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Kids Tuning into Themselves, Others, and the World

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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Kids look into the mind’s mirror, see themselves (maybe for the first time), and write about what they find.  How scary is that?  This is “Reflections,” an application of “Music Writing,” which introduced adolescents to the wild world of inner experience via music, and how the mind’s eye, like a giant spotlight, illuminates events as mental image pictures to contemplate.  Contemplation helped kids to examine their inner and outer worlds and gave them organic and real reasons for writing, motivating them from the inside to express their everyday experiences.  

I created Reflections because student contemplations in Music Writing described painful events present in their minds: divorce, death, illness, failures, and negativity.  After practicing Music Writing for two months (see http://www.edutopia.org/blog/music-writing-trigger-creativity-jeffrey-pflaum), I began Reflections, whose aims were to:

  • Locate a past experience and describe it in 100 words or more.
  • Use visualization, reflection, and contemplation to find and re-create the experience.
  • Improve self-awareness, -knowledge, -understanding, -esteem, and -expression.
  • Use discussion to reinforce all the above objectives.


I defined “reflection” by drawing a stick figure looking into a mirror, and said: ”When you see a reflection of yourself in a mirror, you’re looking at yourself.”  I sketched a diagram of the inner eye looking at experiences-as-mind-pictures.  I drew the eye looking at images in a mirror inside the stick figure’s head.  I explained: “You see your self, your experiences, in an imaginary mirror.  Observe your reflection inside the mind.  Use your inner eye to find, visualize, reflect on, and contemplate a past experience.  Then, write about it.”  

Practice oral reflection lesson: 

Topic question: Recall a time you felt bored. 

Guide questions:  What mind-pictures do you see?  What were you thinking and feeling?  What were you doing or not doing?  Did you try to change your feelings?  How? 

Instructions: “Search your mind for a time you felt bored.  Use the inner eye to find images.   Contemplate what you see.  Recall the whole experience.  Describe it honestly.  Use the guide questions to help you.  Write about your ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ worlds.”

 Procedure: Give students five minutes to locate and focus on an experience.  Ask them to be ready to discuss their responses orally.  Explain the differences between Music and Reflection Writing: “Music Writing gives you the freedom to write about whatever you want.  Not so with Reflections where you choose, write about, and answer one topic question.  To find and study a past experience: (1) recall, (2) visualize, (3) reflect, and (4) contemplate it.  Re-view the event to rediscover pictures, feelings, and thoughts.”  (Options: Extra topic questions may be used for introductory oral lesson.  Add music while kids reflect.)


 I. Topic question choices: Give 5 topic questions to choose for a reflection.  Allow 5 minutes to search for and contemplate an experience, 25 minutes for writing, plus 15 minutes for discussion.  

 II. Guide questions: These accompany the topic question and help kids focus on a past event.  General guide questions become prompts to initiate all discussions:

 What mind-pictures did you see? 

What feelings were triggered? 

What thoughts can you recall? 

What did you learn after writing about your experience? 

Note: Teachers may vary and add extra guide/discussion questions.   

 III. Discussion period: Discussions come after reviewing reflections.  Read them to class.  Analyze mind-pictures, triggered feelings and related thoughts.  Ask fact questions.  Expand reflections: “What can the writer add to help us understand the reflection better?”  Kids ask writer questions to probe response further.  

Sample topic questions plus student reflection 

Topic questions:

 Recall an experience where you:

  1. Couldn’t express yourself because a feeling held you back. 
  2. Hurt someone else’s feelings.
  3. Were angry all day.
  4. Felt scared but didn’t know what you were scared about.
  5. Felt love and sadness at the same time.              

Student response/reflection #1: 

I remember the time my puppy died because it was cold.  I thought about how sad I was.  My mother really tried to cheer me up, but she couldn’t.  Even I couldn’t cheer myself up!  I started thinking: “If only he didn’t die.  If only he didn’t die.”  I was so unhappy that I felt like crying.  But I didn’t want to show my feelings so I just kept them inside myself.  I didn’t tell anyone how sad I was.  After my puppy died, I got a new dog.  

Suggested discussion questions:

  1. Retell reflection in your own words. 
  2. What feelings prevented the writer from expressing himself? 
  3. Why didn't he want to express sad feelings?
  4. What other feelings were left unexpressed?
  5. Explain the writer's thought: "If only he didn't die."  Why did he repeat it?
  6. How does the reflection end?
  7. What is missing from the reflection?
  8. What happens to unexpressed sad and angry feelings?
  9. Would getting a new dog "heal" those feelings?
  10. What can the writer do to change his feelings? 

To conclude, here’s one last student reflection about Reflections:  

I’m going back to when we started Reflections.  It was fun and it still is.  Reflections give us a chance to think about what we did in the past.  Sometimes we do good things but don’t remember to congratulate ourselves for it.  Or, when we are about to do something, it gives us a chance to think so we can make the right choice.  I’m glad we do things like this.  It makes me feel good about myself and opens me up so I can understand myself and other people better. 



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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

  • Guest
    Marilee Ruebsamen, Ph.D. Friday, 29 May 2015

    Excellent, excellent!! I'm a child - and trauma- psychologist -- coming from an attachment perspective, you're directing kids to contemplate and describe their internal representations of themselves, others, themselves-in-relationship, themselves in the larger world, and the future (if they can imagine a future - kids with PTSD and associated trauma disorders usually have a sense of foreshortened future and cannot do this) -- wonderful, and powerful, work - so, if working with traumatized children, one must be sensitive - might begin with art rather than words, etc. (kids may dissociate if approached too directly on these themes . . ). Great work! See my websites/projects, at abbeypsychservices.com and globally at
    alwaysbelisteningglobal.com Forwarding your work to my daughter, English professor, Director of Children's ministries, poet . . .

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Guest Friday, 15 February 2019