Happy 2022! A new year has started offering us a chance to develop some new good habits: regular reflections! Dewey stated it clearly “we don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflective practice is a powerful tool and key for development because it enables ‘continuous learning’ as Schön highlights. Teachers who want to provide better learning, face to face or online, need to keep developing. And to be honest, as we teachers are in the business of learning it only feels logical that we need to keep learning learn and develop further.
However, reflecting in itself is insufficient to bring our skills and knowledge to the next level. Exploring what happened, why it happened – or didn’t happen – and letting these findings inform our future decisions and actions is what it is all about. So let’s start at the beginning.
What does reflective teaching mean?
Reflective teaching means that you take a look at what you do in your classroom, and think about why you do it. Then, think about whether this works for your students and for yourself. This means that we need to go beyond describing what happened in our lessons and focus on critically analyzing why this might have happened. No, this doesn’t mean only looking for negatives! Not at all. Focusing on the positives in our lessons can help us. For example, if something went really well, what made this activity go so well? These strengths might well be transferable to areas you desire to change. If something didn’t go as expected, think about what the reasons could have been it didn’t go as well? Of course, it doesn’t stop by identifying areas you want to grow in. To truly grow your teaching skills, is important to think about what you could do differently next time and apply this when the opportunity arises. One thing is for sure, reflecting, like learning, never stops!
Why is reflection important in teaching?
Professional learning is about making the most of opportunities in our working environment. Reflecting on our own delivery is not only cost-effective, but it is also accessible to all and even more so when teaching online.
To reflect on your delivery you need to collect data, in other words, information about what happens in your classroom. When we reflect, we want to analyze and evaluate that information: what happened in the classroom. Taking the time to stop, think and to analyze and evaluate this data, we create an opportunity to explore our own practices and underlying beliefs which can help identify areas of strengths and areas we desire to change.
Reflective teaching is very much a form of professional development, and a teacher’s ability to reflect on what, why and how, and to adapt and develop is the one quality above all that makes us better teachers. Reflective practice in teaching is arguably one of the most important sources of personal professional development. Effective teachers are first to admit that no matter how good a lesson is, every day is a school day and an opportunity for teacher learning.
In response to the quick shift online, triggered by a shock event (COVID-19), I think reflecting has become even more important. Many of us experienced teachers have developed strategies and techniques mostly in the face-to-face classroom, however, are these as effective in the online classroom?
How to go about reflecting effectively?
If we do not reflect, we might actually miss out on invaluable learning opportunities. If we continue to look for ways to apply these familiar skills or strategies developed in the face-to-face context online, we might forget to capitalize on the affordances the online learning context offers. This means, like it or not, that we might have to change certain strategies and techniques to make learning more effective online.
A benefit from the sudden move to remote teaching is that it can make reflecting on our teaching easier. In addition, many institutes require lessons to be recorded. Using these recordings enables teachers to notice and critically examine effective – and less effective – practice in the online classroom. And if permitted we can even ask a colleague, in the role of a critical friend, to attend the live session or watch the recording and give us some feedback.
Before giving you some ideas on how you can integrate reflecting into your practice, without having too much extra work, make sure that you decide first what it is you want to focus on: what is it you want to explore?
I’ve already mentioned that reflecting on practice is a never-ending exercise. However, as teaching quality really impacts students’ performance (Hattie) it seems worth spending time on. Below you find 5 self-reported reflection ideas that will enable you to start reflecting more regularly without causing too much extra work.
- Three-minute post-lesson recording
At the end of your lesson, find a quiet place and record about 3 minutes of reflections on your phone. Summarise what you felt went well and the why: what makes you say that? Then focus on what you desire to change next time you’d teach this lesson and explore why you think this/these points need changing. Next, focus on ways that could help you change this (how). The next day, relisten and select one area for you to move forward with.
2. Tick it off and choose
Create a short checklist for yourself with 3 to 5 specific things you want to focus on. Be as specific as possible as that will help you most. For example, modeling task X, nominating more students in feedback on activity Y, concept-checking grammar, varying my feedback on activity X, etc. After the lesson, you can score yourself from 1 to 5 on these areas. Next, select one action point you want to take forward to your next reflective practice.
3. Recording snippets
If you get permission from the school you work at (please check the rules as this is often different and guided by local law), you could record that part of the lesson where you feel you have room for growth. For example, your instruction setting or feedback stage. If you cannot record a video, check if you can use the audio recorder on your phone so you can relisten to evaluate your procedures or even your language use.
4. Enlist a critical friend
If you have a trusted colleague, you can either send the video or voice recording and ask for some targeted feedback (make sure you have made your focus clear). However, teaching online is a beautiful opportunity to invite your colleague, your critical friend, to observe live. This extra pair of eyes can be an eye-opener because at times we might not notice what needs changing: we might be set in our ways or we simply haven’t got the awareness yet of where to grow. Being an observer is invaluable too, I tend to learn a lot about my teaching from observing others!
5. Involve your learners
Try to get some feedback from your students, F2F but online this might be even easier! This doesn’t need to take long. You could use Google Forms, Survey Monkey or even Google Jamboard to collect some feedback. I often ask one clear question (you can use L1 for this if easier), for example ‘did you like this particular activity? Why or why not? ‘ or ‘Did this particular activity help you to understand the grammar better. Why or why not?’ or ‘If we would do this lesson again, what could I do differently to help you understand or learn better or more?‘
I hope this blog has given you some food for thought for the new year and inspires you to establish a new atomic habit: regular reflections. Remember, reflections do not need to be time-consuming: select which area /teacher intervention to focus on. And one more thing… when you reflect ensure you shift your focus from ‘knowing about teaching procedures and theories’ to reflecting on the effects of these procedures and interventions on your learners and their learning. Our job, I strongly believe, is not about teaching, it’s all about optimizing students’ learning opportunities and making learning happen.
-Hasper, A. (2020) https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2020/06/07/reflecting-in-times-of-covid-19-keep-calm-and-keep-grow-ing/
– Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development.
– Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action.