Our Reflective Community

You know that feeling when everything comes together at the right moment? I’m experiencing one of these moments right now.

A year ago I was asked if I was interested in organizing a “branch” of the KOTESOL Reflective Practice (RP) Special Interest Group (SIG) in Daegu. I said no. I just didn’t have the space in my life, so I turned down the idea.

Well, last Saturday, with the inspiring support (and nudging) of my friend and colleague KongJu (Princess) Suh, I facilitated our first Daegu RP-SIG meeting. A year after the initial request, the moment was right. There are some things that are just stronger than you, and the energy of the reflective teacher’s community here in Korea is one of these things.

Over a year ago, the RP-SIG was created by Michael Griffin (Mike), Manpal Sahota and Kevin Giddens. Since then, the Seoul RP-SIG, along with Daejeon’s group, has been very successful in raising the awareness of teachers from all professional backgrounds about the concept of reflective practice. Although I’ve supported the SIG by presenting about reflection at a few conferences, the more I heard about what was going on during the monthly meetings, the more excited I got about starting something in Daegu.

what’s the RP-SIG all about?

Seoul RP-SIG meeting (Mike facilitating)

In his article, The Reflective Practice SIG: What Is It? How
Can It Help You?, in the Spring 2012, TEC (The English Connection) News, Mike gives us a clear image of the SIG’s vision.

It seems to me that professional development often amounts to one person at the front of the room telling others how and why they should do something. In the RP-SIG, we try to get away from that and have members come to their own conclusions about their own teaching practices. It was with this vision of professional development in mind that we held the first RP-SIG meeting in February, 2011. The RP-SIG’s purpose is (a) to challenge our perceptions of who we are and what we do, (b) to build strategies to become a more aware educator, and (c) to share and learn through each others’ experiences and beliefs.

Challenging perceptions? Becoming a more aware educator? Sharing and learning through experiences and beliefs? Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a rich community? Mike definitely makes a convincing case for anyone who wants to start such a community of teachers.

Princess’ Daegu KOTESOL workshop on how to teach writing to Korean high school students

This community is what my nudger, Princess, was hoping to see in Daegu. One evening in March over dinner — after we had spent a few hours working on the presentation she was going to give on how to teach writing to high school students — Princess shared her dream of starting a group where English teachers could come together and talk about teaching. At this point, I was more keen about the idea of launching the SIG. We talked and got quite excited about it. But we wanted to be sure we could give it our all, so we decided to think it over and make it happen when the time was right. Three weeks ago, Princess called me and the plans for last Saturday were set in motion.

Model of an RP-SIG meeting

Knowing about Mike’s success in facilitating the Seoul RP-SIG meetings, I wanted to follow his model. He shares the meeting’s structure in the TEC News:

A typical RP-SIG meeting consists of  four parts: (a) ice-breaker – an interactive warming up session to break the ice, (b) check-in – groups of 3 or 4 discuss personal reflective goals, (c) discussion – facilitator leads group discussion to promote reflective practice, and (d) check-out – reaffirmation of personal goals and direction. We hope that members can take the ideas, thoughts, and experiences from the meetings and transfer them to their own contexts.

Since it was our first meeting, the nine teachers in attendance checked-in by introducing themselves and explained a bit about why they wanted to be part of the SIG. A few said they felt like they were becoming lazy in their teaching practices and wanted to feel better about teaching.

We then moved into the discussion part of the meeting where I decided to follow the model I had presented about a few weeks earlier (see An Image of Reflection: learning from my RP workshop). In pairs, we each shared a teaching/learning moment and explored it via the Experiential Learning Cycle. Our partner’s role was to help keep us focused by asking questions that pertained to each stage (ie: description stage – How many students were there? How big is the class? Was it a hot day?). Between each stage we regrouped and discussed how we felt about the process. This was extremely rich in that it allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the process while also getting a deeper understanding of our teaching/learning moment.

The meeting ended with the check-out. We made reflection goals for the month, shared them with each other, and decided we would share the results of our goal regardless of whether or not we were able to accomplish it. The important point is we are here to support each other as reflective teachers no matter what the results.

The beginning for us, how about for you?

So this is the beginning of our reflective community in Daegu! I’m very excited to see where we will go, but more importantly I’m very happy to be part of the larger RP community. Throughout its first year, the RP-SIG has been incredibly supportive, inspiring, and motivating. Teachers now have a place where they can share their experiences and expand there ideas in a safe environment.

I hope this post has given you more clarity on what a reflective teaching community can look like. Maybe you are now also inspired to start your own group. The reflective vibe is quite contagious. If you do decide to start a group, let us know! We’d love to help you out.

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?

KOTESOL Workshop – Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflection. It’s a hot word in the ELT world. What I find interesting is that in all my Twitter curating, Google Alerts, and blogosphere explorations, I’ve discovered that educators seem to attach different meanings to the term. For some it’s about mulling over something that happened in class; for others it’s an in depth exploration of a teaching/learning experience. I find myself connecting more to the perspective of the second camp.

