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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Making a Request: To Use L1 or L2? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

After two weeks of spiraling through the experiential learning cycle (ELC), I’ve finally arrived at the last stage: Now What? otherwise known as, Active Experimentation or Intelligent Action (See Carol Rodgers).

Often those who write about reflection will stop before this final phase (…) Dewey’s notion of responsibility (…) implies that reflection that does not lead to action falls short of being responsible.

– Carol Rodgers, Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking

Well, I’ve been tempted to be irresponsible. My need to move on to a new topic has been gnawing at me all weekend. But, my desire to see this process through trumps everything else. I’ll push forward.

Continue reading “Making a Request: To Use L1 or L2? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication”

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.

Learning No.3: Time to Process, Time to Reflect

I believe that student feedback is a teaching compass. Although it takes a bit of courage to receive feedback on my classes, it provides invaluable insight into how I can create more effective lessons. The two usual questions I ask my participants at the end of each session are along these lines: What did you learn during the session that was significant or important for you, and why was it significant? Would you change anything about your learning experience in order to increase your learning, and if so, how would you change it? Some answers don’t reflect their learning. Instead they offer me warm words of encouragement for a job well done. I smile when I read these comments, and wonder if these comments are subconsciously meant for themselves.

During the fall semester, one participant’s answer to the second question reminded me about the importance of a learning skill I claim to practice on a consistent basis: reflective inquiry. She hoped that we could spend more time in class to reflect on what we learned during the lesson, and expressed how this would help her understand and internalize the subject matter.

I was embarrassed. As a student of experiential education at SIT, and the fact that I base this blog on reflective practice, how couldn’t I have noticed that I had exempted time for reflection in most of my lessons? She had placed a magnifying glass on my bad teaching habit. I have a tendency to place too much emphasis on the experience, and as a result, there is little time left at the end of class to look back on what happened. I was grateful for this participant’s insight into her learning process, and her willingness to share her need with me.

I have come to understand that it is my job to create an experience for my learners. However, without me facilitating an environment of reflective inquiry, I also believe that learning has a lesser chance of happening. Experience without reflection is like running in a mouse wheel: the scene stays the same, and we don’t get anywhere.

In her article Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking Carol Rodgers explores John Dewey‘s theories on experiential education. I revisited this article today to help me clarify why reflection is such a powerful learning tool. To sum up, reflective inquiry increases learning because it allows you to put an experience into slow motion, and in doing so, you are more able to place meaning on this event. Once you find meaning in an experience, you are then more able to act on this experience. This circles back to last week’s entry on meaning and motivation.

The slow motion I mentioned is also what I call process. Learning takes time. It’s a process. Sometimes we only understand a lesson months after we were exposed to it. The length of time it takes to really sink into learning something new depends on each individual. But a valuable lesson I’ve learned from being a learner myself is if we don’t give our minds space to breath and expand, it is hard to take in new information. The reflective process aims to provide such space.

When we act on what we have learned from reflecting on an experience, it means that we are playing with new knowledge and trying to make it our own. We are placing our own meaning on our learning via our planned and subsequent action.

So how did I respond to my participant’s request? I went back to my days at SIT with Pat Moran, dug up my handouts on the experiential learning cycle, and I went back to class with a new plan. I provided an experience (an activity around language learning). I asked them to think back on what we did, sticking to facts, not interpretations. Then I asked them to think about the benefits or shortcomings of this activity as it would relate to their teaching contexts. Finally, I asked them how they would use or adapt this activity for their students. I helped them connect meaning to their experience.

I know how valuable reflection is for learners, and I also know how valuable it is for teachers. For teachers, it helps us remember what our students experience during our lessons. It helps us be better teachers. This participant reminded this of this value.

From now on I will do my best to save time at the end of class for reflective inquiry and processing. My aim is to create space.