Number one for English language teachers

Professional development: reflective teaching

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

A discussion on ways to improve teaching through systematic inquiry.


I recently read an article about the importance of reflection on one's own teaching and how essential it is to critically reflect and evaluate on a regular basis. As I haven't read very much on this topic before, I'm just wondering (1) how to actually go about doing it systematically - surely it doesn't simply involve thinking for example "Oh I don't think that activity went very well, maybe I'll try it in groups next time;" (2) where I can get more information about it. Preferably something that deals with the practical side of things, rather than the theory behind reflective teaching. Any help would be most appreciated.
Question posted by detective
By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. (Confucius)

What is reflective teaching?

The question that first needs to be posed is: what is meant by reflection? The word “reflection” generates connotations of mirroring, meditation or deep thinking; and transformation. Applied to the context of teaching, reflection can be interpreted in terms of mirroring, symbolizing or representing, as well as in terms of thoughtful consideration. Pennington (1992) describes reflective teaching as “a movement in teacher education in which … teachers analyze their own practice and their underlying basis and then consider alternative means of achieving their ends (p.48).” Richards & Lockhart (1994) add to this by incorporating a critical component, stating that a reflective approach to teaching is “one in which teachers and student teachers collect data about teaching, examine their attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and teaching practices, and use the information obtained as a basis for critical reflection about teaching (p.1).” They argue that such a critical reflection of one’s practices can trigger a deeper understanding of teaching, and contribute to one’s professional development. It is through repeated cycles of professional development, practice and reflection, Wallace (1991) claims, that professional competence arises.


How can I begin reflection?

There is no one way in which a teacher should explore her own classroom practices in order to self-observe and self-evaluate. But it is important to begin by collecting information about what happens in the classroom. Such classroom data can be gathered in several ways:

  • Maintain a teaching diary: this is a daily record of your professional experiences, particularly focussing on the events in the classroom. Maintaining a regular diary takes discipline as it does take up some time. But it is time well spent as it will help to clarify your thinking. Include in your diary not only the events that occurred during the lesson, but also your own thoughts and feelings about it as well as students’ reactions and responses. Here is an example, an excerpt taken from the diary of one teacher who teaches EFL to teenagers:
I was apprehensive about whether it would work as they have never done something like this before. But I think because I demonstrated how to do the task by doing a sample task with Asifa, everyone had a much clearer idea of what they needed to do. I should have done the demo with my 9B class too, rather than simply explaining what to do. It was actually a great success as everyone (even Hashim!!) was using English to talk with their partner and solve the picture riddles. I must find some more of these riddles for a later class. They seemed to really enjoy it!
  • Record a lesson: Recording a lesson is a useful way of getting information about your teaching that you may not have been aware of before. You could audio or video record the lesson, making sure that the students are aware of the purposes of the recording, and that they have no objection to it. Bear in mind, however, that many students tend to be self conscious and less willing to participate in a lesson if they are being recorded.

Lesson recordings can help you determine how much you talk; how much time you allocate to student talk; whether you give equal attention to all students; your movements in the classroom; your tone of voice; etc.


  • Obtain feedback from students: Your own students are the best people to give you feedback on your teaching. You can do this by speaking with the class as a group or individually. You can ask them to comment on what they like and what they don’t like about what you already do in the classroom as well as about what new things they would like to do.

If the thought of getting oral feedback is a bit daunting, you could ask them to complete a simple questionnaire which would give you specific information about your teaching. You may want to focus this on a particular aspect of your teaching (for example, error correction) or target the questionnaire to teaching in general. Students are generally quite open about what they think of your teaching, and provide some very good suggestions about new activities they would like to try.

Alternatively, you could ask your students to maintain a learning diary. This could be done as part of class work (you could allot a weekly fifteen minute diary writing segment into your lessons) or a regular homework activity. But make sure you explain clearly to your students about what you want them to include in the diary. The diary is not meant to be assessed in any way, or shared with other students or teachers.

  • Invite a colleague to observe you: You may not enjoy formal observations of your teaching by a superior, but getting feedback on your teaching through a colleague may be a different experience. Again you may ask your colleague to focus on a particular aspect of your teaching (for example, your patterns of interaction with students), or to comment on your teaching in general. The observer can take down notes or use a standard observation form. Immediately after the lesson, make notes about what you felt were your strengths and weaknesses, and then discuss the lesson with your observer.

What can I do next?

Having obtained information about what goes on in your lessons, the next step would be to think and analyze the information:

  • What were your goals [for a particular lesson]?
  • How did you intend to achieve those goals?
  • What actually happened?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What could you do/have done differently?

Share your stories

This may be done very informally through talking with a helpful colleague/friend, or through the promotion of professional dialogue in teachers’ groups. It is through the telling and sharing of our teaching stories that we communicate our problems and work towards findings solutions. Seek solutions through professional reading or by consulting experts in the field. There is a variety of professional resources available, including research journals, teacher’s magazines, resource books, and a number of websites on the internet. Ask questions. Get answers and ideas through teachers’ forums or magazines as well as in your teachers’ groups. You may also want to observe some of your colleagues’ lessons as these may help generate ideas. Collaboration is essential. Consider how to put those ideas into practice in your own teaching situation. Trial new ideas. Evaluate their effectiveness. Share your stories… The reflective cycle goes on.


References

Pennington, M. (1992). Reflecting on Teaching and Learning: a developmental focus for the second language classroom. In J. Flowerdew & M. Brock & S. Hsia (Eds.), Perspectives on Second Language Teacher education. HongKong: City Polytechnic.

Richards, J. C., & Lockhart, C. (1994). Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wallace, M. J. (1991). Training foreign language teachers : a reflective approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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