When I think of reflective practice, I immediately refer to the experiential learning cycle. I believe that when teachers reflect on an experience using this model, they are better equipped to address their future teaching/learning needs. My own experience with this cycle has helped me develop into a more confident teacher who sees successes and faults as simple launching points for self-improvement.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to share my perspective on this reflective cycle at the KOTESOL Busan Reflective Practice Symposium next Saturday, April 21. Among a group of other reflective practitioners, including my good friend Michael Griffin, I’ll be conducting a workshop that hopes to shed light on this form of reflection. Below is the workshop’s abstract:

Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflective practice can be a magic formula for better teaching, but the trick is that you are the only one who possesses the knowledge to make it work. Luckily, this formula – based on the Experiential Learning Cycle (see Dewey, Kolb, and Rodgers) – is not out of reach. During the workshop, attendees will reflect on a classroom experience by taking it through each step of the cycle: description, interpretation/analysis, and action planning. With the guidance of the facilitator, attendees will gain clarity into each step, as well as insight into the value of pausing and taking a good look at each of these points. Attendees can expect to leave the workshop with a solid understanding of how to use the Experiential Learning Cycle to deepen their reflective practice and their awareness of what goes on in their classroom. With this awareness, it is the facilitator’s hope that attendees will realize how the Experiential Learning Cycle can make a positive difference in their teaching and learning.

Even if you can’t make it to the symposium, I am grateful for your support. Thank you!

Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach

What do Penny Ur, Willy Cardoso, and James E. Zull have in common? They all presented at the 2012 IATEFL Conference, and they all referenced the connection between reflecting on experience and learning.

If you know me, or my blog, you know that I’m quite passionate about the subject of reflective teaching. I’ve done a few presentations/workshops on the subject, and will soon be doing another at the KOTESOL Reflective Practice Symposium in Busan on April 21. I’m very excited about this, especially since I’ll be in the good company of friend and reflective practitioner, Michael Griffin.

This shameless plug is simply to say that when I saw these three speakers on Glasgow IATEFL Online, my mind quickly made links to how their individual takes on teaching and learning connected to my understanding of the experiential learning cycle and reflective practice. Here are the links I noticed.

Continue reading “Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach”

Presenting the Experiential Learning Cycle

Next Saturday, at the 8th Annual Daejeon-Chungcheong KOTESOL Chapter Symposium, Michael Griffin and I will conduct back-to-back workshops on the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC), and its relationship to reflective practice. We are quite excited about giving our audiences a close-up view of the respective ELC stages we have chosen to present on.

And because I am busy preparing for my presentation, this week’s post is dedicated to sharing our vision for next weekend with you! I’ve posted our abstracts, and I’ve also added Mike’s bio just to sweeten the deal.

Michael, moi & Tana (another ELC enthusiast)

Without further ado, here is a taste of what is to come.

Everyone please welcome, Michael Griffin!

Continue reading “Presenting the Experiential Learning Cycle”

So You Want to Use Your L1? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

Before you start reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything you read below. You may want to comment on some of these questions: Does the concept of reflective inquiry I offer resonate with you? What was your reaction to the interaction that happened? How would you have handled the situation? Have you had a similar experience?

Thank you for reading on!

Previous post

Last week, in Losing It at School – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication, I looked at the What? of the experiential learning cycle (ELC), and I made a connection between it and the Observation stage of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process. Today I am going to examine the So What? stage (ELC), and the link I make to Feelings and Needs (NVC).

So What? as part of the reflective cycle, asks us to hypothesize reasons why an event occurred. When I am at this stage, I like to take a closer look at the feelings I felt, and guess at the feelings others may have felt during that moment. Although this may seem like an observation to some — and as such, should be in the What? stage — feelings give us insight into what people need and value. I believe that the exploration of needs and values is a theoretical venture since needs are not always apparent. It may be easy to see that a person is upset, but the need behind that feeling can be quite elusive. When we search for a need, especially in others, we make guesses. A theory is a glorified guess.

Ok, enough with the conceptual mumbo jumbo; let’s get to the juicy stuff!

Continue reading “So You Want to Use Your L1? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication”

Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.

A past teacher-trainee (participant) of mine wrote this Chinese proverb (see title) as her Facebook status yesterday. I am grateful to Youkyung for posting this — not only because she gave me a title for this entry — but also because she reminded me that many other teachers share this teaching belief: we learn from our experiences. Why did I need this reminder? Well, it has to do with a question a participant asked me during yesterday’s class focused on reflective learning: he questioned the purpose behind reflective writing. I realized two points from his simple question, and I’ll begin my reflective quest from the observation stage of the experiential learning cycle.

