How reflection creates student agency.
Game day was an overwhelming success. The students spent one day playing each others games and offering evaluations. Students then had time to review the feedback from their peers and make changes before their work was graded.
Throughout the project students prototyped their games and collected data to make sure that their games were functional. To test most of the students played the game themselves and found minor issues that they resolved.
Introducing their games to the public was a bit of shell shock. The creators quickly realized that their directions were unclear, the games did not flow and it interrupted engagement. There was a bit of panic when we first began, but students triaged their games and the day was a glorious celebration of hard work and civic knowledge.
After all games were played we enjoyed playing the games of the other 5 classes. This was extraordinarily fun and let the students discover the uniqueness of each class. After each class students would happily bounce out of the door to find their friends and give them feedback on their games. Many times whole groups of roaming 8th graders would clamor back into the room to go over the game rules, or proudly stand over their game with pride beaming out of their eyes.
As an educator it is always incredible when you see your students really learning and loving the experience. While the entire process was not loved by all, the end was magical.
The games are played during advisory and study hall. Every time there is free time students are in the room pulling out their friends games and reengaging with the systems of the Constitution.
When the afterglow had started to fade on the third day after the games were due we began the end events of our sprint. It was time for our third sprint retrospective.
Game Design Retrospective
The Sprint Retrospective is always done in class where the teams can meet face to face. In the hybrid learning landscape of 2021 that also includes through zoom and FaceTime. On the morning of our sprint review we review the questions that each person should answer and the intention behind them. It is important for students to come to the conclusion that there is purpose to a review and that it is not simply moving through the motions. I explicitly explain the purpose of the retrospective as well as provide them with a visual to remind them.
- Review the sprint in regards to people, relationships, processes and tools
- Identify and organize things that went well and potential improvements
- Create a plan to implement improvements to the way the student team does its work.
We usually begin the sprint retrospective by reviewing the Celebration Criteria and discussing how well the goals were accomplished. This immediately sparks a reflective conversation because students can go through the skills and content of the unit as conversation starters. They are honest with each other and do not hide issues when I come around. I am not evaluating them for the class, but helping to guide them into a deep reflection and they understand this. The conversations then begin to shift to the retrospective questions.
- What went well?
- What can or must be improved?
- What should we no longer do?
- Which positive actions will we take with us to the next sprint?
Each student answers the questions in front of their team and the conversation blossoms. There is an accountability and transparency that comes with this discussion. The team already knows what the best points were, they know where they struggled and what impediments must be addressed for the next sprint. There is only honesty in these discussions because the team has been accountable to each other for the entire sprint.
The interesting part of this conversation always revolves around “What positive actions will we take with us to the next sprint?” Even though the students are tired and have just raced to deliver their final increment their eyes are shining with anticipation. Every sprint they are getting better working in teams, managing their time, communicating and collaborating through FaceTime and zoom. Each retrospective brings more for the students to celebrate. New issues arise as the work gets more rigorous.
The work incrementally gets harder, but the skills they are employing are getting easier. The real education is sinking in and students are finding ways to self-organize, manage their time, prioritize work, and deliver on schedule. These are far greater skills that knowing what Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 states, or reciting how a bill becomes a law.
After the group meeting student conduct their own retrospectives individually. They must use the same celebration criteria and questions to fully reflect on their role in the sprint. These reflections are personal and only shared with the two of us. This is a completely private interaction between myself and the students. In creating this level of trust the students tell me details of the sprint that I could not otherwise know. They communicate authentically about their own actions, and responsibilities. Nine out of ten times the individual reflections of the group are incredible similar. They all tell the same story of the sprint while taking the responsibility for different increments.
Student Voice in Curriculum Development
The last part of the retrospective is not an Eduscrum protocol. For me, this is teaching gold. The kind of thinking and reflection that changes the next unit.
Students are prompted to give me constructive criticism of the unit from the their point of view.
What did they like? Not like? What would they change and HOW.
The How is the most important part. It is always easy to criticize the work of others, but putting in the time to describe the how shows the students are taking their time to really think about the assignments. It also allows me to see if they truly understand the learning objectives and the intention behind my design.
The students constructive criticism drives the planning of the next sprint. If they truly loved a learning experience I will try to create something similar. If they felt that a certain aspect was time intensive, but did not deliver meaningful results, I will not repeat it. Their feedback shapes the next unit, lesson and idea.
Student voice has dramatically changed the way I design units, from delivery methods, to end products. They are free to offer their advise about rubrics, team organization, checkpoints, assessments and writing prompts. As long as they are respectfully offering their perspective and brainstorming ideas I am happy to adapt the next sprint to their learning needs.
Students know that time is taken to read every single retrospective. Sometimes if there is unexpected information we have a one to one meeting to clarify and discuss. If students develop new ideas in their retrospectives I may share them with the class, with their permission. The new ideas spark ideas in others and help constantly create exciting and innovative curriculum. This is a great source of knowledge for me that keeps my curriculum ever changing and adapting to the students that I have.
Empowerment through reflection
It is incredibly important that students understand the purpose and significance of the retrospective. While they know that one of my goals this year is for them to build better metacognition, this is not what is on their mind during this exercise. However, through listening to conversations, asking clarifying questions and reading their individual reflections it is clear this metacognitions skills are growing each day. The students are deeply thinking about how they function in a team, how to communicate clearly and delegate work in a way that works for the entire team.
Each time we conduct a retrospective the practice is deliberate. Students know that it is a serious exercise for reflection and driving our future sprints in a positive manner. The face to face are discussions are open and honest. Students speak from their experience as a member of a team and reflect on the relationships and communication. In their individual retrospectives students are transparent about the process and their learning experience with me. Through this event students are able to reflect on multiple levels. They process the actions of the group and their responsibility as an individual. Students do not recognize that reflection is a necessary step in learning, but they do value opening a channel of communication. Most importantly, students seem to love this event because they know their voice is being heard and their opinion is valuable. Their thoughts, ideas, and learning styles drive the class and for part of their day they have control of their learning environment.
This is why they are so proud. Why they master skills and dive into content. Why their games are imaginative, engaging and unique. They have a voice in their learning and our retrospectives are an integral part of our classroom.