Summoning Up Reflection-in-Action

In his blog post Don’t just stand there, do something!, Kevin Giddens wonders why teachers are often more comfortable doing something, when doing nothing may be just as valuable. He asks,

Why is academic teaching and learning so focused on always doing something?
To this I responded,
You pose great questions. I’m not sure why we are always focused on always doing something. I just thought of that today as I was teaching my participants about the how to avoid plagiarism by using direct or indirect speech. I felt compelled to bounce from one activity to the other. Finally when I realized how fast I was pacing through the lesson I stopped for a bit, sighed, and said, “Sorry about that. I’ll slow down.” I got a few relieved chuckles from the crowd. Maybe I was subliminally summoning a do-nothing moment.
Kevin replies,

Josette, I love the idea that do-nothing moments can be summoned. We need to find a way, maybe a chant of some kind to summon these moments consciously :) Do you feel that your regular reflective blogging (reflecting-on-action) is supporting your ability to reflect-in-action?

And to that I answer,

Yes!

While I was having one of these moments of wanting to do something, I chose to step back, and wait. At that moment, I was reflecting-in-action (see Donald Schon). I made the conscious choice not to intervene on my participants’ essay drafting time. To help me pause and reflect, I sat down, took out my pen and journal, and wrote this:

As I sit here and watch them write, I struggle with wanting to let them write and also wanting to help them. I want to read what they’ve written so far. I want to give them the words they are struggling to find. I want to tell them that their best is enough.

I knew this was a blog/learning moment, and that is why I chose to reflect instead of act. My participants didn’t need me hovering over them as they wrote. They needed time with their thoughts and their process. Thanks to my reflective skills, and Kevin’s contemplation, I summoned up a do-nothing moment, and there was peace of mind for all.

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4 thoughts on “Summoning Up Reflection-in-Action

  1. Indeed, a provocative question. One which goes to the heart of our experience as human beings. We are afraid to “stand there,” do nothing, cuz we might just SEE! The extreme discomfort that Kevin describes at the KOTESOL workshop indicates how deep our self aversion goes. We have been acculturated to NOT look, to NOT examine our inner lives. Those clamoring voices I hear when it gets too quiet are just too scary. And yet when we DO look, we find that while there often is a cacophony of confusion, if we hold still for awhile there is a pool of calm serenity that awaits us.

    This relates to reflective teaching; we don’t want to stop “doing” long enough to reflect, cuz I might not like what I see. Yet having the courage to do so, to honestly examine what’s working and what’s not in our teaching, we find that pool of calm which provides the inspiration for effective change and innovation!

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    1. Great comment Chaz! Thank you. I really resonated with this part “we don’t want to stop “doing” long enough to reflect, cuz I might not like what I see.” I think that is the best summary to describe why people don’t reflect that I’ve heard so far. It brought to mind the times I made conscious decisions not to look back on lessons because I was too ashamed of what I’d see. Honestly, this is why I don’t video tape my lessons. If I were truly reflective, and not scared of myself, I would tape myself each day. Wow! If I ever get to the level of being able to share such reflections on my blog, I know I will have defeated some nasty demons :P

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  2. I’ve always thought of reflecting in action as a mental process that takes place in thought only. I’ve never sat down while students are working to take time to actually write my thoughts and feelings. I’m often at a loss as to what to do when I sit down and become overwhelmed with anxiety that I’m not doing enough. Your image of a teacher struggling to give students space to struggle reminds me of the simple fact that learning, for all of us, is often wed to struggle.

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    1. I loved this, “learning, for all of us, is often wed to struggle.” Beautifully said Kevin. There is no doubt that struggle leads to learning. It seems that to learn, we must negotiate with what we thought we knew and what may be possible. Once we find peace with the imbalance, perhaps this is when learning occurs.

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