Ciara Ní Eochaidh is a teacher at the Bridge Mills Galway Language Centre. In this article she looks at what it is to be a reflective teacher and suggests 10 ways to help.
Reflective teaching is a process whereby teachers build self-awareness and continuously evaluate their behaviour and methodologies, with the aim of continued professional development.
Most teachers are aware of the benefits of reflective teaching. However, with our busy lives it’s easy for us to become set in our ways by sticking to a known and trusted routine.
There are a variety of easily implemented reflection tools available to help you become a reflective teacher. Here are ten suggestions.
1. Get student feedback
Getting feedback from your students is invaluable. Instead of waiting for delayed feedback from end-of-course surveys, get your own student feedback! Students will feel more involved in their own learning and help shape the class, which in turn increases motivation and engagement.
At the end of each week, ask students to give anonymous feedback that you can put into practice almost instantly. Guide them by framing the feedback in the form of sentence prompts (e.g. I’d like more…, I’d like less…, My favourite aspect of this week was…, My least favourite aspect of this week was…).
Alternatively, use Post-it notes at the end of each class where students write what they learnt or what stuck with them from the class.
While it might not sell in any art auction, board work is like a fine art. Most students nowadays tend to take a quick photograph of the board at the end of class, rather than handwrite notes throughout, and this snapshot of your board can be shared amongst students (e.g. via WhatsApp). This modern twist on note-taking puts even more importance on improving your board work.
At the end of your lesson, take a quick photograph of your board for later self-evaluation. Consider taking photographs from different angles and different seats/desks to get a full idea of each student’s perspective (e.g. some students may not be able to see the bottom third of the board due to the angle or bright lights).
3. Observation by your Director of Studies (DoS)
Invite the DoS to observe one of your classes. This can be a great way to get detailed and constructive feedback on all aspects of your teaching.
However, this may not represent a ‘normal, everyday’ class due to extra preparation and planning, as well as nerves due to the direct or indirect link to performance appraisals. Also, you and your students might act differently as you are both unavoidably aware of another person in the room.
4. Peer Observation
Invite a colleague to observe your class and evaluate your overall teaching. Alternatively, prior to the observation, agree with your peer which aspect of your teaching you’d like them to evaluate (e.g. error correction techniques, classroom management, etc.).
Peer observations work best if there’s a positive, encouraging, friendly atmosphere amongst you and your colleagues. Such activities can help foster a team spirit that is conducive to continued professional development. It has the added advantage of being less nerve-wracking than DoS observations.
However, it does have some of the same issues because you and your students are very aware of there being another person in the classroom. Also, are your peers too nice to tell you what you really need to hear?!
Instead of inviting one peer into your class, choose a 5-10 minute slot from your longer lesson (e.g. a grammar presentation stage) and teach in front of a small group of fellow teachers. Ask them for overall feedback or have them evaluate a predetermined aspect of your presentation. This can be an efficient way of getting very focused feedback from your peers. Filming this would also be a good idea to allow for later self-evaluation.
6. Personal teaching diary
Keep a daily diary to record your thoughts on the day’s lesson reflecting on various areas of interest (e.g. What went well? What could I have done differently? How will I modify my presentation of that language in the future? Were there any problems and did I deal with them effectively?). By encouraging you to spend time thinking and reflecting on each day, this diary-keeping process raises self-awareness, which is the first step in improvement.
Although a rewarding personal exploration, keeping a daily diary can be time-consuming and somewhat tedious. Also, as it is a delayed account, you could miss out or forget important information.
7. Hot notes
Keep a pile of Post-its available on your desk while you teach. In contrast to the delayed record provided by the teacher diary, you can quickly make note of things that happen in the class in the heat of the moment (e.g. grammar presentations that went well/badly, moments of obstructive teacher talk time, etc.). Don’t overdo it and be realistic. Choose one day per week where you take one or two notes. This provides a manageable focus for your self-improvement rather than overloading you.
8. Video Recording
While diaries and self-reporting can provide valuable insights, they cannot capture the moment-to-moment processes of teaching. A lot of things can happen simultaneously in the classroom and can’t be recalled accurately. Video recording your lesson allows for an in-depth analysis.
The same video can be used for multiple purposes and to evaluate various aspects of your teaching (e.g. use it to collect data on your use or overuse of gesture; your positioning; your facial expression when your student makes the same mistake for the 100th time!). It’s important to request the students’ consent before engaging in any recording.
9. Audio Recording
Record your lesson using your phone or an audio dictaphone. Similar to video, recording the audio from your lesson provides you with a detailed record of your moment-to-moment teaching and can be reused to focus on different aspects.
As it cannot provide visual cues, it is most useful in evaluating elements of your teacher talk (e.g. instruction giving, voice projection and use of intonation, teacher echo, excessive/intrusive teacher talk time). Using the Self Evaluation of Teacher Talk Time (SETT) grid would be an ideal tool to help analyse your TTT (see link below).
Consider carefully where to place your recording device to get the best audio quality.
10. Action Research
For those among you that are more data/research driven, why not engage in some action research! Consider these steps.
- Identify a focus. Based on what you have become aware of (self-reflection) or have been made aware of through feedback (DoS, peers, students), you can identify an area of your teaching you want to work on or experiment with.
- Collect data using an appropriate tool (your focus will determine which tool is most suitable, e.g. using audio recording to analyse obstructive or constructive teacher talk).
- Analyse the relevant data.
- Based on the results, prepare an action plan by:
- spending time thinking about the results and how you could do things differently.
- talking to your colleagues/senior teachers.
- reading relevant literature in academic books or online.
- Carry out the chosen action plan.
- Record/Observe the implementation of your action plan and the results.
- Reflect critically on your action.
Reflective teaching is not a one-off action to solve a problem. It should be an ongoing process that over time becomes routine. As a result of your reflection, you may decide to do something in a different way, in an improved way, or you may just decide that what you are doing is the best way.
And that is what professional development is all about!
Useful Links/Further Reading
For suggestions on how to improve your boardwork check out https://eltplanning.com/2015/09/28/16-ways-to-improve-your-whiteboard-work/ or follow #eltwhiteboard for useful tips and inspiration!
To give you an idea of what you could focus on in your personal teaching diary, check out this link: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/teaching_diary.pdf.
A tally table for Self-Evaluation of Teacher Talk (SETT) can be downloaded here: resig.weebly.com/uploads/8/1/4/0/8140071/sett2.doc