Reflection on Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector
They themselves learn lessons each time they teach, evaluating what they do and using these self-critical evaluations to adjust what they do next time. (Why Colleges Succeed, Ofsted 2004, para. 19) What this chapter is about . . . . . . . Reflective practice ± what is it? Why and how should we do it? Reflection `in’ and `on’ action Some models of reflective practice Using reflection as a basis for improving learning and teaching Writing your personal development journal (PDJ)
Your individual learning plan (ILP) What makes a good teacher in lifelong learning? LLUK standards This chapter covers, at least, the following standards: What is reflective practice? The LLUK Professional Standards for teachers, tutors and trainers in the lifelong learning sector state that those working in the sector should value `Reflection and evaluation of their own practice and their continuing professional development as teachers’ (AS 4).
In addition, their professional knowledge and understanding includes: `Ways to reflect, evaluate and use 8
TEACHING IN THE LIFELONG LEARNING SECTOR research to develop own practice and to share good practice with others’. As part of their professional practice, they should: `Share good practice with others and engage in continuing professional development through reflection, evaluation and the appropriate use of research’. Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status requires trainees to begin the practice of continuing professional development (CPD) right from the start of their training by keeping a development journal.
This practice continues after completion of training; all teachers in lifelong learning are required to provide evidence of a minimum of 30 hours CPD each year in order to maintain their licence to practice. There is one quality above all that makes a good teacher ± the ability to reflect on what, why and how we do things and to adapt and develop our practice within lifelong learning. Reflection is the key to successful learning for teachers, and for learners. As the LLUK standards make clear reflection is an underpinning value and is the key to becoming a professional teacher.
A commonsense view of reflection is that it involves just thinking about things. Perhaps, thinking about the structure of the universe or why you disagreed with your partner last night could be regarded as reflection ± others might consider it nothing more than idle and self-indulgent speculation. Most of us spend time thinking about what we do and the effects we have on others, but we don’t always take it a step further and reflect on our actions and make plans to do things differently.
To do with learning; about change and development ± becoming a reflective teacher. Jenny Moon suggests: Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome. It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and, possibly, emotions that we already possess. (Moon 2005: 1) THE REFLECTIVE TEACHER 9 From `help! ‘ to `second nature’ The process of reflection helps us to monitor our own development from raw beginner to experienced professional.
Reynolds’s (1965) model of developing competence in social work suggests the stages seen in Figure 1. 1. Those of you who recall learning to drive will recognise these stages. Mastering, for example, clutch control is a deliberate practice of trying, sometimes failing, trying again, becoming confident, until it eventually becomes an unconscious process. Our teaching careers follow a similar process: early fears about the timing of activities or the use of information technology (IT) are initially difficult, even frightening, but eventually become second nature.
Another, uncredited model, suggests a movement through the stages of: . . . . unconscious incompetence ± in which we are unaware of what we can’t do or don’t know; conscious incompetence ± in which we become aware of our development needs and start to do something about them; conscious competence ± where we are using our new skills and knowledge, but watching and monitoring ourselves; unconscious competence ± the skills become naturalised. This is like Reynolds’s notion of `second nature’. Many of our skills, our knowledge and competences will become, like driving a car, second nature.
However, we must ensure that `second nature’ doesn’t become complacency. Success in teaching requires us always to challenge and develop our practice by regular reflection and review. David Berliner (2001) outlines the stages of teacher development as going from the Novice ± raw recruit who is learning the basics and is relatively inflexible ± to the Expert, who is very much like the racing driver or the Figure 1. 1 From Reynolds’s (1965) model of developing competence. 10 TEACHING IN THE LIFELONG LEARNING SECTOR professional footballer who is completely at one with their art, performing effortlessly and naturally.
Experience and length of service do not, however, necessarily make an expert; experience needs reflection if we are to become expert teachers. Rollett (2001) describes what it means to be an expert teacher. This is a very useful model and is worth quoting at length: Experts rely on a large repertoire of strategies and skills that they can call on automatically, leaving them free to deal with unique or unexpected events . . . The wealth of knowledge and routines that they employ, in fact, is so automatic that they often do not realise why they preferred a certain plan of action over another.
