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?


Hello Clarity. I’ve Met You Before.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the delightful opportunity to explore a concept I hadn’t realized was so dear to me: clarity. Until recently I just thought I was excessively curious. When someone shares something with me, the question, “Why?” lingers on the tip of my tongue, until I have the chance to spit it out. Now I’m aware it is more than mere curiosity.

When I get a clear picture of what you are thinking or doing, I get a deeper understanding. It is in the understanding that I’m able to see you for who you are, and not for who I may judge you to be. Clarity is the pathway I use to see your humanity. Clarity helps me connect to you on a compassionate level. As an educator, I believe this is important.

All my life, I’ve been searching for pathways of clarity so that I could make myself understood, and so that I could understand others. I wanted to create meaningful connections. At first the pathways I chose weren’t life serving and didn’t meet my core values. Finally, I came upon the process of Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Daegu NVC Restorative Circle

Continue reading “Hello Clarity. I’ve Met You Before.”

Where Our Reflective Practice Came From: SMAT

Two weeks ago, I learned that the MA TESOL grad program I love dearly will see its last summer. In honor of this program and all its alumni, I wanted to write this post. My hope is to bring the alumni together so that we understand the program lives on in all of us. At the end of this post, I’ve posed questions and would be grateful for your comments and participation. There is also a sweet video treat waiting for you :)

Experiential Learning

We first learned about experiential learning and reflective practice during the summer of 2007. The learning continued throughout the fall and winter, and culminated during the summer of 2008. Of course, the learning continues.

We didn’t learn about the concept of experiential learning from a textbook. We experienced it. That’s what was so special about our masters in teaching program: the Summer M.A. in TESOL, Class 26 (SMAT26) at the School for International Training (SIT), a program of World Learning.

Learning through experience - fishbowl teaching of Smattie Cakes

Continue reading “Where Our Reflective Practice Came From: SMAT”

Reflection within a Reflection

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!

KIETT reflective journals

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.

Continue reading “Reflection within a Reflection”

Is the Reflective Process a New Concept for Teachers?

I realize that I take the process of reflection for granted. When I experience something new – especially if that experience was confusing or didn’t meet my expectations in a positive way – I work it through the reflective cycle.

I go through this cycle out of habit, and this habit began while I was studying for my MA in TESOL at SIT. When I go through the process, I find solutions to problems, and this is crucial to my future success in teaching a lesson. Finding a solution is much more beneficial and rewarding than doing it wrong all over again.

I realized how much I take reflection for granted after spending the day with a group of reflective practitioners during the KOTESOL National Conference on Saturday. We practice reflection on a daily basis either in our personal lives, or when we teach it to the teachers in our training programs.

After my presentation, Blogging: Creative Interaction, one of the audience members posed two inspiringly, inquisitive questions about reflective practice:

Is reflection a new concept?
Is the reflective process and the practice usually taught in teacher training and MA programs?

He asked these questions because this was the first time he had ever heard about it. To the first question, with the help of founding members of the Reflective Practices SIG, we answered that according to what we knew this pedagogical idea has been around since John Dewey’s work on experiential learning in the 1930s.

To the second question, we shrugged. I almost wanted to say no because until I had heard of SIT, I had never heard of the reflective process as being an integral part of programs for educational studies.

So to get a bit more clarity, I did a quick Google search under “reflective practice in education” and “reflective process + university curriculum”. It seems that reflective practice is used in the education of health professionals, but I’m still unclear as to how, or if, it is introduced to teachers-in-training. People are writing about it, but I’m not sure if these are individual educators following their passion, or if they are speaking as representatives of educational programs.

So I put these questions out to you:

If we know how beneficial the reflective process is to learning, why isn’t it a part of every teacher’s education?

Was the reflective process a part of your training? If it was, what profession were you training for; where were you training; and what did the reflective process look like?

By helping me answer these questions, we can build a clearer picture of where teachers can go to study in institutions that values experiential learning and reflective practice. And if these places don’t really exist, maybe we can build that program together.