Project assignments are usually set as a task to encourage deep learning in an authentic setting, but students sometimes just see them as hurdles to be overcome, and approach them with the least effort. This mitigates against the targeted learning goals. A project often involves engaging students in solving multiple problems at different levels of abstraction. This intense engagement in problem solving can mask the learning achieved, unless it is made explicit.
Reflective writing is often used to reveal and make explicit the thinking involved in problem solving. When exposed, this thinking can lead to deeper and transformative learning. In the case of authentic projects, it is often the processes involved: planning, optimising time on task, recovering from error, ways of working effectively with others for example that are the desired learning outcomes. Awareness of these processes is fragile, so learning journals which record critical incidents are used to capture such thinking, close to the time of enactment. To make learning journals effective they need to be included in the assessment and woven into the project product: hence the term “double-sided” projects. One side is the “traditional” product such as an essay, a media production, a routine, or a model. The assignment is not complete without the “other side”: reflective writing that describes, links, theorises and has a transformative effect on the author.
- Write (or re-write) the assessment instrument and criteria to include a reflective writing “side” (see Resource 1). Rather than using the “raw” learning journals as the writing to submit, regard it as data from which a summary/abstraction is built. This second-order reflective writing becomes the other “side”.
- Provide a framework for students to write a private journal (see Resource 2) This can possibly be done online. The framework should encourage/reward regular contribution by students. Make sure that students can access and contribute to the journal easily. Establish routines for journal postings: the frequency and regularity of contribution (rather than the content) can be made assessable (easily checked if done online through a blog).
- Introduce the reflective writing to students, including: purpose, a memorable framework and exemplars.
- Provide practice in writing learning journals, perhaps using peers to assess this writing using the supplied criteria.
- Provide practice in writing a summary from the learning journal entries. Students can be directed to read journals (example ones and their own) as data to be mined. They should look for patterns and incidents that can be explained.
- Make sure that the project sides are submitted together.
Bain, J. D., Ballantyne, R., Mills, C., & Lester, N.C. (2002). Reflecting on practice: Student teachers’ perspectives. Flaxton: Post Pressed.
This pattern was initiated by Michael Ryan (Education).