What is reflective practice in teaching?
When new teachers go through their teacher training, a lot of time is spent on feedback and personal reflection – sometimes called reflective practice. You do something – plan a lesson, teach a lesson, develop a unit – see how it goes, then reflect on it. Your reflection will be written or shared with supervisor teachers or teacher trainers or faculty advisors. You receive feedback from these people on everything, including your ability to reflect well on your strengths and weaknesses. They will want to see how cognisant you are of what is happening in your classroom. The idea is that by consistently reflecting on your teaching practice, you will improve as a teacher – keeping the parts of your teaching that are working, and refining the areas that aren’t.
To get through an education program, we go through these hoops, we reflect and change and reflect and change – and then for most of us, we stop. The way we teach becomes as much a part of our personality as whether or not we enjoy singing karaoke and drinking coffee (yes and yes). Your teaching style soon becomes something that is not likely to change anytime soon.
Over the weekend, I was invited to give feedback for a volunteer organiser training I attended because I am a teacher, and I have some experience working with groups of adults in an educational context. The training was great – I think the team did a fantastic job.
In giving their feedback, however, I discovered things that I also needed to remember and maybe work on a bit myself :
1. Teacher Talking Time / Teacher Writing Time
When I took the CELTA course, my trainer drilled TTT (teacher talking time) into us. Her notes on our lesson feedback forms – “too much TTT!” “cut back on your TTT!” This is so language learners can practice – but it can apply to all classrooms.
I do not notice my talking time as much when I am teaching. I do notice talking time when I am listening to someone else talk, especially someone at the front of the room when the rest of the room is in silence.
I was also told during CELTA to be aware of board writing as well. To ask myself – do we need to write that piece of information down? A lot of time, especially when we are asking for feedback from a group we will write responses on a whiteboard or on a piece of poster paper.
But, where does that paper go? Is it necessary? Is it distracting from what the teacher is doing, and the teacher’s ability to monitor what the room is doing?
One of the facilitators at the training was telling a story. I thought the story was great. But, because we were in an equitable environment of adults, when she used language that some people found offensive, they told her. When you are working with kids, or in a different power dynamic, people might not tell you if they are offended or hurt by the words you choose. Language teachers usually remember to grade their language for the level of their learners, but it is also important to grade your language for the background of your audience, even more so when you aren’t sure exactly who your audience is.
3. Content vs. Magic
Getting through a lot of course content is not fun. It can be hard to distinguish between what is essential and what is less important (see #4). That being said, it is also important to tap into what some call the “magic moments” – those thoughtful discussions, those comments that point to a question or an angle we haven’t thought of before. Sometimes students will get more from those magic moments than from ploughing through a ton of content material.
4. Is This Important?
Is what you are doing important? Will it help students progress? Is this information available in a textbook to look at later if necessary? Is what you are doing adding value to the material?
This of course ties into cutting back on teacher talking / writing time.
That’s all I need to say.
5. Taking on Feedback
The coolest part of the weekend, from my perspective as a teacher, was the ability of the facilitation team to take on feedback. At the end of the first day they asked all participants to give feedback by writing down on a sticky note – a rose: something people liked, a bud: a point that participants could see growing from and a thorn: something that could be improved by the facilitation team.
Thorns that came up were: the length of the day, time keeping (the team had a habit of announcing how much time was left throughout the day) and not having enough group and pair activities.
We came back to day two with a shortened day, less emphasis on time, and more group and pair activities. The facilitation team pulled that together in less than 12 hours – actually it was likely an hour or so, because I’m pretty sure they went home after a long day.
I need to leave my classrooms
As awkward as it is sometimes, I realised that I need to have someone watch my class more often and give me constructive feedback. I also need to visit my colleagues classes to see what they are doing. So often we close our classroom doors and stay in our comfort zone – but that is not good for our development, and it will not help our students either.
Teachers, facilitators, organisers, leaders – is there anything else you’ve discovered through reflective practice?