Teachers develop their classroom skills in their student and probationary years. With continual training and feedback at these stages, the student teachers I mentor find their initial teaching efforts stressful, but with experience they acquire a repertoire of teaching strategies that they draw on throughout their career.
At the end of the probationary year, the configuration of strategies a teacher uses constitutes their “teaching style”. I observe and feel that a teacher’s style provides a means of coping with many of the routine demands of teaching. However, the security of strategies that ‘work’ risks the danger of hindering further professional growth. I recognise from observing teachers in both Science and Dance that where the same methods and lesson plans are used without development, they can find teaching becomes monotonous and the years slip away. I have also observed particularly in dance that a teacher a year later can show contrasting choreography development, change in teaching style from command-practice to guided discovery and sequences that focus on key aspects of technique. This observation makes it clear to me that I also need to progress to feel satisfaction in my teaching.
My reason for participating in the RCS course is to move my teaching beyond the level of automatic or routinised responses to classroom situations and achieve a higher level of awareness of how I teach, of the kinds of decisions I make as they teach, and of the value and consequences of particular instructional decisions. I realise one way of achieving this is through observing and reflecting on my own teaching and using observation and reflection as a way of bringing about change. This approach to teaching can be described as ‘Reflective Teaching’. My direction has therefore been clarified……I want to explore how my reflective view of teaching can be developed to provide me with the skill set to teach other practitioners at university level. At last direction!!!!!
What is reflection?
I have completed self-reflection reviews for GTCS, written reflective essays for Laban and Strathclyde University and conducted SWOT analysis on an annual basis. The problem I feel is that although I thought I was being reflective in my lessons, and following my lessons or reviews, I was not being efficient or positive in relation to improvement and not advertising my processes or disseminating my findings other than in my lessons.
Critical reflection refers to a process by which an experience is recalled and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose before theories are formed and change of practice considered. Reflection is a response to past experience and involves a cycle of recall and examination of the experience as a basis for evaluation and decision-making and as a source for planning and action.
Becoming a reflective teacher involves moving beyond the concerns with instructional techniques and ‘how to” questions of a student/probationary teacher and asking ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that regard instructions and managerial techniques not as ends in themselves, but as part of broader educational purposes (Bartlett, 1990).
To gain autonomy over my practice, considering ‘what and why’ my teaching or the running of the department gives me responsibility for the direction and control of my actions. By reflecting on my practitioner enquiry questions, not only ‘exercise’ control but open up the possibility of transforming everyday life in my lessons.
How does reflection take place?
My methods of reflection in relation to my enquiry process consist of:
- Methods I have carried out to lead me to my questions and
- Methods I have still to carry out to answer my questions.
There are many different approaches of reflection including: observation of myself and my peers, team teaching, interviews and questionnaires and exploring my view of teaching through writing.
Central to any approach is a reflection cycle. Kolb has a 4 stage cycle, which involves:
Stage 1 Concrete Experience
The starting point of my experience is the teaching episode (such as observations of my teaching or that of others), literature research, self-reflection on a lesson or activity and tutor or peer feedback on written work, discussion, verbally during online tutorials, tutor meetings or weekend sessions.
Stage 2 Reflection
The next stage in reflective examination of an experience is an account of what happened, without explanation or evaluation. I have used several different procedures as sources for the recollection phase, including written descriptions of an event, a video or audio recording of an event, or the use of check lists or coding systems to capture details of the event. Review of the event requires me to process at a deeper level and ask question my experience.
Stage 3: Theories
I created questions, based on reflection of my observations and reading of policies, practitioner enquiry methods and related teaching issues. My questions remained unanswered by my practice and hypotheses/theories as to the reason for these questions and plausable solutions.
Stage 4: Approaches to critical reflection which reflect these processes.
- Peer observation provides opportunities for me to view each other’s teaching in order to identify different teaching styles and to provide opportunities for critical reflection in relation to my practice and with the other practitioner.