However, when questioned, they are able to reconstruct the reasons for their decisions and behaviour. (Rollett 2001: 27) Reflection ± some theory John Dewey was a leading educational philosopher of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose ideas are still influential. He believed that traditional education, as then practised in his native America, was rigid, static and inadequate for the rapidly developing society and economy of the time. (The same criticism is frequently made of education today!
Dewey advocated child-centred learning and stressed the importance of each individual’s lived experience as a starting point for learning. Key to Dewey’s philosophy was the development of thinking, particularly, reflective thinking. In How We Think, he states that: Thought affords the sole method of escape from purely impulsive or purely routine action. A being without capacity for thought is moved only by instincts and appetites, as these are called forth by outward conditions and the inner state of the organism. A being thus moved is, as it were, pushed from behind. (Dewey 1933: 15)
Such a person is, in other words, not in control. They are dragged along by events, unable to understand or change them. To use more up to date terminology, such a person is merely reactive, rather than active or proactive ± things happen to them; they don’t make things happen. We must, as Dewey says, move from routine action to reflective action which is characterised by ongoing self-appraisal and development. simply as the `theory-practice gap’. Like Dewey, Schon believed that reflection begins in working practice, particularly those areas of practice where professionals are confronted with unique and confusing situations ± E `the swampy lowlands of practice’ as Schon calls them. Teachers may have acquired the theoretical knowledge (technical rationality) of their subject or of the practice of teaching and learning, but whilst this might explain their classroom practice as it should be, it might not explain it as it actually is.
From these real-life experiences teachers can develop tacit knowledge ± a synthesis of theory and practice which they have developed for themselves. It is vital that these learning experiences are recorded in journals and discussed with mentors and fellow trainees. Trainee teachers might express the opinion that `this theory stuff is all very well, but it doesn’t work in the real world’. Teacher trainers may be offended by such rejections of theory, but their trainees may have a point ± theory is only of any use when it is applied and developed in practice.
The real teaching environment is where theory is applied, tested and evaluated. Theory is never used rigidly, nor does it provide all the answers to the problems teachers encounter. It is, however, the starting point for developing teaching and learning in practice. Reflection, in and on action, allows teachers to continually improve their practice and even to the development of practice-based theory. During your training, and as a result of reading this book, you will acquire a body of theoretical knowledge related to teaching and learning which you will want to apply in your learning sessions.
For, example, humanist theories of teaching and learning stress the development of the whole person and the 12 TEACHING IN THE LIFELONG LEARNING SECTOR Figure 1. 2 Using reflection in and on action to improve teaching and learning. creation of a non-threatening, positive learning environment. In practice, this might not be as easy as the theory suggests. However, this does not invalidate the theory, but it does mean you will need to adapt and E experiment with it in practice. Schon calls this application and development of theory in the real world theory-in-use.
The notion of reflection linking theory and practice underlies the work of Kolb and of Gibbs. The models of learning and reflection they developed are sometimes called `iterative’ because they are based on a repeating, but continually evolving and improving, cycle of learning. Kolb (1984) is explained in detail in the chapter on learning theory. Essentially, his Experiential Learning Theory shows a four-stage cycle of activity. These four elements are: THE REFLECTIVE TEACHER . . . . 13 concrete experience; reflection; abstract conceptualisation;
The learner, in this case the teacher, can begin the cycle at any point but must follow each step in order. Consider, for example, that a trainee teacher uses role play in a session (concrete experience). The role play is partially successful. The teacher reflects on the use of this learning method and considers how it could be improved and made more effective (reflection). She reads up on the use of role play and talks to more experienced colleagues and, as a result, formulates an improved version of the activity (abstract conceptualisation).