(click here to see a fun flash depiction of the cycle)

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Graphic by Clara Davies/Tony Lowe, Leeds University LDU/SSDU.

Reflective Observation – What?

A significant moment always begins as a concrete experience. My significant moment has a background story. Here it is:

Yesterday was the fourth writing lesson of the semester. During the first class of the week (lesson plan 2), I asked the participants to do the 2 Truths & 1 Lie ice-breaker activity. The catch was that in order to make their truths and lies, they would have to use either of the conjunctions or, so, but or and. They then wrote their sentences on a sheet of paper, and posted them all over the classroom for a gallery walk. During the gallery walk they circled the sentence they thought was a lie for each participant. Once this was done, they each presented their truths and lies, and in this way, we got a little glimpse of their lives.


From this point we went into a lesson on the use of conjunctions and their relationship with commas. Wanting to avoid a lecture on these punctuation rules (see inductive approach), I asked the participants to scan an article for FANBOYS, and then in pairs they compared sentences that combined comma with conjunctions, and those that didn’t. They came up with their own hypothesis for these rules, and then I gave them an explanation


The next day (lesson plan 3), after asking them for some basic feedback on their interests and concerns for my writing course, we reviewed the comma/conjunction rules. I then asked them to take out their Truth & Lie sentences to edit them according to what they learned. They also added 3-5 sentences to one of the sentences they wrote, elaborating their story, and practiced the new rules. After peer checking their work, I did my best to offer one-to-one feedback.

Now back to yesterday. My plan was for the participants to reflect on the week’s previous two lessons in a reflective writing activity. To help them remember what they did, we reviewed the week’s lessons. I then I wrote this on the board:

Choose one significant moment/event that happened this week in writing class. Describe this event. The event could be related to learning or teaching.

We had a whole class discussion about the definition of the word significant. We concluded that it can be something important and meaningful, and that it is neither good nor bad; it is simply something that strikes us as a point of exploration.

In pairs they discussed their significant moment. Once they were done they described their significant moment (reflective observation) in writing. After that they answered:

Why was this moment significant for you? (abstract conceptualization).

I explained that at this point they could explore their feelings and ideas behind the event.

The final point of reflection focused on this:

Explain how this will impact your studies in this program, your future role as a language learner, or your future role as a language teacher. (Active experimentation)

While they wrote I saw some eyes roll and heard some hesitant sighs. One of my participants asked me what this activity was helping them practice: fluency or accuracy? I told him that this isn’t a writing activity focused on fluency or accuracy. It is an activity focused on helping them learn. I saw confusion in his eyes. This was my significant moment.

Abstract Conceptualization – So what?

Why did I ask them to do all this reflection? I wanted them to do this because I believe learning happens once it is reflected upon. This is such a strong teaching belief for me. Without reflection, a learning moment risks getting lost in the content of the day or week. While we reflect on a moment, we unlock realizations that we may not have been able to make conscious otherwise. Reflection brings the learner back to understanding his/her involvement in an experience. This is what the Chinese proverb reminds me of. So by looking back on their week, and by writing about one moment that impacted them, I believed that their writing would help them integrate this learning.

But what the participant helped me realize was that there is another purpose to reflective writing that I had not made explicit.  What was this reflective writing helping them practice? From a skills perspective, this is an activity that asks them to work with their thinking skills.  Via his simple inquiry, and through my own reflection, I realized that reflective writing will do more than help them learn from their experience. From their writing they will learn to develop their ability to be critical and creative thinkers. These are essential skills for all writers. These are skills that help the writer create content and meaning.

Active Experimentation – Now what?

I began this entry thinking I was going to write about the importance of reflective writing. I thought I was going to validate my belief that reflection is essential for learning, and that by asking them to reflect I was increasing their learning. After yesterday’s class I had a small doubt that the participants would also be able to understand this value. I was worried that they would somehow rebel against the idea of reflective writing because they wouldn’t be able to see a clear link to the traditional 4 skills. I wondered how I would help them understand that learning is the ultimate goal, and that how we learn isn’t only via tests, but also via experience and reflection on experience. I thought that by writing this entry, and by reflecting on my week’s lessons, I would justify my belief that teachers need to understand that learning is the most important outcome for their students.

I still believe this, and will also teach my participants from this point of view when I ask them to write reflectively. However, now I realize that I can also come to reflective writing from a different perspective.  I can help participants understand that reflective writing will also help them be better writers thanks to their developed thinking skills. At a time when the content of the Korean standardized achievement tests will be asking their students to be more critical, these are essential skills for their teachers to develop and understand. So in the end, I learned that reflective writing is a way to develop language skills, as well as to help increase their learning.

I’ve learned a lot from my participant’s question, and without reflection I may not have come to this realization. His question helped me realize that even our most fundamental beliefs should be questioned. From this realization, I believe we can add another element to the ancient proverb:

Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand; question me and I become aware.