ELT concept #19 – Reflective Teaching
Erzsébet Békés – 7 Sep 2021
What is it?
Reflective teaching is the type of reflective practice that teachers employ in order to assess their own teaching and improve the quality of learning for their students.
It is carried out in four-stage cycles: teaching, (self-)assessing the effect of teaching on learning, creating new ways to make learning more effective and introducing those changes. The next cycle will then start with reflecting on how well the new or improved ideas have worked in practice.
In sum, reflective teaching involves systematically reviewing our classroom experiences so that through the actions we take based on our reflection our learners can benefit from teaching that is tailored to their specific needs. Such reflection widens teachers’ professional knowledge by leading to heightened awareness of how one can create the best conditions for learning, which includes identifying the barriers that may prevent it.
Why is it important?
Reflective teaching is grounded in reflective practice, which has become part of pre-service teacher education in many teacher training institutions and is also increasingly included in teachers’ Continuing Professional Development.
Reflection on our teaching practice has several benefits:
- We become more resourceful and creative educators and this results in increased self-confidence and autonomy;
- By consulting our students and asking for feedback, we learn about our learners’ feelings and way of learning;
- By exchanging our experiences, we can create a learning community involving our colleagues and other „stakeholders”.
Reflection is not confined to teachers. We also need to encourage our students to reflect on how they learn and support them in becoming responsible and self-aware lifelong learners.
One might argue that reflection amounts to „navel gazing” because it focuses on the teacher and may not directly affect students. In fact, reflection leads to modifying and refining our teaching methods, which leads to better learning outcomes. Beyond reflecting on our own teaching, observation by colleagues and feedback from our students can result in an evaluation of our work from multiple perspectives.
Here is a simple list of questions that we can ask of ourselves when assessing the impact of our teaching:
- What went well in this lesson? Why?
- What problems did I experience? Why?
- How engaged and active were the students?
- How much learning took place? How do I know?
What could I have done differently?
- What did I learn from this experience that will help me in future lessons?
(Source: Cambridge Assessment International Education)
There are various tools that can help reflection, such as learning journals, observations by colleagues and focus group discussions with our learners. These can lead to unexpected insights and reveal how we can improve our practice, always remembering the wisdom of the saying: „There can be a lot of teaching without much learning…”
Reflection on Reflective Teaching
In my own practice, I have always made an effort to reflect on the outcomes of my teaching. I often focus on what I perceive as “critical incidents”, especially, if I feel that the way I reacted in class was unsatisfactory or far from optimal. This might be because I was unable to “reflect-in-action” (Schön, 1983) and could only identify a gap or weakness when „thinking back”, which Schön defines as reflection-on-action.
Even though our reflection is often concerned with problems or puzzles, I have come to understand that exploring success (namely, why something we did in class worked really well) also deserves attention. By reflecting on those „moments of flow” we can identify the elements of success and extend them further. I believe that enhancing our reflection in this manner has become especially important during the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19.
This short summary relies heavily on the excellent material titled Getting started with Reflective Practice published by Cambridge Assessment International Education.
Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basis Books.