equivalent of the ‘shower time’ effect when the mind knows it will not be disturbed so is able to think through a question more deeply or creatively.

Achieved: managed to sit still without being distracted for 30 minutes.

I come to reflection with a problem to think about, so I am usually operating at Merit!