The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

Reflective Learning: Asking Students to “Live the Fourth”

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Those of us who teach core courses at a liberal arts college or university are often confronted with the student(s) who ask, “What purpose does this have for my major or degree?” Personally, when teaching core theology courses, I have tried to make the connection between their major and what I was teaching by offering plausible scenarios. It is a process of self-reflection and evaluation of both teacher and student; everyone is tasked with examining the practical implications of sometimes difficult concepts.

For those of you who are familiar with Jesuit high schools, colleges, and universities, you have undoubtedly encountered the KAIROS retreat. In high school, the four day retreat asks students to reflect on their lives, the friends they had made, and the relationship they had with parents, grandparents, and teachers. The guided retreat reinforces self-worth and the positive attributes these young men and women bring to their school and community. Most importantly, they make connections through prayer and reflection on what it is they have learned about themselves and their relationship with others. And for those familiar with the retreat, you might have heard retreatants return with the oft-quoted phrase, “Live the Fourth!,” an affirmation I will return to below.

I would like to think the KAIROS model could be applied to the classroom. Teaching core courses, by making sensible connections between the student and her classmates, between the students and the course material, and between the student and her potential career. As the new semester begins, similar to the retreat, the practice of asking your students to pause and reflect on what they have learned, contextualizing their learning experience, may be just as important as “feeding them the facts.” Here are some ways your students and you may conduct this reflective practice, all of which are low-stakes assessments:

  1. Journal: Asking your students to keep a separate section of their notes dedicated to a weekly or daily journal provides them a space to write thoughts related to their personal life, your discussion for that day or week, and how it relates to what they are studying elsewhere. Concerned about time? Ask your students to do this in the final minute or two of your class session, encouraging them to pause from their hectic lives in order to process what it is they learned. If your students see you doing this as well, you are bound to get a better response.
  1. Scenario Designs: At the end of the week, ask your students to create scenarios applying their work in your class to their major, other courses, or their ideal career. I suggest this as a possible weekend or topic-culminating homework assignment. For example, a Physician’s Assistant student might reflect or write on a scenario in which a blood transfusion violates religious beliefs, and the student is tasked with designing alternative treatments.These assignments, possibly collected via Blackboard, should only take students a maximum of 20 minutes to compile, and provides them the opportunity to connect multiple subjects into one synthesized place. Your students will develop connections between courses and their major they once thought impossible.
  1. Letter Writing to the Subject: One of the not-so-well-kept secrets of KAIROS are the letters. At the retreat, the letters highlight how the community sees the retreatant. At first, this may come across as clumsy; however, asking your students to write a letter to the subject of your daily or weekly lecture provides a space for them to highlight what it is they enjoyed about that particular day or week’s lesson(s). If you choose to collect these via Blackboard, it also provides you insight into what it is your students struggled with or what they really appreciated in your lectures. The exercise should also be completed and shared by you, as it demonstrates to the students your continued enthusiasm for the subject.

These reflective ideas are only a few of the possibilities.
In the comments, feel free to share what reflective practices you might try with your students.

Lastly, the KAIROS retreat concludes with the affirmation, “Go and Live the Fourth!” The Fourth Day is the culmination of the retreat. It is the reminder to the students to reflect again on what they learned and commit to living a life that is mindful of their experience, the impact it had on them, and the commitments they have made to themselves and their community. Asking your students to “Live the Fourth” in your lectures should mimic this.  Although learning to incorporate the reflective process into daily learning may be difficult at first, it ultimately aims to provide a deeper learning experience for your students.  The reflection process means that you are asking your students to apply what they have learned to their daily lives, majors, and future career aspirations, providing further value and meaning in the education process.

Additional Reading:

“Learning the Art of Reflection,” Duquesne University, Center for Teaching Excellence,

Barbara Larrivee. An Educator’s Guide to Teacher Reflection (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

Author: Michael J. McGravey

Mike received his B.A. in Theology from Gannon University, Erie, PA in 2005. After graduating, he taught Religious Studies at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia. While in Philly, Mike earned his Master's in Theology and Religious Studies from Villanova University in 2008. In 2009, he came to Duquesne as a graduate student in Theology and also served as a teaching assistant in the department until the spring of 2013. During his time as a teaching assistant, Mike taught the core course, "Faith and Reason." Mike's theological work has included talks on Augustine of Hippo, Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, the Principle of Subsidiarity and Pius XII, and Catholic Social Teaching and Healthcare. Additionally, he has co-presented on technology in the classroom ("Sandwich Your Student Learning with Tech") at the 2014 Mylan Pharmacy School Retreat (Oglebay Resort, Wheeling, WV). Mike continues work on his dissertation, a project focused on postmodern ecclesiology and Continental Philosophy, while balancing life as a father of an active boy and an inquisitive young daughter.

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