The next time she plans to use role play she incorporates her new ideas into the planning (active experimentation). This leads to a new concrete experience and the repetition of the cycle. Activity Consider a recent example from your own teaching when you have tried a new method or resource. Using Kolb’s four stages, consider the development of the technique in practice. Several writers on reflective practice have emphasised the importance of the teacher’s feelings as part of the reflective process. This fits in with the development of emotional intelligence, which is discussed later in the book.
We may experience a wide range of feelings during and after our teaching ± elation, confusion, anger, helplessness, blaming the learners ± and it is important to recognise and reflect on them. Gibbs (1988) adds feelings to his model of `learning by doing’. See Figure 1. 3 for the stages of learning in his model. Gibbs’s model provides key points in development, especially description, evaluation, analysis and action, which we will consider further in the section on methods of reflection. Before then we need to examine the reasons for reflective practice.
These are key skills in active learning and the development of independent learners. Reflection can also help us to develop our emotional intelligence, particularly if we include a consideration of feelings as part of our reflections. The concept of emotional intelligence, developed by Daniel Goleman (1995, 1998), encourages the development of self-awareness of feelings and the recognition and management of emotions. Finally, and most importantly, reflective practice is the key to improvement. If we don’t think about, analyse and evaluate our professional practice we cannot improve.
Activity Empathy (see Chapter 4, `Communication and the teacher’) is important in developing your reflective practice, particularly the ability to imagine what it would be like as a learner in your own class. I can well recall a staff development session in which a colleague talked to us for more than an hour. At the end of it I was extremely annoyed at just being a passive object. It was a salutary experience and made me realise what it would be like to be a student in a passive, non-stimulating environment.
When you’re teaching you have considerable freedom of movement and activity ± you can stand up; sit down; walk around and, generally, direct operations. This is not usually the case for learners. Next time you’re in `learner mode’, at a conference or staff development session, think about how you feel. Do you feel stimulated, interested, engaged, or restless and fidgety? Would you like to move around a bit, stand up for a while, say something, do something? Reflective practice ± how to do it Reflection is a process and an activity which teachers undertake primarily for themselves.
It is not about the production of mountains of paper evidence at the behest of teacher trainers or managers ± such `otherdirected’ activity becomes a chore for trainees and teachers from which they will derive little value. Reflection will, however, lead to a product ± diary, log, PDJ ± which will contribute to assessment and, subsequently, be used as evidence of CPD. 16 TEACHING IN THE LIFELONG LEARNING SECTOR The right mental attitude We should remember that reflection is not an end in itself; it is the starting point of becoming a reflective practitioner.
For Jenny Moon reflection is used, `with the sense of saying something not so much about what a person does as what they are’ (Moon 1999). The basis of all reflection is a willingness to undertake the process and to value it as means of improvement and development. Reflection can be difficult, even threatening, because it forces us to be honest with ourselves and recognise not only our successes but areas where we need to improve. It makes us take responsibility for our teaching and learning. Being a reflective practitioner is like being your own observer and your own critical friend.
We can refer to this willingness to reflect and develop as the `right mental attitude’, without which the whole process of reflection is pointless. The professional development journal (PDJ) There are many forms of reflection and occasions on which you will reflect, but as a trainee teacher the main form of reflection will be through your reflective journal, commonly referred to as the professional development journal. Your PDJ is a written record of your experiences of, and feelings about planning, preparing and delivering teaching and learning.
It will contain general accounts of learning sessions but, more importantly, will identify critical incidents which can be the basis for learning and continuing professional development (CPD). The PDJ is subjective; it is written by you and for you and gives an opportunity to conduct a dialogue with yourself. You must remember, however, that as a trainee your tutors and mentors will see the journal, so it pays not to be indiscreet or make personal comments. The journal is also a place where you can relate theory to practice.
We have already established that theory is only useful if it is used, tested and evaluated in your teaching and learning. Success, or otherwise, in teaching is not just a matter of luck. It results from thorough planning and preparation, knowing your students, and reflection on, and evaluation of, your practice. You will experience the wonderful feeling you get after a class has gone well; the learners, and you, have enjoyed themselves and, above all, learned. You will also experience the depths of despair following a session which just hasn’t worked, where the learners don’t seem to want to learn and you just long for the end of it all.
