“Aha” moments happen when we have a sudden discovery or realization. When we gain insight the “aha” experience influences our well-being. One way to improve Heart-Mind well-being is to choose strategies that facilitate the leap between an “aha” experience, and the development of insight. Insight comes when we clearly understand our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Researchers have found that insight improves problem solving skills and self-regulation while preventing depression, anxiety and stress.
Insight, and its influence on well-being, doesn’t just happen on its own. Schools, for example, deepen many aha’s so they become insights for students. This may be a regular occurrence in the classroom, or may be an intentional approach designed for certain learning experiences. Take community service learning, volunteering or school leadership opportunities as examples. Research tells us that “students who take time to reflect on service-learning experiences will get more from those experiences.”
The following questions take students through a process of examining what, so what and now what. In order not to overwhelm, choose and adapt questions and include some before, during and after the experience.
WHAT: the facts
- (before) what do I expect to get from this experience?
- what happened?
- what was your role?
- what did you observe?
- what issue is being addressed?
- what were your initial expectations?
SO WHAT: an analysis of the experience
- did you learn a new skill or discover an interest?
- did you hear, smell, feel anything that surprised you?
- how is your experience different from what you expected?
- what were the most difficult or satisfying parts of the experience? Why?
- what did you learn about the people/community/school?
- how did the experience relate to your course work?
- what are some of the pressing needs/issues in the community/school?
- what seems to be the root causes of the issues addressed?
- what other work is currently happening to address the issue?
- what values, opinions, decisions have been made or changed through this experience?
- What sort of things made you feel uncomfortable? Why?
NOW WHAT: future implications
- how do we take what we have learned and convert it into action in the community/school we are in?
- what would happen if you choose to do nothing?
- what would you like to learn more about, related to this project/issue?
- what info can you share with your peers or the community?
- if you could do the project again, what would you do differently?
- Complete this sentence: Because of my experience, I am….
When choosing a method or student activity, evidence suggests that it be linked to the experience. If students volunteer in the community, for example, an activity that includes communicating back to the public through a newspaper or art exhibit may enhance the learning opportunity. Consider methods such as:
- art project
- ethnographies (field notes)
- case study papers
- multimedia presentations
- presentation to community
- poster presentation
- student led dialogue
- group discussion
- letters to the editor
- social media images/posts
The path to insight appears to be a combination of emotional reflection AND problem solving. Educators and youth leaders who aim to facilitate insight engage students in thought provoking questions to get the most out of any learning experience.
In one study, participants with the highest levels of insight were both significantly more satisfied with their lives and happier than participants with medium or low levels of insight.
The Center for Community-Engaged Learning at the University of Minnesota focuses efforts on getting students involved in the local community. Reflection is one key element of how they make these experiences effective based on the Experiential Learning Cycle.