Reflection is an essential part of learning. In fact, reflection actually influences brain development.
One of the experts on this is Abigail Baird, a professor of psychology at Vassar College. Earlier this year, she delivered a presentation at the University of Minnesota's Howland Symposium on Trends in Adolescent Brain Development: Implications for Youth Practice and Policy. In it, she stressed the importance of encouraging youth to think of experiences and consequences of actions as a bodily response. What does your gut tell you?
"Teenagers are a work in progress - it is a learning process. As an adolescent, it's hard to interpret what is happening in your body," explains Baird. The brain begins to recognize discomfort and tries to put the feelings into context. This discomfort is what drives you to resolve the feelings and travel through the experience. There is a part of the brain called the insula, which regulates and listens to the abdominal area, and develops as youth work through the decision-making process. Dr. Baird emphasizes the importance of asking youth what they are feeling during these experiences -- encouraging them to reflect upon them.
Many times, we as youth workers design activities with reflection at the end, as a final check on learning and assessment of engagement. Reflection is also compartmentalized in many program planning models. If we instead incorporate reflection throughout an activity or planning process, we enhance the effectiveness of reflection and true youth engagement.
Shelley H. Billig writes in her article, Unpacking What Works in Service-Learning - Promising Research-Based Practices to Improve Student Outcomes, "The power of reflection can be strengthened considerably if reflection both becomes ongoing and involves more cognitive challenge. Ongoing reflection occurs before, during, and after service and features multiple forms of reflection: written, oral, and nonlinguistic". Although Billig's work is focused on service learning, youth engagement through reflection is vital in creating positive learning environments throughout formal and nonformal educational settings.
The power of reflection is strong. Not only is reflection a tool used for engagement of youth or an evaluation of an activity, but it is necessary for healthy brain development. Have you seen the power of reflection in youth development?
-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator, educational design and development
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