The reflective teacher uses both extremes to learn and develop. If it went well, are there general conclusions you can draw to try with other learners? Are there specific points you can use with this group again ± remember each group of learners is THE REFLECTIVE TEACHER 17 unique and reflection helps you to get to know them and work effectively with them. After the dreadful session, you might be chastising yourself (or worse, your learners) for the failure. Neither course is appropriate. You must reflect, analyse, evaluate, learn and change.
One of the most valuable functions of your PDJ is to help you identify development points for action planning. You should review your journal regularly to see if there any recurring themes which you need to pick up on for your training and development. It will be useful to summarise your journal at the end of your course. This summary can have two functions; first, you can see how far you have come since you started your training and, second, you can use it as the basis for your CPD. Remember, evidence of CPD is a requirement in getting and maintaining QTLS. Writing your PDJ
Many trainee teachers in PCET worry about writing their journals ± what form should it take; typed or handwritten; how much; how often; is it right? The main message is ± don’t worry. When it comes to journals, you can’t do them wrong! There are, however, guidelines and advice to help you make them more useful and more effective. Writing and written style Writing is a very effective way to make sense of experience ± to organise, evaluate and learn from it. Creative writing is often used as a form of therapy by which people can work things out and find solutions for problems.
Cognitive behavioural therapy requires clients to recognise and write down examples of mistaken thinking and to imagine more positive scenarios ± in other words to reflect, analyse, evaluate and, most importantly, change. It is important to get into the habit of writing and to do it as soon as possible after the event. It’s a good idea to include a reflection box at the end of your session plans in which to record some immediate thoughts which will form the basis of your journal entry. When you start writing, don’t spend too much time thinking about it.
Let the writing flow and try to capture the experience and some critical incidents (see below). Once you’ve recalled the events, then you can start to learn from them. Little and often is a good rule, particularly in the early days of journal writing. You should always be regular in your journal writing habits. You might find it useful to track a particular group of learners or, perhaps, to compare groups. Your course tutors will advise you regarding how much you should write and what period of time your journal should cover. As for writing style, you should be free, spontaneous and informal.
There’s no need for the impersonal, academic style; some of the best journals I’ve seen 18 TEACHING IN THE LIFELONG LEARNING SECTOR are quirky and idiosyncratic. You must, however, avoid inappropriate language or too much slang or colloquialism and never make personal comments about teachers or colleagues ± unless, of course, you are referring to their good practice. There will be times when you are frustrated and annoyed in your training or in your work. You can use your journal to get some of this out of your system, it can even be therapeutic, but you must use it as a basis for learning and development ± extended moaning is not acceptable.
In keeping with the spontaneous and informal approach you will probably write your journal by hand, but it’s best to check if your tutors have any preferences regarding written or word-processed documents. Some of you will prefer to type your reflections straight on to your computer, possibly using a template you have designed to suit your needs. When you are reviewing your journal it’s useful to highlight key points for your summary, for action plans, or as discussion points for tutorials. I have known trainees who recorded their journals on to dictation machines (digital rather than tape).
This can increase the spontaneity but, obviously, necessitates transcription into written form ± if you’ve got voiceactivated software this is less of a problem. Increasingly, trainees are experimenting with using blogs for their reflective journals. This provides some interesting opportunities for sharing ideas with a whole range of people and even the development of `communities of practice’. Again, you must check with your tutors regarding the acceptability of this format. Communities of practice don’t have to be online. You can share your reflections with fellow trainees in taught sessions or group tutorials.
It can be very helpful to find that colleagues are experiencing the same uncertainties or difficulties as you and, hopefully, enjoying successes. Sharing ideas and developing strategies together is an extremely valuable collaborative activity. You may even wish to build in presentations to colleagues on particular issues. Many teachers, like many learners, have a visual learning preference and, as such will want to include diagrams, drawings or any other visual modes. I always encourage this, particularly as visuals can help you get the big picture and explore relationships between ideas.