After an interesting conversation this morning, I was inspired to write about a simple tool I have recently been using and recommending for reflection. During the conversation, I laughed as I spoke of my wish that I had understood the value of reflecting while training as a teacher. I, like most, was required to reflect daily on the calibre and quality of learning being planned and delivered. Those reflections were on a subject-by-subject, lesson-by-lesson basis, using a strict template of prompt questions that focused on behaviour, classroom management, resources, and preparedness. Only now, over ten years later and having developed a strong understanding of who I am as a reflective practitioner, have I finally had the opportunity to take stock and share the value of reflecting on practice to inform practice.
And so, I thought I would take the opportunity to share a simple method of reflection and analysis that may help to extend and deepen thinking following professional learning and development or even some reflection after teaching.
The power of the Cloud
At conferences, the laptops are out, the tablets shine, and the bandwidth usage is often off the scale. Very few venues have the capacity to cope with hundreds of delegates collaboratively working in the Cloud, sharing ideas, and thinking on a variety of media. So, here’s something for the furious note takers among us (me included). Do everything you would normally do. Write notes, grab phrases, unpack thinking, and share questions. Whether on a Google Doc or any other word-processing document, keep typing, thinking, and asking. But here’s where you could do something a little bit different — Word Clouds.
How often do we revisit notes and reflections and struggle to make connections with what we have written? As soon as any time is allowed to pass, the busy world of teaching means the to-do list engulfs anything that seemed relevant or new just a few days previously. Recently, I began to think about ways to summarise reflections and notes into purposeful statements to encapsulate new learning. It took a while, but then I found something that worked for me. Word Clouds. They are very simple, as the hard part of typing and note taking has already been done. Copy and paste the words into a simple word cloud generator (see below for links) and pick out the keywords that come through the generated image. Be careful to use a generator that makes common words more prevalent over one that chooses randomly, as it will nullify the effect.
It’s time to put my money where my mouth is, so below is me following the process with this blog post so far. And here’s the result:
‘Reflections need to analyse new practice. Simple notes typed around a subject should lead to questions and sharing, examination of new opportunities to inform the learning and add value to practice.’
So is that it? A pretty image that I can pop into my PD folder and draw from at a later date? No. But, we’re halfway there. The next stage is to create a simple statement based around the dominant words and reflect on any surprises seen. Something like…
There are many words I was surprised to see as coming out much smaller. ‘Encapsulate, different, struggle, interesting, process’. It’s not my intention to suggest that some of them are any less relevant, but they are perhaps not the key messages I have taken away from this writing.
From a transferable perspective, the simplicity of this process shifts easily to the student domain. Some possible uses outside of learners summarising their own reflections could be:
- Summarising longer texts within reading to find key ideas.
- Using word clouds to analyse longer student writing, eg, recounts.
- Finding commonalities after surveying students.
In working through this process with learners, I have found the challenge of lies within how much guidance they have needed to formulate their sentences using the key words drawn from the word cloud. This, in itself, is a skill, and requires a level of understanding beyond the surface. However, once grasped, learners are able to summarise and assimilate new information as well as reflect on the key message that comes through their writing.
It’s a simple tool whereby clouds can actually bring clarity.
Word cloud generators
- Wordle (Make sure you are using a browser that supports NPAPI plug-ins to allow Java to run).
- Jason Davies wordcloud
- WordItOut (Not the prettiest generator but very easy to use and very functional).
- Wordclouds.com (Creates beautifully shaped clouds but a little fiddlier than others. Worth persevering with).