- Written accounts of my experiences such as through the e-journal or essays also promote engagement in the reflective process. Personal accounts of experiences through writing are important in teacher education as well as in my practice. A number of different approaches include:
2(i) Self-reporting involves completing an inventory or check list in which the teacher indicates which teaching practices were used within a lesson or within a specified time period and how often they were employed (Pak, 1985). Self-reporting has allowed me to make a regular assessment of what I am doing in my practice. I check to see to the extent my assumptions about my practice are actually reflected in my teaching. I believe the accuracy of self-reports increases when there is a focus on teaching of specific skills in a particular classroom context and when the self-report instrument is carefully constructed to reflect a wide range of potential teaching practices and behaviours (Richards, 1990).
2(ii) Feedback assists teacher preparation (Abbs, 1974, cited in Powell 1985). During my online sessions with the Practitioner Enquiry group we met every 2 weeks to provide feedback and supported and create a written account of their educational experience of enquiry.
Powell (1985) described the use of reaction-sheets – sheets student teachers complete after a learning activity – in which they are encouraged “to stand back from what they had been doing and think about what it meant for their own learning and what it entailed for their work as teachers of others” (p.46).
I have used a similar technique in my classes to provide a student voice in relation to course content, teaching strategies and their learning. I receive feedback from class observations and identify aspects of my lesson that were least effective and areas for improvement. I also complete a reaction sheet after the unit. We compare their reactions to the lesson.
2(iii) E-journal writing is a procedure which is becoming widely acknowledged as a valuable tool for developing critical reflection is the journal or diary. I intend that through my e-journal I,
1. provide a record of the significant learning experiences that have taken place
2. stay in touch with the self-development process
3. express in a personal and dynamic way my self-development
4. foster a creative interaction with the self-development process, with peers and my tutor
I feel my procedures of keeping my diary could be more organised I do try to maintain a regular account of learning or teaching experiences, recording reflections on my practice and descriptions of events, which may be used as a basis for later reflection.
I have allowed other practitioners to access my e-journal. For them it has the potential to served as a source of teaching ideas and suggestions and to observe my practice from a “safe distance”…… I have not been read their work and I feel we learn as much from one another’s entries as we were from our own. Reading and responding should led us back to our own teaching to consider how and why we taught as we did.
Informally, my practitioner enquiry group have created a Facebook Collaborative Diary. This allowed peers to support, identify issues and developing a critically reflective view of their learning/teaching. This could be expanded if I also recorded and later transcribed group discussions and subsequently analysed entries to identify common themes and solutions. Collaborative facebook brought several benefits to my development; it raised awareness of issues in the enquiry processes and prompted me to consider those processes more deeply than I may otherwise have. Collaborative diary-keeping also provided encouragement and support.
Problems with sharing enquiry:
1. It is more effective if the scope of issues considered is focused more narrowly.
2. A large block of time is needed
3. Participants must be comfortable in sharing both pleasant and unpleasant experiences 4. All teachers must share enquiry. If a few soak ideas from others this unifies the process but does not reflect the work of all.
2 (iv) Recording Lessons
For many aspects of dance teaching, audio or video recording of lessons can also provide a basis for reflection. Diaries and self-reports cannot capture the moment to moment processes of teaching. Many things happen simultaneously and some aspects of a lesson cannot be recalled; e.g. Many significant classroom events may not have been observed by the teacher, let alone remembered, hence the need to supplement diaries or self-reports with recordings of actual lessons. It is thought that once the initial novelty wears off, both students and teacher accept the presence of the technician with the camera, and the class proceeds with minimum disruption. In my experience, the student relaxes but the teacher still has pressure to perform.
A reflective approach to teaching requires changes in the way we usually perceive teaching and our role in the process of teaching. I notice that teachers who explore their own teaching through critical reflection develop changes in attitudes and awareness which they believe can benefit their professional growth as teachers, as well as improving the support they provide students and other professsionals. Like other forms of self-inquiry, reflective teaching is not without its risks, since journal writing, self-reporting or making recordings of lessons can be time-consuming. Engaged in reflective analysis of my teaching is a valuable tool for self-evaluation and professional growth. Experience alone is insufficient for professional growth, I feel participating in this Masters will couple my experience with reflection to provide powerful impetus for teacher development.
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Pak, J. 1985. Find Out How You Teach. Adelaide, Australia: National Curriculum Resource Centre
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