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Guide to Contextual Learning Projects

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Discussion: Reflection Questions

Reflection writing is used to help students consolidate what they know and to expand on ideas and insights.

  • Questions that “consolidate knowledge” ask students to summarize and describe activities, review vocabulary and concepts, and assess, compare and contrast information they have gathered.
  • Questions that “expand ideas and insights” ask students to offer opinions, brainstorm, predict, analyze, evaluate ideas and explore ideas.

These approaches may be applied to pre-writing activities that take place at the beginning of a project and to reflections and journal writing that take place throughout the project. Techniques for helping writing to flow easily include:

Write a list... As a writing prompt, ask students to write a list – such as a list of 5 questions, 5 key facts, 5 vocabulary terms or 10 tips.

Express your opinion… Provide questions that allow students to explore a variety of points of view and avoid those where students will feel that they “ought to” answer a certain way. For example, questions like “what can you do to reduce global warming…” or “how can you improve your eating habits” feel like “ought-to questions” and do not allow students very much room to explore their own ideas. Students are likely to be more engaged by questions like “why do people disagree on this issue?” or “in your opinion, what approaches to public policy (or public education) would be most effective in addressing this issue?” or simply “write a dialogue between two people who hold opposing viewpoints.”

Imagine a scenario… Ask students to imagine a particular scenario – an interview, presentation, video project, writing project, etc. – and outline what they would say. One of the strengths of contextual learning is that students actually DO have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-life settings, such as making a presentation to a community audience, writing a brochure or developing a video about their topic. They can also “rehearse” for these real-life settings by writing about what they will say in various scenarios or project settings.

Empower yourself… Ask questions that help students think about what they would do and what goals they would set if they could eliminate barriers, or “have a magic wand,” or have abundant resources to address an issue. For example, “Imagine that you had a $5000 grant to address this community issue…. What would you do with this money?” or “Imagine that you were designing a program for elementary school children about this topic. What would you include in the program?”

Examples of pre-writing activities:

  • Write ten questions about the topic.
  • Read background information and write an outline of key facts.
  • Read background information and write a list of vocabulary and key terms.
  • Have you worked on projects/activities related to this theme before? If yes, describe what you have done. If no, describe what you expect to see and learn.

    Examples of reflective writing activities:

  • Did this project confirm any previously-held beliefs or expectations?
  • Did you learn anything that surprised you?
  • What skills did you exercise in this project?
  • Choose a controversial question related to this project and write a dialog between two people debating the topic.

Some basic principles: Reflection writing prompts should be respectful of the students, age-appropriate, allow diverse answers, and be consistent with your instructional and assessment goals. Look at the “Browse Techniques and Strategies” section of the Contextual Learning Portal for more ideas.