It is the spring semester now, and that means I get to teach my psychology classes. I really love the depths that I can go to in understanding and helping students understand how human beings work. Early on, we are discussing the historical growth of psychology and we learned today about one of the most important tools any human being can possess: Introspection.
Introspection is the act of looking into one's self, one's own personal motivations, emotions, and behaviors to better understand yourself. In education, we take to calling this reflection. As teachers, we ask students to reflect on their work, and we in turn expect our peers to thoughtfully reflect on their practices.
The truth is, many of our students do not know how to engage in real meaningful introspection because one limiting factor is age. You have to have experiences to reflect on them, and many of our youngest pupils have a limited toolbox there. And a reflection need not always be written- though I think writing introspections has tremendous value- because you are really just helping students learn to process. But there are still ways to introspect- or reflect- with students that model this practice regardless of the age.
How does that make you feel?
One of the most basic practices is to ask how a thing makes you feel. In order to get away from the basics (sad, mad, glad, etc.) ask your younger students to pick our a marker or crayon color that shows how they feel. Let them explain why they chose that color. As students get older, and experiences grow, you can dive deeper into those feelings, asking questions like "Is there another time you have felt like that? How do they relate to each other?"
Why do you believe what you believe?
The dreaded "why" we get from our young ones can be used against them! When students share a thought, ask why they think that. It is important that your intonation is one of genuine curiosity, and not disappointment. As students get older, explaining the importance of knowing why you believe something is just as important as stating what you believe is vital. Just listen to a teenager complain about something political with great passion, then ask them why they think that. Again, not as a "gotcha," but to genuinely understand their point of view. It will also force the student to evaluate just how dearly they hold that view.
Interestingly enough, the most effective way I have found to help students understand why the believe in what they believe in is to make them argue against it. When a student is passionately for gun control and they have to debate against it- they do not often change opinions, but instead deepen and strengthen their original stance. The introspection is increased because it is attempting to understand the other side, and evaluate how best to support their own views- or change them if in error.
The bottom line is- we need to evaluate our selves and see where we stand on a regular basis whether we are first grade or forty years into teaching. Learning to honestly assess our own feelings is a necessary skill, and one we need to teach more often.