DOING WHAT TEACHERS MUST DO; ENGAGING IN REFLECTIVE TEACHING: YOUR WAY
Faghihi and Sarab (2016) highlight that reflective teaching has gained the status of an integral element of teacher pedagogy. However, do English teachers reflect critically on their teaching? Beyond doubt, they do. Houston and Clift (1990:209) state that we cannot assume teachers do not reflect on their teaching. Such an assumption only “performs a grave disservice to both the teaching profession and to the academic researcher or teacher educator”. However, the concern here, have they been successful reflective practitioners? What kind of evidence they can provide to indicate their critical reflection is fruitful? To me, an effective reflective practitioner is someone who reflects critically on the teaching and learning issue and then is able to develop a strategy or technique to address the issue well. The implementation of the strategy or technique can help learners learn English better. This is in line with Dewey (1938:19, in Brubacher et al., 1994) who describes that “a true reflective practice takes place only when the individual is faced with a real problem that he or she needs to resolve and seeks to resolve that problem in a rational manner”.
How can teachers reflect professionally? Dewey (1933) who is regarded as the ‘Father of Reflection’ proposes a five-phase reflective cycle. The cycle begins with suggestion that refers to impetus for inquisition. The second phase is problem or intellectualization which refers to the attempts made to understand the puzzling situation. The next phase is hypothesis formation that involves recommendations of ideas or possibilities. Reasoning is the fourth phase and it involves the application of relevant theories and knowledge to expand one’s suggestion and hypotheses. The final phase, testing, is where the hypothesis is tested. Dewey’s reflective cycle is summed up in Figure 1 below.
Kolb’s (1984) model is just a cycle made of four phases. The first phase is Concrete Experience. The individual, the team, or the organisation just does the task. As for a teacher, it is the teaching part. The second phase is Reflective Observation which involves reflection on what has been done. This includes returning to the beginning point of the task and review what is done and tried.
Abstract Conceptualization is the third phase. This includes interpretation of the marked results and understanding the connections between them. Theory can be useful as a base of shaping and explaining the results. In that phase the adjustments, values, and beliefs also have influence on the interpretation of the results. The fourth phase is Active Experimentation. The planning (active experimenting) gives an opportunity to master the new understanding and its carrying to predicting which is likely to happen later, or what other actions must be taken for improving the way that we treat the task.
Figure 2: Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning (1984)
In short, experts have proposed certain models or cycles of reflective practice. I only share two models here. Surely there are many other models offered by researchers and experts in education. As for me, I do engage in reflective practice from time to time. So, how do I reflect? WHAT IS MY WAY? Based on literature reviews, I believe there should be four cycles or stages in the critical reflection on my own teaching.
First cycle: Selecting and understanding an issue (it is advisable to handle one teaching and learning issue at a time). Here, I always try to get a very clear picture of the chosen teaching and learning issue; find out why and how it happens. Depending on the focused issue, I ask myself questions like "Why do learners refuse to write essays?, "What are their problems?" and "What are their top three anxieties to write essays?"
Second cycle: Planning what to do to address the issue. At this stage, I develop a strategy, technique, module or anything that I believe can help learners to address the issue well. As mentioned by the experts, in designing the technique or strategy, teachers should fall back to good and relevant theories. I will try to relate my strategy to an established theory such as humanism or behaviourism. Sometimes, when I am planning, the strategy does not have to be perfect (anyway, nothing is perfect!). It is all right to have little flaws or minor incomplete parts in the strategy. The point is, each flaw will be improved step by step during the implementation stage.
Third cycle: Implementation which of course refers to the phase of implementing the strategy / technique developed by me. Throughout the implementation phase, I have to be observant; be aware of the weaknesses and strengths of the strategy or technique. I normally record the progress made by the learners. Do not forget to gather and keep data like test marks or number of adjectives in a paragraph (through a pre-test or essays written in the previous examination) before and after the implementation of the strategy to see progress and efficacy of the strategy.
Fourth cycle: Of course, it has to be reflecting critically on the strategy that is implemented. At this juncture, I examine the strengths and weaknesses or flaws of the strategy. I focus on the aspects to be improved, deleted or added for the next cycle of implementation. I will also redesign the strategy or technique if necessary. Once all are done, the revised strategy or technique is implemented again in classrooms. If there are still issues encountered, then I have to go back to the first cycle or stage again; understanding the newly emerged issue in details.
That is how I develop strategies and innovations (you may refer to “About Me” in this blog to see my list of innovations). I am still learning and exploring on ways to teach weak learners at SMK Taman Mutiara and will definitely engage myself in critical reflection from time to time. To find what I am looking for (solution), to develop the “right” strategy or technique, of course, I always go through the four stages or cycles mentioned above.
Teachers, let us grow together. Let us become true reflective practitioners. As teachers, we must reflect on their teaching practices continuously as reflection is a significant tool that promotes professional development (Zeichner and Tabachnick, 1991; Loughran, 1996, Richards and Lockhart, 1994, Farrell, 1998).
Reflection promises nothing except that you will learn from your own experience and opportunities for you to look closely at what you do in the classroom, think about why you do it, and think about if it works and why it does not work. It is a process of self-evaluation and professional growth (Johari, 2006).
Trust me, your serious engagement in reflective teaching, will change you and the way you think! You will be a better teacher! So, what is YOUR WAY of being a true reflective practitioner? Is it something like in Figure 3 below? You are the best decision maker!
Figure 3: YOUR WAY of carrying out critical reflection on your own teaching?
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