Helen and I have had another fun day of talking about portfolio thinking and learning. During our conversations at The Center for Advanced Technology in Education this morning, we eventually settled into a conversation about one of the most critical pieces of portfolios that seems to have received the least amount of attention: reflection. I showed her the "Recipes for Reflection" that Randy Bachmeier and I developed for using with the Teacher Education students at MSU-Northern when prompting them to think about their portfolios. I have started adding these on a section of this site. These "recipes" are ways for teachers to jump start student thinking or their own work in a structured way that often helps them get their heads wrapped around what is being asked of them. I've often thought about these kinds of scaffolds like such: if I give someone a blank piece of paper and tell them to "draw me a masterpiece", many people might feel overwhelmed and rather daunted staring at the paper with no directions. They may baulk. But if I give them some guided preparation to point their brains toward a creative source from which they may draw upon their powerful pattern-making brains (yes, I believe that EVERYONE is pretty creative), they will TAKE OFF. I believe that's a paradox of creativity: unscaffolded and inexperienced, we often get tripped up before we can even begin... but give us some bumpers on either side of the road and we'll take off on down the road. I think that a lot of teachers who teach students to be reflective and those who want their students to create reflective portfolios have developed reflective prompts, or "recipes" for their students - though they may not call them that.
The best way to see yourself learn is to see yourself WHILE you learn. Good reflection probably also happens at the right time in the right place. If we teach students how to do a heart transplant, we may not want to wait until three days later to ask them to reflect on the experience. We actually might not want to wait until the heart transplant is complete for the reflection either, but rather to get AT what a student is thinking while they do the learning, it might be a good idea to do it in stages... but the timing is important. It may not be a good idea for me to disrupt my heart transplanter student with prompts to "reflect on their process" during the middle of a delicate operation - but it might be a good idea to get AT their thinking in stages - say, when they've completed sewing up the left front ventricle. The idea of "chunking" up reflections to be proximal (close in space) and contingent (close in time) to the learning experience might be relevant to the quality of the reflection, itself. I don't actually know if this is true, but it's a hypothesis.
Reflecting upon Reflection... like turning the mirror upon itself and looking within. It's a way to see the infinite.