End of Year Learning: Helping Young People Self-Reflect in Class/Counselling Sessions at the end of the school year

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These days part of my role involves supporting a team of people to work it with young people.  This means I get to read delightful publications such as the Harvard Business Review - something I never imagined myself doing many years ago!  However it seems I can't take off my "clinical psychologist hat" - while I'm reading these articles thoughts often come to mind about how the concepts apply to working with young people directly.

For instance, I've just been reading about what organisational psychologists call: "Post implementation reviews" which from my (albeit limited) understanding thus far seem to be the process of reviewing a project with a team after it is completed.  From the length of the article I'm assuming there must be more to them than this (?) but apparently doing a PIR (yes - there is an acronym :)) after the completion of a project significantly improves the performance of the team in their next project, even if the projects are unrelated.

This has made me think about the "PIR's" we do as professionals with children and teens about their school year.  As it draws to a close, I regularly spend time with the young people I work with asking them to reflect on what the year was like for them and what they'd like to do next year.  I believe these conversations often help them - socially, emotionally and academically - in the following year.

If you are working with children/teens in a classroom setting, or in a counselling room, it might be worth putting some time aside to help them self-reflect on their year.

Here's how to do your own PIR (see, now it's part of your vocab too) with child/teens you work with. 

1. Set up the conversation

Many kids and teens are not initially particularly interested in reflecting on their school year (as you know many kids/teens are fairly focused on non-school related excitements!).   Instead of simply setting the assignment for young people I work with, I always try to help them see the benefits of the conversation and understand why I'm asking them to have it with me.

For example, depending on the age of the child or teen, I say things like:

I'd like to have a quick conversation/get you to do a short activity about the school year and how you felt about it.  I'm really interested in how it felt to you, and what you think you'd like to keep doing - or do differently - next year.

In my work, I always find I learn something from thinking back on the year and how it went, and it helps if someone asks me questions.  I'd like to give you the opportunity to do this to and so I've come up with some questions.

2. Facilitating rather than providing input

As I'm sure you are well aware, kids and teens are pretty sensitive to picking up when conversations have "lectures" sneakily hidden in the middle.   They often then feel annoyed or switch off.  I really try to avoid using this conversation and activity as a way of providing advice or therapeutic input - and simply provide facilitation of the process.

I try to take a curious, interested and supportive stance and use comments like:

That's interesting...tell me more about...
What a great level of insight you have.
I can see you've thought really hard about....
Hmm...can you tell me exactly when/what you mean by....


3. Prepare questions to ask

Kids and teens are not always skilled at reflecting without specific guidance.  This means it is helpful for us to have some questions ready to go.   To save you time thinking of questions, I've listed some sample questions ideas below.  

You'll see I've focused on two key areas worth reviewing in relation to the past school year for young people - their peer relationships and how they managed their learning.

I've included some sample phrasing for teens as well as for children in primary school Obviously just adjust to your the child/ren/teen's level of communication.

Reviewing the past year in relation to social and peer relationships

Sample Questions for children

  • Tell me about two fun or enjoyable times you had with friends this year.  What were you doing or talking about in these fun times?
  • What could you do to have more fun or enjoyable times with friends next year?
  • Tell me about two times you felt frustrated, hurt or sad with friends or classmates this year.  What happened?
  • What did you do to fix or feel better about these situations?
  • Is there anything you could do to avoid these situations happening next year?
  • Think of someone in your class who is a really good friend - what did you learn from them this year about being a good friend?
  • What would you like to do or say more or less of next year which would help you have better friendships?

Sample Questions for teens

  • Who did you feel closest to during the year?
  • How have your friendships - and you as a friend - changed over the last 12 months?
  • What were the tough times you had with friends this year?
  • What did you learn from those tough times?
  • What would you like to do more or less of next year - to help you have better friendships at school?

Reviewing the past year in relation to learning and school work

Sample Questions for children

  • What two topics or subjects did you most like learning about this year?
  • Why did you like these?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you felt proud of?
  • What did you do or say that helped you get a good result?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you were disappointed in?
  • What did you do or say that didn't work well?
  • Tell me two things you'd like to do more or less of next year to help you feel better about your school work. (If children are stuck for ideas, prompt them with these prompts:  how about when you are sitting on the mat, working at your desk, doing homework, working in groups)
  • Can you think of something your teacher did or said this year which helped you learn or think?
  • How often did you ask for help this year when you were stuck or confused?  Is there anything that stopped you from asking for help?
  • Can you remember a time when you forgot to finish something or bring something you needed home/from school?  What could you do next year to help you remember things when you need them?

Sample questions for teens

  • What two topics or subjects did you most like learning about this year?
  • Why did you like these?
  • Tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you felt proud of?
  • What did you do or say that helped you get a good result?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you were disappointed in?
  • What did you do or say that didn't work well?
  • Could you tell me a couple of things you'd like to do more or less of next year to help you feel good about your learning? (If teens are stuck for ideas, prompt them with these prompts:  how about when you are listening to teachers in class, working on computers/in your book, in homework, working in groups) .
  • Which teachers did you have the best relationships with this year? Why was that?
  • What did you do or say with those teachers which helped you have a good relationship with them?
  • How often did you ask for help or clarification with something this year?  What stopped you from doing this?  Is there anything you could do next year to ask for help more often?
  • Could you tell me about a couple of times when you forgot to do something/bring something to school or home that you needed?  Is there anything you could have done to have avoided that happening?  Do you have any plans for next year to help you remember these things more often?

    And finally, a couple of final questions about our relationships with young people

I think a really important part of working with young people as professionals is for us to ask them about how they are finding our support during the year as well.  I typically ask questions about how young people found the last therapy session at the beginning of sessions, but I also ask these questions more thoroughly at the end of the year.   Questions specifically related to how I support their learning or school experience include:

  • Is there anything you think I don't understand about what school or learning is like for you?
  • Is there anything I've done or said which has helped you do better at school/cope with learning this year?
  • Is there anything I've done or said which has NOT helped?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you feel better about school and your learning next year?

    Good luck!

    Kirrilie

    For those of you who work with primary aged children and who are members of Calm Kid Central, I have an "activity" sheet for children with the questions above preprinted on it, which you can download/print out for children to complete if you like.  If you are not a member of Calm Kid Central, click on the button below to find out more about professional membership for teachers, school counsellors, child therapists and others who work with children.