On Friday, the February 2013 SIT TESOL course at Centro Espiral Mana ended. When a course closes here, participants are asked to create a final learning statement, summarizing what they have learned over the four weeks. Some participants wrote songs, poems, or essays, some created visual representations, and others recorded narratives. Each of these creations highlighted the inspiring process that goes on at Centro. Tony Paredes — a teacher from Tarapato, Peru — created the comic strip below. I asked Tony if I could share his learning statement because I thought it was a great example of how some experienced teachers feel after taking this course. As Tony shows us, it’s truly transformative.
This arrived in my inbox. I share this message because it warmed my heart.
“PS. I can’t recite exactly what I’ve learned from day 1 till now in your class, but I feel sure that I’ve learned about how to organize the lesson from the students’ perspective and how to build the lesson step by step. even though I have a hard time doing my lesson that way at the moment, it seems I’ve found in which direction to go. That’s a big leap for me. Thank U !”
The semester ends in two weeks. Knowing that I reached at least one teacher is one of the best New Year’s gifts I could receive.
In three days, our training course will be over. In these final days, it’s time for participants to look back over their four months together and reflect on what’s been meaningful and what they’ve learned. To help them do this, I asked them to respond to a list of questions Mary Scholl (SIT teacher-trainer) created and kindly shared with me. Below are a few examples:
- If you were to choose 10 words to describe your experience in the course, what would they be?
- If your experience in the course were like weaving a beautiful cloth, what would be the threads that hold the cloth together?
- How would you explain your experience in this course to a five year old?
- What would your ideal motto be in the future?
- If you had to sell this course, what would your slogan and ad campaign look like?
- Go through all of your journal entries from the course. Choose the ones that are most meaningful to you. Why are they meaningful?
- Make a metaphor for how the course has affected you. Be juicy and deep in your description.
With these questions, they created final learning statements that would then become the front cover of their learning portfolios. They kept this portfolio throughout my writing course. I encouraged the participants to be as creative as they wanted, and as you’ll see, they didn’t hold back. During our final learning statement gallery walk (gallery walk explanation coming soon), I was inspired at each turn. I hope you feel inspired too.
Please enjoy the artistic exhbilition of learning!
Privacy tip: Notice the funky, random strips on some of the statements? To keep the anonymity of my participants, I used the smartphone app Labelbox to cover their names.
Reflection is deeply personal. When I talk about reflection, you may have a completely different image of the concept floating around in your mind. This feeling is comparable to when you find yourself in a discussion about the meaning of life or spirituality. We may be using the same words, but our image of what these mean is probably quite different.
This is something I realized about the concept of reflective practice two weeks ago at the Busan KOTESOL’s Reflective Practice Symposium.
Note: Please read Anne Hendler’s summary of the day’s presentations, Meta-Reflection, at her new blog, LivingLearning: Life and Learning in South Korea. The title of her post touches on the complexity of such a discussion. Talking about how you think about thinking? Very meta. Very personal.
After listening to all the presenters, and after doing my own workshop (see my last post KOTESOL Workshop – Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience for the abstract), I got a better look at the mental images I hold about the concept of reflection. I realized that maybe the word “reflection” triggered a different picture in my mind. This picture is the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC), and the one I shared with symposium attendees.
Now I’d like to share this image with you. To do this, I’ll post parts of the script (in italics) I prepared for my workshop, comment on this, and refer to the slides and worksheet I used.
My ELC Workshop
Before learning about the concept of reflective practice, I was just a teacher trying to do the best I could. If I felt unsatisfied with something that happened in class, I’d mull things over, make a few modifications, and do it all over again. (see slide 2)
However, I noticed nothing really changed. I still had a sense that I wasn’t improving. I was still dissatisfied with the way my lessons were going. (still on slide 2)
The MA is based on experiential learning, so teachers who were accepted had to have at least two years experience. The program puts as much importance on our experiences with teaching and learning as it does on pedagogical and linguistic theories. The framework we used to reflect on these experiences was the ELC, which stems from John Dewey and David Kolb‘s research.
Slide 4 – The Experiential Learning Cycle: First, everything begins with an experience. Then you can see that “feelings” are off to the side. Some teachers/reflectors believe that before we can get through the rest of the cycle, whether it be during a post-observation feedback session or in your reflective journal, it is helpful to discharge the feelings are created by the experience. Then we have description, interpretation and an action plan, which brings us to our next experience. I’ll be explaining these in more depth below.
By looking at my teaching through the framework of this cycle, I finally noticed a change. I saw teaching as a place of exploration and experimentation. I started to understand why I did the things I did. I saw new possibilities and I wasn’t scared to try them out. “Mistakes” weren’t mistakes anymore; they were gifts. (This last statement may be a good topic for another blog post.) I became a more confident teacher, and if I ever felt my confidence waning, I knew that the ELC could get me out of that rut.
At this point in the workshop, I presented a classroom moment, and our task was to take it through the cycle. For the first task (see the worksheet below), attendees differentiated between an observation and an interpretation. Can you make the distinction?
The idea is that when we describe something in the ELC, we want to make the description as detailed as possible. It is something we are able to observe. This part of the workshop was intended to help attendees make a distinction between description and interpretation because we are so used to mixing them. The idea is that by simply describing, we are able to get the distance we need to make constructive judgments about what happened, which leads us into the next stage of the cycle: interpretation.
From the handout you can see that groups were asked to generate as many possible reasons as to why they thought that moment occurred, and also guess what that means for teaching and learning in general. An experience contains many dimensions, and this stage allows us to look at it from this perspective. It is not enough to guess one reason and move on the action plan. The interpretation stage asks you to exhaust all possibilities (time, linguistic challenges, culture, teacher behavior, student’s life…) so that your action plan has a stronger foundation. It was on this foundation that attendees then created their own SMART action plans (see slides 7 through 10) for future encounters with a similar experience.
What did I learn about my image?
I like my image of reflective practice. It works for me, and I know it works for some of my colleagues (one of these being Michael Griffin who did a “remix” of my presentation today). I got positive feedback from symposium attendees, but I’m still not sure that my vision of reflection stuck with them. I’m okay with this.
In my mind, if teachers are thinking and talking about teaching in constructive ways, then I’m happy. For me reflection is about raising one’s awareness. If you’re deepening your awareness about teaching and learning, I’d welcome a closer look at your image.
So what’s your image of reflective practice?
Reflective inquiry came to me in a new form today. I spent the day reading and commenting on my participants final reflective journals. Through their reflections I got the chance to reflect on my own beliefs around teaching and learning. How’s that for meta!
The following comment helped me explore my beliefs around experiential learning:
I know some students (…) dislike some challenging and creative tasks, and just like to be passive, staying in continuous lectures. I thought I was doing them a favor, especially to the seniors applying for the SAT, while I tried to not give them burden except for memorizing vocabulary or grammar. I am thinking about making them write at least one essay a term but I am afraid that there would be a lot of objection. Josette has an excellent talent in making her students do anything she wants them to do. She really has the know-how. One of the most powerful things of her is to provide a comfortable atmosphere. She does not push, but we do it. I think I have to learn her “sneaky” skill to make students who fear doing something new manage to do it. Because of the prospect of replacing SAT English with National English Ability Test (NEAT), there would be an increase in the need for writing and speaking in class.