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Increase reflection to strengthen program quality

By Anne Stevenson

Reflection is essential for learning. Creating opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences is a critical component to strengthening program quality, yet is often the most challenging to implement.

So why is it so hard to do in our programs?

We fall into the trap of thinking of reflection as something that can only be done at the end of a program session, and we often run short of time to finish an activity, let alone reflection. Most of us are not taught to be reflective learners nor are young people offered much opportunity to pause and reflect as part of their typical day or out-of-school program schedule.

Let's rethink reflection

We want to see it not as that 'thing' that comes at the end of the activity, but something intentional we do throughout our program time to build critical thinking skills and create meaning, value and wonder in learning. Youth program quality research tells us it's essential to look at what actually happens when youth and adults are together in the program space--at the point-of-service. We can strengthen these opportunities and interactions in multiple ways.

Try a new tool!

Use tools that reflect multiple intelligences and various learning styles. (Note that 'reflection' is often used interchangeably with the terms debriefing, processing, reviewing, or reflective learning). These resources offer a variety of reflection activities:

Four questions to ask yourself

Below are four indicators of youth opportunity for reflection. How would you respond?
  1. Do I use 2 or more strategies to encourage youth to share what they have done and reflect on their experiences, challenges, accomplishments (e.g., drawing, debriefing activities, use of props, using technology)?
  2. Do I create strategies that have youth work together and talk in teams of two, small groups, and large group settings?
  3. Do I circulate and ask youth to talk about their activity or progress as they are working on a project? Do I encourage youth to explain their thinking? Do I ask mostly open-ended questions?
  4. How do I give opportunities for youth to demonstrate how he/she solved a problem?
Reflection strengthens program quality and creates meaning in our experiences. What are a few small steps you might take to increase opportunity for reflection in your programming? Do you have a favorite resource or tool?

-- Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor

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  1. This is wonderful post, Anne. I find when meeting with our clubs and programs to review quality scoring this is one area that they often choose to follow up with ACTION. There are so many ways to incorporate reflection into our youth programming and you give a rich number of resources to consider. The two booklets have so many ideas to offer. I think we have made a big impact with coaching youth workers how they can bump up program quality with reflection. Even when staff is out of time for the day, they can get youth to vote with a Fist to Five what they thought about the days activities. For me the Active Reviewing resource is new, so thank you for adding to my resource list.

  2. excellent suggestions, even for me as a seasoned secondary teacher
    Thank you!

  3. Margo,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that small steps toward including more reflection can really have an impact, and even end-of-session quickies like Fist to Five help engage youth voice. What ideas have you used, Margo, for helping facilitators/group leaders be more reflective within the program time, as opposed to at the end of session?
    Glad to share a favorite in Roger Greenaway's is chock full of teaching strategies as well as actual tools he uses! let me know what you find that you like!

  4. Kay,
    Thanks for the comment and glad you found some useful tools! What do you think are some of the key strategies to engage HS aged youth in deeper reflection? Do you find them more likely or less likely to share reflections than younger students?


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