You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 55 - why task reflections, also called ‘critical reflections’ are an absolutely golden opportunity to boost marks not just in the reflection, but also in the major assignment piece itself. Stay tuned to hear how.
Hello Very Important Parents! If you listened to last week’s episode, you probably know what I’m going to start out with here today. Yes, it’s an update on the podcast downloads, and YES, we crossed 10,000 downloads on the podcast!
We are up to 10,142 downloads as I record this, and so I want to give a big shout out to everyone who shared the podcast with friends and family, or left a rating and review. I do know that it takes a conscious decision to do it. It only takes a few seconds, but the decision to do it is the key, and I acknowledge that and appreciate you doing it. AND it’s not too late to do that if you haven’t and it’d be awesome if you did.
Also, I want to publicly say a massive thank you to all of you long time listeners who have been a part of that 10,000 - and to anyone who’s just found me and this podcast - a big welcome to you and I hope you enjoy going back through the 50+ episodes and finding insights, tips and strategies that help to you to support your teen in their study.
So, for today - a segue from numbers on the podcast stats to numbers on your teen’s assessment mark or report card…
And there’s a particular type of task that I especially want to focus on and help with today, and that is the critical reflection. These are the small but not at all insignificant tasks that your teen might be set alongside or right after a bigger assessment. A reflection - or sometimes I’ve seen them called a critical reflection - is a short piece of writing that your teen does that reflects on or explains or critiques the main task they have completed. So not a reflection on another text or some other source that someone else has written or painted or created, but a reflection on their own work.
One example I’ve seen a few times is a reflection on a narrative. So your teen writes the narrative - the short story - and then they write a reflection that explains what they wrote, how they wrote it and why. Specifically, they explain and analyse the choices they made. So this is very meta, writing about your writing, but it’s actually not that hard and it has a double-whammy opportunity in it that I’ll explain in a moment.
Because if you can’t already tell… I REALLY like these tasks. Honestly I really do think every student should see this as a great opportunity rather than an extra piece of work. It is an extra piece of work, but it doesn’t need to be difficult AND I believe it’s an opportunity to scoop up more marks in the actual main piece of writing they’re reflecting on. Because the reflection means that the marker can see the thought and reasoning and meaning within what your teen has written. It’s like for ONCE the marker actually gets to see all the effort and thought that went into something because the student gets to write about it and tell them. Because you know those times when your teen has spent hours and hours and hours on a task and you just wish that the marker knew what truly went into it. Well, with a reflection, they do. Not that they’re going to tell them - ‘hey, I spent 6 hours on this’ (or for some students I know it’s more like 16 hours) but by explaining all the devices and techniques and features they’ve used that - especially those that maybe weren’t ‘hit someone over the head’ obvious - they do get to share some of that.
So, here are the two reasons why I like reflections - and then I’ll also share a few practical how-to’s on how your teen can optimise each of them to their benefit.
Reason number one is that knowing they have to write a reflection forces your teen to make strategic and meaningful decisions about what they’re writing and how they’re writing it, which means they need to properly plan the writing in the first place. And that is ALWAYS a good thing.
Your teen should always be planning any extended response. So, for the example I’m using as the narrative, it’s encouraging the right groundwork for a higher quality narrative - the structure, the content, teh devices and techniques, how it meets the specific requirements of the narrative task. Now, the extra bonus to planning in this case, as well as the usual benefit of a clear, well structured, higher quality final piece that is also then easier and faster to write, is that the plan is now a resource to base the reflection on. So the reflection will also now be clear and high quality and easier to write too. Because the intentionality of the plan, what’s written in what way and why is basically what’s required to be analysed in the reflection. So reason one is that it encourages planning and more strategic decisions which create a higher quality piece of writing for the main task.
Reason number two is that there may well be some things that went into the writing, into the original task, that the marker wouldn’t be aware of if it wasn’t explicitly explained. I had an example of this a few years ago when I was coaching a student on their narrative for English and the main character’s name had a special meaning. Now, it was a foreign name and the story was about a migrant, so I thought the student had just chosen a name randomly from that country. I had no idea that the name meant something. But when I read their reflection, I realised that they had intentionally chosen that name to add to the theme of the story.
I wish I could remember what it actually was to be able to share it with you, but it was about 3 or 4 years ago now. But it was something like the name was a flower, which represented growth and life, or it was a word that meant freedom in the other language, or something like that. And so that was a strategic decision by the student in their original narrative that would count as a narrative device or as characterisation, as it is symbolic, and that carries marks. Not necessarily by itself, but as part of a whole consideration of the devices and techniques used. So not only could that explanation and analysis get marks in the reflection itself, it might also boost marks in the actual narrative assessment as the teacher now knows about that element in the story - something they may not have necessarily picked up without that reflection.
Okay, so, if they’re so important, and can bring big boosts to marks, how does your teen write a crazy-good critical reflection? Now, a reminder that I’m not an English specialist teacher. I do often see these reflections accompanying English tasks but also see them a lot in other subjects too, especially in the arts subjects - like Dance, Drama, visual art, photography. Because these are where students are justifying and explaining their artistic choices.
So I’m sharing these tips and this advice from the perspective of an examiner, coursework marker and study coach. Because they write the reflection like they would for any other analytical extended response. They write it like they would if they were analysing a short story written by a famous author, or if they were analysing a dance from a professional choreographer. Because that’s exactly what this is: an analysis of a text or an artwork or a performance. It’s just that it’s not Shakespeare’s text or Picasso’s artwork; it’s theirs.
So they need to identify a range of specific devices, techniques and features that they have used and explain and analyse them. Now how long the reflection is, is going to determine how many features they are going to analyse, but they need to discuss a range of them. So, if we’re considering the narrative task, then they’ll want to choose a variety of types of techniques, so that would be across aesthetics, structure, language, like I said, I’m no English-expert, but hopefully you get the idea- and they ideally want to have those from across their text, so something from the beginning, middle and end. This is discerning selection of evidence. Your teen wants to strategically select which features in their writing they will analyse, in order to show a range of skills AND, importantly also select ones that show how they met the requirements of the original task.
For example maybe they had to write a narrative about a particular theme - so they’d be best off selecting devices and features and techniques that relate in some way to the theme.That way they can explain the links and they can justify how they have used them in relation to the original task requirements.
Hopefully you can now see even more, why it’s so important that they had a clear and detailed plan to start with when they set out on the original task. If they made these things up as they went, then yes, they can still justify their choices and explain the features, but it will be harder to analyse them in relation to the overall purpose of the piece. It’s doing that which will raise their mark in the reflection AND increase the likelihood that they might also pick up some additional marks on their original piece.
I hope that this might persuade you and your teen that although a reflection is an extra thing to do, it’s actually an awesome opportunity to boost their marks. And I hope it also gives some clarity on how to write the reflection AND is an extra reason for your teen to plan both their original extended task AND also plan the reflection what with it being an extended response too.
Have a wonderful week ahead, and I’ll see you back here next week!