An Image of Reflection: learning from my RP workshop

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)

While working on my summer MA TESOL at SIT, I realized where this dissatisfaction came from: it came from not reflecting on my lessons as deeply as I could.

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 4The 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?

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