Using reflection to catalyze action in a unit of inquiry

A Year 5 learner, let’s call him Pierre (not his real name), became interested in how gymnasiums are designed for team sports experiences, when he read about a technology, which allowed for lights to be embedded into the floor of a gym to indicate the court of play for different sports, instead of painted lines.

Pierre asked a lot of questions of the technology, and his learning allowed him to write a proposal to his school administration to use the new technology for gyms in the new gym the school was building.

The trigger for his extended inquiry and for the action he took as a result of his learning, was a reflection question during one of the classes. In the unit exploring the nature of creativity as a source of innovation, Pierre reflected on the question, What might be some next steps you are thinking about, as you consider what you’ve learned through your inquiry?

When learners are able to follow an independent line of inquiry and they are provoked into thinking about next steps through reflection, one of the outcomes might be action.

Opportunities for reflection, which may be as simple as one takeaway question that invites learners to think about their learning and how it connects to something they might consider acting upon, is a way to enter action or agency.

In units of inquiry in the MYP, the bare bones of the inquiry cycle looks like:

There is opportunity to follow the cycle, to move through the phases as they are, and there is also opportunity to pause and reflect at different points in the cycle of inquiry.

Pierre’s move to action was prompted by a single reflection question, and not at the end of the inquiry, but in the middle of it. This suggests that a reflection at the end of a single lesson (and not waiting for the ‘big’ reflection at the end of the unit) might serve as a trigger for a learner to begin considering how he or she might change as a result of learning up to that point.

Flexibility is a feature of the inquiry approach to learning, and this flexibility presents many opportunities to allow learners to reflect on learning and consider action as a response to learning.

Teachers can target action with reflection prompts or questions, any time during a unit of inquiry.

I remember a first grade inquiry framed by the transdisciplinary theme Sharing the Planet, and how a reflection question from the teacher prompted a student, Jason (not his real name), to consider what he had learned about the cost to the earth presented by cattle raising. Jason decided from what he had learned to not eat meat again, as his response to what he had learned. Jason is still a vegetarian to this day, and he is about to complete the MYP now.

Action as a response to learning seems like it has to be ‘big’ like Pierre’s proposal or Jason’s life choice.

But it doesn’t have to be.

The value of presenting reflection into action at small milestones in a unit supports how learners approach learning with agency, as experiences that change them, change how they think, and perhaps how they behave. These are the seemingly small opportunities that bring to life agency on a regular basis.

An example of a reflection question at the end of a lesson might be, As you think back on your learning about creating questions, what might be something you will do from now on? Another one might be, What’s your takeaway [from this lesson], and how might you use it?

For every skill we teach, for concepts formed and acquired, and content that presents illuminations of authentic real life situations, there can be a reflection question that teachers can ask which will allow for a leap to action.

We can create mini-opportunities throughout a unit of inquiry for students to choose to act, including what they might do to approach learning in more meaningful ways.


Inquiry cycle adapted from MYP From principles into practice (2014)

Featured Photo by Sašo Tušar on Unsplash

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Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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