The musical Fiddler on the Roof is a favorite of mine. It tells the story of a Jewish family living in Imperial Russia in the 1900s. The main character, Tevye, is a poor milkman who dreams of giving his family a rich life and successful marriages for his five daughters. I love this production for many reasons; the music is inspired, and there’s much to learn from the story. Tevye breaks the 4th wall often during the performance, speaking directly to the audience throughout the show when he has big decisions to make. In these classic scenes, we see actors on stage freeze, and time seems to stop. Tevya grapples with his choices, often repeating “...on the other hand…” as he reflects on the pros and cons of the decision before him. While these moments provide some comic relief and deeper insight into his character, I think they depict an essential human truth (as all great art does): sometimes, we just need to take a minute to think.
Reflection is a key part of how our brains are designed to learn. John Dewey is famously quoted as saying, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Yet, according to experts, we often don’t take much time in our classrooms for reflection. As George Couros says in his book, Innovate Inside the Box, “Reflection time is something that should be seen as vital to learning in education. But is that how it is always treated? More often than not, in North America, reflection is too often seen as ‘nice to have’ but not a necessity” (Couros, p. 206).
Let’s take an inventory. How often do we invite our students to reflect deeply upon their learning of a particular subject? How their learning has shaped them as a person? On making connections about how their learning of our content relates and matters to God’s world? Or on their own journey as part of God’s story? If we are honest, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we don’t have enough time for deep classroom reflection. However, research shows that the ability to reflect is essential for understanding and processing new information. Meaning for learning to truly happen, reflection is not optional–it must be mandatory.
In his book Beyond Biblical Integration, Dr. Roger Ervig makes a strong case for the Biblical connection to reflection. He explains: “Jesus’s ministry of teaching was marked by a commitment to processing experiences. He led his disciples to encounter jaw-dropping, paradigm-busting experiences like feeding thousands from virtually nothing, healing a man born blind, and upending tables loaded with goods and money in the temple courts. But he also regularly pulled away from the action to process those experiences with his pupils…This created a powerful iterative cycle of experience followed by processing” (Ervig, 2021, pp. 140-141).
So, where do we begin? Luckily, there are many resources available for teachers to create well-crafted reflection questions for students. But we can also challenge ourselves to imagine how reflection can take many forms in school, not just journaling or written reflections. Class discussions, artwork depictions, writing music, performing poetry, and creating dioramas could all be unique invitations to reflecting in class if we are courageous enough to try (Ervig, 2021).
Now, it’s easy for this to feel like just one MORE thing to be done in the classroom. But, rather than feeling bogged down, perhaps we should think about some of the activities we are already doing that could be tweaked into opportunities for reflection. Perhaps a daily ‘bell ringer’ activity or exit ticket strategy could be harnessed and used more intentionally for reflection. What other daily, weekly, or monthly classroom rhythms could be used to include some student ownership and as reflective activities? And this isn’t just for teachers. Administrators, do you invite teachers into regular times of reflection? What activities or strategies could you bring to your teacher agendas or meetings that could invite a more profound time of reflection for learning?
Tevye gives an example of our need to, at times, just stop and think for a minute. Jesus, as always, displays the perfect example of this human need as he gave his disciples and himself regular time away to process, reflect, and pray. May we follow His example and make time for our students and ourselves to do the same.
Reflection Resource from Clemson University:
Reflection Resource from Edutopia:
Couros, G. & Novak, K. (2019). Innovate Inside the Box (IMpress).
Ervig, R. (2021). Beyond Biblical Integration. (Summit Ministries).