“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”John Dewey
I recently had the pleasure of talking with one of our fifth-grade learners at The Village School who is getting ready to make the transition to the middle school studio. As we chatted, he shared some of his thoughts about his growth and progress over the past few years. He said, “I wasn’t as focused last year and I let a lot of distractions slow me down. Because of that, I’ve had to work extra hard this year. I know middle school is going to be really challenging and I definitely learned what NOT to do if I want to meet my goals and stay on track. I can still have fun, but I have to do the work each day too.”
In a learning model like ours, young people are given the opportunity to be trusted with their own learning. It’s easy to do when you sit next to a learner, like the one above, who can provide such clear insights and lessons learned from this opportunity they are given. It can be a lot more difficult when you’ve yet to see them connect these dots.
Like anything, being able to “connect the dots” comes from practice. It takes repeated practice to learn how to thoughtfully reflect on your experiences. It’s also developmental. Younger learners are most suited to reflect on something that just happened, or that happened yesterday. Eventually, the time spans get longer- we can look back at the last week or the last month. Eventually, we can look back over a longer period of time- thinking about who we were and what we were capable of earlier in the school year, or last year, and compare and contrast that to who we are today.
Growth over time is the goal. But even more than that is our young people’s ability to measure and assess that themselves. There is no greater tool than practiced reflection to solidify this connection.
Through practice, they will get there. Once they do, their ability to reflect and learn from their experiences will blow you away. Take a look at last month’s end-of-session reflections from the learners in our elementary studio (ages 8-11).
In experiential learning, making space for reflection is paramount. It’s the antidote to mindlessness, in which we just keep plodding forward in “go mode” with no conscious awareness of what it is we’re actually experiencing. Reflection is how we learn life-worthy lessons- lessons that we tuck in our back pocket, ready to be used at moment’s notice, lessons that we wear in our stance, perhaps with a new aura of confidence or self-assurance, and hopefully, lessons that can be applied to whatever experiences await.