Do you ever feel like you’re just not getting anywhere with your teaching? Do you find that you can’t seem to put a finger on what’s holding you back? This is something I struggle with continually. There are times when I walk back to my office after class feeling a little let down, but not sure exactly why.
These are the times I really force myself to unpack the class session to learn from the experience. There is always something new to learn, strategies to hone, and continual evolution of theory and practice. One complication is that practice and experience will not necessarily help you to improve over time. We have to engage in deliberate and reflective practice.
Strategies for Reflection-in-Action
- Make notes
The simplest thing I do to capture my reflections-in-action is to take notes during class. I rarely lecture for long periods of time, so it’s relatively easy for me to jot down a quick note during an activity. These notes are often very short, but they serve as a trigger for me to remember an idea later.
- Pre-plan deliberate reflection points
I always have a plan for each class session, often just in bulleted list format, that lists all the key ideas, discussion prompts, and resources. I will often make a note on the page with a reflection question for myself. I usually pair this with an activity where students are working briefly on their own. For example, after a recent class activity in which I asked the students to unpack a series of short video clips, I jotted down this prompt for me to consider during class: which question prompts worked and which didn’t? This simple question helped me to reflect on the fly, even during class.
- Gather data from students
When I’m trying an activity for the first time, or when I’m teaching about a topic that is particularly challenging, I will sometimes stop the class and ask the students how they thought the activity went. I’ve had them do this on scrap paper, but I find it works better when it’s more anonymous, so I often use a simple “virtual cork board” application called Padlet to have them contribute a note. I’ve found that students can be very insightful in their comments. They also appreciate the opportunity to provide quick feedback in this way.
Strategies for Reflection-on-Action
- Immediately review any notes
The simplest and most effective strategy I use to reflect on a class session is to review my notes and any relevant student feedback as quickly after class as possible. I find that if I review these shorthand notes right away, I can often glean some helpful insights. If I leave them sit too long, I lose the context and sometimes can’t even recall what the note referred to.
- Chart out a quick high/low review
If I don’t have many notes, I will sometimes chart out a quick graphical representation of the highs and lows during a class session along a horizontal axis. I then think about the ups and downs during the class and try to capture the ideas that I think contributed to both the highs and lows for future reference.
- Journal through a bad experience
If a class session or activity was really disappointing, I do a more in-depth reflection. Honestly, I’m not disciplined enough to do this very often, but once or twice a semester I find it really helpful to journal through an issue. In writing down my reactions, feelings, and insights related to a negative experience, I often am able to sort out what happened and what I might do differently the next time. If I’m not able to sort it out on my own, these notes can be a great resource to share with a colleague and get their perspective.
These are just a few of the strategies I’ve found helpful in reflecting on my teaching practice.
What strategies or practices help you to reflect on your teaching?
Please post your comments below.
Schon, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professional Think In Action, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-06878-2.