Scaffolding Student Reflection

Tim Fredrick has two great posts about the capability of his students to reflect (or not reflect) during portfolio evaluation meetings. By recording all his students portfolio meetings, he was able to analyze the data and come up with types of “reflective”( and “non-flective”) utterances:


1. Process – Reflective Type – The student reflects on his own personal process in completing the assignment. “This is my character sketch and this was a really difficult assignment for me. I had a lot of trouble starting and thinking about what I wanted my character to be like.” This differs from its non-reflective counterpart in that it discusses the student’s own process and the student reflects on the positive and negative experiences he had with the piece of writing.
2. Criterion-Based Assessment – The student compares his work to criteria discussed in class. “I did well on my character sketch because I was able to show how my character was mean instead of telling the reader he was mean.” He may or may not point to evidence in the text; being able to point to specific examples in the text that correspond to the criteria is preferred and considered more reflective.
3. Growth Over Time – The student compares two different pieces of work and shows how one is better by comparing it to a previous piece of work that was not as good. “You can see here that I did better with my freewriting because this first piece of freewriting in September I couldn’t write nonstop, but in December you can see that I wrote non-stop for the entire 15 minutes.”

These are tremendously helpful to me as I think about how to incorporate portfolio assessment into my plans for next year. I have to admit, while I have understood the purpose of portfolios on a theoretical level, I have never quite been able to make the leap to making them practically useful for my students (or for my students to get the value, for that matter). I am thinking part of that failure was that I never really considered what I wanted my students to do with the portfolios. Tim’s posts helped me see part of that.

One of the strategies I was taught to use to help students learn to have complex, meaningful, and rigorous conversations was the use of “sentence starters.” These are particularly helpful when I ask a student to share and they say something like, “Someone already said what I wanted to say.” In this situation I can point the student to a list on the wall with suggestions like:

  • “I agree with ________, but I also think…”
  • “I agree with ________, and in addition…”
  • “I agree with ________, it’s kind of like [something else we’ve discussed]”

These starters work as a scaffold to help students discuss concepts and ideas without the necessity of prompting from a teacher.

With the excellent data Tim has provided, I can see how a similar strategy would probably work to help student develop the capability to speak, write, and think reflectively. These also would make great journal prompts to be used throughout the semester, building towards the final portfolio reflection. Here’s the sentence starters I would use:

  • “This was a really difficult/challenging assignment for me because…”
  • “This was a really easy assignment for me because…”
  • “In this assignment, we were supposed to [insert criteria]. You can see evidence of this in my work when I…”
  • “This assignment improved on my work in [earlier assignment] by…”
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