Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

The Power of Reflection

The Power of Reflection

Lella Gandini, who serves as the liaison between the schools of Reggio Emilia and the United States, has made several visits to our Portland, Oregon area schools.   On one of those visits we asked her what she thought was truly distinctive about the schools for young children in Reggio Emilia.  Without hesitating she said, “reflection.”  

“The teachers and the children reflect on their work together as a regular practice to deepen everyone’s understanding—both children and adults– and to bring meaning to their experiences.”

At Opal School, we consider reflection as a way of deepening our understanding and bringing meaning to our experience.

We asked a group of Opal School fifth graders what they know about reflection and what they might like to share with adults about the power of reflection in their own learning.

Here is what they had to say:

Riley:  What I do is stop, take a deep breath and just notice.  Notice what just happened or what I’ve just written. 

Danny:  Ask questions… If you could ask questions it helps you go back and look at it so it could be really clear to you.

Max M:  Sometimes if people aren’t talking, asking questions and being engaged then it seems like they don’t care at all.

Riley:  I noticed.. I said reflecting is noticing and Senan said that reflecting is wondering.  That’s what we do at school…notice and wonder.

Maxx C:  Reflecting means going back on what… you’ve done and trying to get a little more out of it.

Ella:  Like the roots of a plant.  They look like (holds her hands close
together and squints) this.  When you get a magnifying glass you can see the little parts.  But at first you don’t see those little parts.  Reflection is like giving it a second glance but slowly.

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Taz drew an image to explain her thinking.  She imagines that the process of reflection takes you through a series of steps that expands your thinking.

First you see.  Notice what a small square she has drawn to illustrate the first step.  Then you wonder.  You ask questions.  The next steps involve accessing your own schema (what you know) and wondering about the schema of others (what they know).  As you do this, your understanding just keeps building and expanding.

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Bella’s imagery is a strip of Velcro.  The bottom section represents her original idea, which she describes as not very defined.
When she reflects, it adds more twists.  She says that now she has questions, hypotheses, wonderings.  Her reflection becomes a new layer of Velcro but this one is colorful and has all her new thoughts
about her original idea.

Both of these images describe reflection as a continuous, evolving
process of wondering and asking questions to deepen understanding. Taz
recognizes that an important part of reflection is wondering together with
others, to gather different points of view, multiple perspectives.  Taz and Bella’s reflections give visibility to the creative thinking and collaboration that can happen in our schools and communities.

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Danny drew an image that explains what he needs to reflect.  He asks questions.  Takes a second look.  The questions of others are helpful.  He adds that to be reflective, he has to care about the topic.

During their dialogue and drawings the children highlighted some strategies that support them to go into reflection.  Here we’ll share them with you…

Write in your journal:

Max M:  When you take notes, stop writing for one minute, read through your notes and think about what you wrote.

Slow Down:

Riley:  What I am doing is stopping, taking a deep breath and just noticing. 
Noticing what just happened or what I’ve just written.

Ask Questions:

Riley:  Asking questions, showing curiosity… asking a question most or all of the time helps you understand something  more.  It answers your sense of curiosity.  The thing inside you that asks questions will have more questions.  The more questions you ask the better your understanding of what you’re asking questions about.

 Talk with a Partner:

Max M:  You can do turn and talks.  Talk about what you think with someone

Ellie:  People need to talk to understand.

Use all your senses:

Max M:  Sometimes if people aren’t talking, asking questions and being engaged then it seems like they don’t care at all.  I think that… it’s true for me that when someone is demonstrating with a material.  It’s better than just talking because you have to use all of your senses.

Danny adds on another idea about reflection:

Reflection Can Make You Care

Danny:  It has to be something I care about or I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it in the first place… It’s what you think is important.

Reflection requires us to see and hear what’s before us in a state of
wonder.  To ask questions in place of seeking the ready answers.  To
be comfortable with uncertainty. And, perhaps, above all, reflection asks us to refrain from taking on the role of the critic, judge or skeptic who quickly
discards what he doesn’t yet understand. Reflection keeps the door open for new possibilities and interpretations to show up; to wonder about what’s going on with an open, playful curiosity.

An invitation:

An important part of reflection is having the opportunity to talk with others
about what we are experiencing, sharing ideas and considering multiple points of view.

Take some time this week to practice the power of reflection by trying out some of the approaches mentioned by children.

Extra Credit:  Recognizing and Valuing Our Emotional Intelligence

We’d like you to identify images and the spoken or written language found in our archives where you felt some emotion–  The places that touched you and/or surprised you.

Researchers in the fields of the social and neurosciences have noted that when we encounter situations that connect with our prior experiences and hold deep meaning for us, OR when we encounter situations that startle us, OR when we perceive a situation as threatening or dangerous, we feel emotion before our cognitive center – our rational brains – can process or analyze them.  We may not know why we have a specific feeling. Our emotional center has its own wisdom and it often kicks in faster than our rational center.

Before neuroscience informed us that emotion is integral to human intelligence, we often heard this referred to as women’s intuition.

Now we know that it is not the domain of only women – that emotional intelligence is part of the human capacity when we allow it to show up and we take the time to notice it and wonder about where it comes from. 

And, it holds tremendous potential when we support children to grow this intelligence and use it.

Pay attention to emotions  (such as joy, confusion, delight, distress, awe, surprise, tearfulness, sadness, and amazement.)  Jot down where this happened.  Write a little about the context and the emotion associated with it.

To sum this up,

Identify at least 3 times:

  •  Emotion was connected to your reading of Opal Online
  •  Write down the context. Where did this happen?
  • Label and describe the emotion.

Lastly consider:

What is the wisdom of this emotion?

What might this emotion tell you about…

  • how to move forward? 
  • what you care about? 
  • what you pay attention to? 
  • what you want to do next?

4 responses to “The Power of Reflection

  1. What powerful voices these children have. I am wondering if they have been in the school since Kindergarten because they show such a mature awareness of their learning. This piece actually made me feel quite emotional : excited at the possibilities for children but also a sadness that so many do not have this kind of education. I guess the wisdom of the emotion is that there is hope and we should never give up trying to provide this kind of reflection for teachers and children in our own settings. I think it was Carla Rinaldi who said that working in a reflective way that really listens to children is a challenge and that challenge is necessary in order to change. I need to remember that small steps are where to start!

  2. I was thrilled to be reminded of this! My colleague has experienced OPAL before, and I have seen her documentation. I had imagined it was done as Pre-School cannot easily record their thoughts. I created a living and non-living invitation of skulls, dead insects, shooting onions, flowers, and then I sat and watched and listened. The child would have wondered these things with or without me. What was interesting was I never answered one question, the child just kept wondering out loud. I kept recording, and more importantly, I read this reflection back to the class, and his head perked up, he engaged in a circle that is usually very hard for him to maintain focus in. Where he had previously refused to record an observation, he picked up a pencil and began to draw, “Yes, look, here, this is the insect I looked at.” he declared to the class.

  3. Slowing down. A great reminder to give students the time and opportunities they need to reflect. But also of great import is the spotlighting of these moments. I noticed teachers valuing student language and their thought process, not with an eye for being “correct”, but with an open acceptance of the journey to discovery.

  4. Wow, what an amazing reminder of how important reflection is not only for ourselves, but for our students. I found the quotes from 5th graders incredibly inspiring and so descriptive of how reflection help them experience deeper meaning/understanding. My favorite was “reflection can make you care,” especially with my kiddos it seems that many of them don’t care or want to take to the reflect and go deeper. They are in a hurry to get to the next project or activity. My goal for the remainder of the year is to slow down and encourage reflection.

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