“Learn from your mistakes” – might as well be one of those sayings that have earned a cliche status, but it packs so much truth in just 4 words. True in any setting- beginning with a baby’s attempts at learning survival skills all the way to learning profound life experiences at a ripe old age, the reflective learning approach is one of those things that get glazed over only because it seems too obvious.
‘The Reflective Learner- Seeing Missed Takes in Mistakes’ is a book that precisely brings back the spotlight on the most efficient way to learn – by paying attention to mistakes. Edited and compiled by Neeraja Raghavan, founder-director of Thinking Teacher, an enterprise focused on teacher development through action research and reflective practice. Its title is fairly self-explanatory- this is a book about training the student in the art of reflective learning- and the greatest source of learning is their own mistakes.
Reading this book reminded me of Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling book, ‘The Happiness Project.’ Gretchen, in one of her early days of the Happiness Project experiment, reveals that she was on a quest to change her life(who is not?) but without changing her life. She still wanted to live in the same home, do the same work, live with the same spouse, have the same routines- and yet change her life. And so she sets about making little changes in the way she did the same things. The crux was the how; not the what.
If you have been part of a conversation about the education system and schools in general, odds are that you didn’t come away feeling very upbeat about our curriculum, the examination system, the student focus, teacher attention and a whole lot more. We can’t tear down the system in one swoop and rebuild it, but we can make it a lot more effective if we focus on the how. The Reflective Learner brings home this simple fact over the course of the book that even though the majority of us are not happy with our education system, there is a lot we can do in the existing system, with our existing classrooms, curriculum, existing teachers and students- by just changing the how- and that too not by a lot!
The Reflective Learner is a documented proof of the journey of this initiative called the Reflective Learner Programme an action-research experiment designed by Thinking Teacher (whose facilitator is the author of the book) and implemented by 4 enthusiastic teachers from different parts of the country. In an attempt to move away from viewing mistakes made by students as only things to be flagged with red crosses, these 4 teachers( 2 English and 2 Math teachers), recreate a fresh perspective to mine the pedagogical value of mistakes and feed them back into the teaching.
I began reading the book expecting it to run over days. After all, it spans the experiments over a few months. It took me only about 3 hours, mainly because the book is so well-organized and documents every step in detail.
The chapters are divided by the reflective learning experiments of 4 teachers- Prerna Pradhan teaching English to 5th graders at the Takste International School in Sikkim, M Gopalakrishnan teaching Mathematics to 8th graders at the Peepul Grove School in Sadum, Andhra Pradesh, Michael Moses teaching English to 8th graders at the Takste International School in Sikkim and Kanchana Suryakumar teaching mathematics to children of grades 7- 10 at the Poorna Learning Center, Bangalore.
The experiments begin with identifying a bunch of students in their class struggling with core concepts and then designing a set of exercises with the whole class to draw these students to the awareness of their mistakes. Each chapter has sections talking about the planning and the execution stages of the strategies, the exercises planned, the adjustments and refinements to the exercises warranted during the entire run- with pictures included, before and after the learning experiments. Sections are also dedicated to the sample research environment, sample group, time management, and students’ feedback.
Here is a sample ‘before and after’ of the reflective learning exercises designed for an English student:
Here are some core takeaways from the strategies:
- It’s really easy to avoid shaming the child for their mistakes.
- Leveraging the group for the child ends up benefiting the entire group.
- It’s the simple strategies- like the categorization of errors with the entire class that work wonders to the struggling child.
- Getting the child to asses their own work is the first step(with helpful feedback) to a heightened state of awareness on the part of the child.
- Giving them practice to just spot errors( their own and their classmates) is more effective than we thought possible.
- The most crucial objective is to shift the onus of learning from the teacher to the student.
Here are a few documented outcomes and the strategies applied, along with a list of errors addressed and a graded marking of the effectiveness of the method:
Here is an example of a flowchart of the entire reflective learning strategy applied by a teacher for his group of students:
The Reflective Learner packs a lot of practical tools and resources for reflective learning and truly serves as an enduring tool for learning the fine art of drawing inspiration from mistakes, by merely viewing them as missed takes. For truly, is there a more effective way to learn?
The ReflectiveLearner is available on NotionPress and Amazon.