Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reflective Practice in Primary education

© Enric Calvet

It is the language of reflection that deepens our knowledge of who we are in relation to others in a community of learners.
Carole Miller and Juliana Saxton, University of Victoria

Teaching is often a dynamic, sometimes chaotic, and complex practice. We as teachers must constantly make judgments about planned goals, teaching methods and students' ways of learning. Teachers also have to evaluate their beliefs about teaching and learning, how do they influence classroom practice and how their teaching philosophy will affects future actions.

No teacher education program can prepare teachers for all the situations they will encounter.

Teachers will have to make, by ourselves, lots of decisions from among many alternatives. Such judgments may be good or poor, and it is important for us to constantly reevaluate our decisions.

Reflection on one's own work is a key component of being a teacher professional (Schön, 1983) and is essential to teacher education. Reflection improves teachers' ability to make appropriate judgments and allows us to become great decision-makers.

The process of teaching reflection (ARC cycle)
But how to do that?

Reflective Practice can be a solution 

First of all let’s consider three main ideas to take into account when we are starting a process of reflection on our teaching practice for any kind of purpose (changes, improvement, new knowledge, new hypothesis and new tries of activities…)

  1. Nobody improves in an area if is not aware on his/her own strengths: What am I good at? This is the key question. This is a question you must answer in silence if you don’t want to seem a little pretentious.
  2. Once we have identified our strong teaching points, we must identify the areas we have to improve by ourselves (another intrapersonal question that should be answered in silence)
  3. We have to make explicit our theory of best teaching (our beliefs and convictions on teaching ESL).
Key questions

When we think in our performance as teachers or just when we finish an activity or session we can use some strategies to be more conscious; probably one of the most important one is taking distance, being as much objective as you can, looking back and answering the question why did I do what I did?

If you consider there is something that doesn’t work in your activity, session or performance you can ask yourself, what can I do?

But maybe you are completely satisfied of this, and you feel happy; then ask you the question what am I proud of? What am I good at?
It is important at this point to share reflections with others: with colleagues, with people who feel similar with empathy; and if you’re lucky enough with an expert (but not any expert can work with symmetry with you!).

It is also very important to remark that we must focus on one topic to reflect and to think about it.

With all of these considerations there is a final question we have to deal with: What kind of reflection?

The reflection we’re talking about goes from the GENERAL to the FOCUS, like a magnifier glass (Gestalt).

The main objective or goal of the reflective process is to flow ourselves into the autonomy of our own learning. It is important a “face to face” with our own performances, realities, problems and circumstances, and doing a continuous reflection of our everyday practice. And, of course, it is important to do it in an autonomous way; what it’s called an “auto-regulative dimension”.

It is in this moment, when we observe our reality and our performance that we get our “research question”. –That is the focus or the question “what do I want to improve?” (E.g. “Is it my vocabulary, my “face”, my miming... rewarding enough? Should I help children to correct their grammar on their own or should I correct them for myself?)

The ALACT model (Korthagen, 2001)
All of these questions must lead us to plan an action for answering our research question, to act consistently, to observe ourselves in action and to reflect again for evaluation and /or to start the reflective cycle again.

"Mask Dance". An activity of evaluation after a Reflective Practice process. Activity suggested and directed by Zinka Carandell in Departament d'Educació, Generalitat de Catalunya.

More about reflective practice

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