Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice

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Reflective practice is a fundamental skill to instruction that leads itself to the success and development of an educator. One can make an argument that this skill is so fundamental that educators, who do not naturally explore this realm, may have a hard time developing the higher order skills of instruction.

In a nutshell, reflective practice is the art of diagnosing reasons why a class has been successful or why it didn’t meet certain expectations. This can happen after the class, but one strategy educators can use is to assess/reflect on the success or failure of meeting objectives during the class. Real time reflection aligns with chaos theory and the butterfly effect, so it is easier to assess reasons for success or failure in the moment as opposed to waiting until after class where memories may not be so vivid.

There are certain questions educators should ask themselves when reflecting on a class. Also, there certain components to reflective practice that lend itself to helping the educator gain a clearer picture, but at the same time, some methods of reflection can cloud the experience. Reflective practice is to be used to solve problems and help educators grow professionally to increase the learning experience of students. It should be as natural as learning to ride a bike.

What Reflective Practice is Not

  • Practical Not Ideological: In some circles of education, reflective practice has taken on a cult following that is worshipped as an ideology. It is a fundamental skill that takes some practice, but reflective practice is more focused on making actual changes and not on what the educator believes. Ideology is a higher order philosophy like learning theory which trickles down to lesson planning and activities to facilitate learning. In this fashion, reflective practice is about the lesson plan or elements of the class to increase learning, not meant to be a higher order ideology. On a side note, reflecting and noticing patterns of learning do help educators alter beliefs in ideology, but that is only with a significant amount of assessment. For example:

Problem: The educator has noticed that a certain amount of mischief helps students learn. On the other hand, there is a time when students are too out of hand and learning decreases. (Note: this was noticed over many classes)

Belief/Ideology: Students can misbehave a little, but too much creates problems with learning. So, there needs to be boundaries students stay within.

Practical Application: The educator will start sending students out of class when misbehaving too much. When that does not work, the educator looks at the situation and thinks to put classroom rules on the wall. That works well, but the educator would like more control, so he uses grades with classroom rules to control students.

Result: The educator noticed a pattern over many experiences and formed a belief on education or learning. Then, he reflected on various strategies to assist that belief. Reflective practice is a practical activity that addresses real issues with real strategies.

  • Never 100%: Reflection is never going to be 100% accurate. The classroom is a complicated collection of factors that is more like the Hadron Collider than a single cell organism. It is important to recognize when something has been successful or not and test it out. For example, an educator may think that disengaged students are a result of no interest in the topic. The educator can then change the topic and if interaction increases, then this most likely was the problem. However, if interaction remains low, then other issues may be the problem like the lesson being too high, students do not know one another, or they do not understand the task. The key point is to test results as reflection is never a hundred percent.
  • Ask Everyone’s Opinion: Reflective practice can take place with other educators who can provide various views on situations; however, not all advice is good advice. Many educators have different philosophies, teaching styles, and views, so they may not understand how the class is set up and carried out. Therefore, it is a better practice to confer with educators who share similar teaching philosophies and methods to alleviate input that is not beneficial.

What it is

  • Active Teaching: For new and experienced educators, it is great for educators to perform what I call “active teaching.” Active teaching involves the normal performance of instructing a class while the educator uses this opportunity to assess how learning is or is not taking place. Basically, the educator has a predetermined lesson to follow, but during instruction the educator is reflecting on what has taken place and alters if it is needed.
  • Ask  Questions: These questions will be key to reflecting?
    • What went(is going) well? What did/is not go well?
    • Why did it go well? Why is it not going well?
    • How can I change it to achieve my objectives?
    • What other factors are involved?
    • What other possibilities are there?

Strategies for Use

There are several strategies to using reflective practice to help educators handle problems.

  • Real Time: This has been talked about before in this article, but not one that is promoted in reflection circles. Actually, reflection is considered an after class activity, but why wait until then? If reflection is assessing past events, then why wait until after class? Educators can reflect after something happens to consider reasons and test alternatives in the moment. If the changes alter the class properly, then active teaching has taken place. If the changes do not alter the class as desired, then after class reflection may be needed.
  • After Class: Either mentally or on a piece of paper, go through the standard questions and come up with answers to the questions. Think of why something may not have worked, and how to address some issues. Most of the time, educators will think through this, but if the educator feels inclined to start a diary, then start a diary.
  • Observation: Educators can benefit greatly from being observed by other educators. Sometimes educators are “too close” to the action and do not assess everything properly; therefore, another set of eyes or views may assist in assessing the situation. It helps to have someone who is open minded and willing to provide constructive criticism if needed. Do not invite educators into the classroom whose main intent is to “correct” instruction. After class, sit down and discuss what happened in class.
  • Discussion: Talk with other educators who have faced or are facing similar issues to gain insight into alternatives. Advice like this has to be measured as the other educator may have different philosophies or teaching styles which may not help the situation. On the other hand, people with different styles can provide useful information that can be repackaged and used according to educator’s style.
  • Online/Books: The Internet and books are good places to find alternatives to help with problems or useful ways. Again, information gleaned from these methods should be considered carefully.
  • Student Feedback: Give students a chance to provide feedback on what worked for them and what did not. Many times students will provide useful information, but at other times they will just write anything down because it is required.
  • Video/Audio: Recording the classroom can provide an opportunity for the educator to look back on what happened and gain a better assessment of problems to find solutions.

Final Thoughts

Reflective practice is one of the essential elements to being an educator. It is not understood how an educator can teach a lesson and not instinctively question why something did not work and try to find a solution to the problem. It can be understood why educators do not reflect on successful portions, but this reflection can provide just as much useful information as reflecting on unsuccessful portions. There are a lot of dynamics involved in a classroom, and educators cannot always get it right; therefore, reflective practice is needed by the novice as well as the very experienced. When the educator stops reflecting on his classes, he has stopped growing as an educator, and this is not good for the educator or the students.