“Teachers are the busiest professionals on Earth”. “Teachers never stop working”.
How many times have you heard statements like those above? I bet many times.
And how many times have you stopped to reflect upon your teaching practice? Have you ever done it? How? What was the last time you’ve been observed? What was the last time you observed a friend?
You may think: Why so many questions? What does it all have to do with reflective teaching?
I’ve noticed that a lot has been discussed about critical thinking regarding our students learning process. What about reflecting on our teaching process? Have we reflected on it?
Reflective teaching is a personal tool that teachers can use to observe and evaluate the way they behave in their classroom. It can be both a private process as well as one that you discuss with colleagues. When you collect information regarding what went on in your classroom and take the time to analyse it from a distance, you can identify more than just what worked and what didn’t. You will be able to look at the underlying principles and beliefs that define the way that you work. This kind of self-awareness is a powerful ally for a teacher, especially when so much of what and how they teach can change in the moment.
Reflective teaching is about more than just summarizing what happened in the classroom. If you spend all your time discussing the events of the lesson, it’s possible to jump to abrupt conclusions about why things happened as they did.
Reflective teaching is a quieter and more systemic approach to looking at what happened. It requires patience, and careful observation of the entire lesson’s experience.
According to Jack Richards, reflection or “critical reflection, refers to an activity or process in which an experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose. It is a response to past experience and involves conscious recall and examination of the experience as a basis for evaluation and decision-making and as a source for planning and action. (Richard 1990)
Bartlett (1990) points out that becoming a reflective teacher involves moving beyond a primary concern with instructional techniques and “how to” questions and asking “what” and “why” questions that regard instructions and managerial techniques not as ends in themselves, but as part of broader educational purposes. Asking “what and why” questions give us a certain power over our teaching. We could claim that the degree of autonomy and responsibility we have in our work as teachers is determined by the level of control we can exercise over our actions. In reflecting on the above kind of questions, we begin to exercise control and open up the possibility of transforming our everyday classroom life. (Bartlett, 1990. 267)
The process of reflective teaching supports the development and maintenance of professional expertise. We can conceptualise successive levels of expertise in teaching – those that student-teachers may attain at the beginning, middle and end of their courses; those of the new teacher after their induction to full-time school life; and those of the experienced, expert teacher. Given the nature of teaching, professional development and learning should never stop.
How does reflection take place?
Many different approaches can be employed if one wishes to become a critically reflective teacher, including observation of oneself and others, team teaching, and exploring one’s view of teaching through writing.
Approaches to Critical reflection:
Peer Observation – Peer observation can provide opportunities for teachers to view each other’s teaching in order to expose them to different teaching styles and to provide opportunities for critical reflection on their own teaching. Some suggestions for peer observation:
1. Each participant would both observe and be observed – Teachers would work in pairs and take turns observing each other’s classes.
2. Pre-observation orientation session – Prior to each observation, the two teachers would meet to discuss the nature of the class to be observed, the kind of material being taught, the teachers’ approach to teaching, the kinds of students in the class, typical patterns of interaction and class participation, and any problems that might be expected. The teacher being observed would also assign the observer a goal for the observation and a task to accomplish. The task would involve collecting information about some aspect of the lesson, but would not include any evaluation of the lesson. Observation procedures or instruments to be used would be agreed upon during this session and a schedule for the observations arranged.
3. The observation -The observer would then visit his or her partner’s class and complete the observation using the procedures that both partners had agreed on.
4. Post-observation: The two teachers would meet as soon as possible after the lesson. The observer would report on the information that had been collected and discuss it with the teacher (Richards and Lockhart, 1991).
The teachers identify a variety of different aspects of their lessons for their partners to observe and collect information on. These include organization of the lesson, teacher’s time management, students’ performance on tasks, time-on-task, teacher questions and student responses, student performance during pair work, classroom interaction, class performance during a new teaching activity, and students’ use of the first language or English during group work.
The teachers gain a number of insights about their own teaching from their colleague’s observations and that they would like to use peer observation on a regular basis. They may also obtain new insights into aspects of their teaching.
Written accounts of experiences
Another useful way of engaging in the reflective process is through the use of written accounts of experiences. (Powell 1985) and their potential is increasingly being recognized in teacher education. A number of different approaches can be used.
Self-Reports – Self-reporting involves completing an inventory or check list in which the teacher indicates which teaching practices were used within a lesson or within a specified time period and how often they were employed (Pak, 1985).
Self-reporting allows teachers to make a regular assessment of what they are doing in the classroom. They can check to see to what extent their assumptions about their own teaching are reflected in their actual teaching practices.
A procedure which is becoming more widely acknowledged as a valuable tool for developing critical reflection is the journal or diary. The goals of journal writing are:
1. To provide a record of the significant learning experiences that have taken place
2. To help the participant come into touch and keep in touch with the self-development process that is taking place for them
3. To provide the participants with an opportunity to express, in a personal and dynamic way, their self-development
4. To foster a creative interaction
• between the participant and the self-development process that is taking lace
• between the participant and other participants who are also in the process of self-development
• between the participant and the facilitator whose role it is to foster such development (Powell, 1985, Bailey, 1990)
For many aspects of teaching, audio or video recording of lessons can also provide a basis for reflection. While there are many useful insights to be gained from diaries and self-reports, they cannot capture the moment to moment processes of teaching. Many things happen simultaneously in a classroom, and some aspects of a lesson cannot be recalled. It would be of little value for example, to attempt to recall the proportion of Yes-No Questions to WH-Questions a teacher used during a lesson, or to estimate the degree to which teacher time was shared among higher and lower ability students. Many significant classroom events may not have been observed by the teacher, let alone remembered, hence the need to supplement diaries or self-reports with recordings of actual lessons.
A reflective approach to teaching involves changes in the way we usually perceive teaching and our role in the process of teaching. Teachers who explore their own teaching through critical reflection develop changes in attitudes and awareness which they believe can benefit their professional growth as teachers, as well as improve the kind of support they provide their students. Like other forms of self-inquiry, reflective teaching is not without its risks, since journal writing, self-reporting or making recordings of lessons can be time-consuming. However teachers engaged in reflective analysis of their own teaching report that it is a valuable tool for self-evaluation and professional growth. Reflective teaching suggests that experience alone is insufficient for professional growth, but that experience coupled with reflection can be a powerful impetus for teacher development.
You might find, as you progress, that there is an area of knowledge you need to know more about. So never be afraid to ask for help or advice. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “How can I do it better?” Doing this is not a sign of being an underwhelming teacher; in fact it’s quite the opposite: It shows you are brave and professional.
Enjoy your teaching!