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Why Do We Reflect?

“We focus on the outside world in education and don’t look much at inwardly focused reflective skills and attentions, but inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts. So what are we doing in schools to support kids turning inward?”

-- Helen Immordino-Yang, Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Southern California

At Wooster, reflection is a big part of what we do because we agree with Dr. Immordino-Yang, and understand that we learn more, and forget less, when we’ve had a chance to “think again,” “mull it over,” or even “sleep on it.” Like many an old adage, these express something we’ve always known to be true, but now also have the science to back up. Ever more frequently our teachers are providing the time for students to reflect in class, and are asking them to do so in many different ways. We take this time because we know that when done consistently and well it helps the learning stick.

According to an article about Dr. Immordino-Yang’s and her research published by the Association for Psychological Science, “when children are given the time and skills necessary for reflecting, they often become more motivated, less anxious, perform better on tests, and plan more effectively for the future. And mindful reflection is not just important in an academic context – it’s also essential to our ability to make meaning of the world around us. Inward attention is an important contributor to the development of moral thinking and reasoning and is linked with overall socioemotional well-being.”

At Wooster, we aren’t just talking about how schools can do a better job preparing our students to be better thinkers, learners, and people -- or nibbling around the edges of the same old curriculum with the same methodologies -- we’re taking the science and putting it into action. Our Days of Reflection, like the one we are having today, are an opportunity for students and faculty to reflect together about some bigger picture goals related to skill and disposition development. They are also a great time for community dialogue about our shared struggles and successes. As faculty members, we are always impressed with the depth of thinking that happens on these days, and how willing these digital natives are to slow down and think about their aspirations and progress. Students have fun with it, and they learn from it. They also like the crumbcake we serve. And yes, I’ll have a big piece too. As I said, no nibbling around here.

Additional Information:

Last year at the conference for Heads of School sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Immordino-Yang’s speak about emotions, learning and the brain, which also happens to be the title of her book. I learned a lot from her that day. If you are interested, check out this TedX talk which is a shortened version of the talk she gave:

Really fun fact for you parents who are stressing about things like college majors and careers. Take a guess what this affective neuroscientist and human development psychologist studied as an undergraduate?

French Literature.

It’s all about the learning and the journey…….

Posted by Matt Byrnes in Learning, Thinking on Wednesday November, 30, 2016 at 08:30AM


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Matt Byrnes

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

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The story of a 12 year-old Nepalese girl who is sold into slavery in the sex trade of India. Based upon true accounts. Tough to read, but important to read as well because human trafficking is a real, and growing, problem.

Non-fiction for Fun:

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel J. Brown

Great story and some very interesting history.

An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson

The first two books of the Liberation Trilogy will teach you a lot about the evolution of our involvement in World War Two.

About School, Thinking, Teaching, Learning, etc.:

Why Children Don’t Like School, Daniel Willingham

Lots of neuroscience well-connected to the life of school, teaching, and learning.

Make it Stick, Peter Brown, et al.

More neuroscience but a deeper dive into how we (and students) can “forget less” if we make some changes to our behaviors, routines, and assessments. Our faculty read this past summer.

Leadership, Innovation, and making things work:

The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

How successful start-ups and innovators work.

Things a Little Bird Told Me, Biz Stone

Twitter Founder writes about his journey -- a great read for any teenager or parent of one.

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