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Of the many learning experiences that I have encountered in the course of GTP training, learning to Reflect effectively on my own Practice has had the biggest impact on me as a teacher and as an individual. As a consequence of the clear benefits of Reflective Practice to my own learning, I am interested in investigating the impact it could have on the learning of my students. In particular I am interested in the progression from informal Reflections (which tend to be subjective and led by emotional responses) to more formal Reflections, where an objective review of a situation can lead to a more positive and effective response.
Reflecting on Practice is a well-documented and evidenced method for improving teaching (Loughran 2002) particularly in training years. However, although QTS Standard Q28 identifies reflection in student learners as being of importance, this appears to be a less published area under the name of 'Reflective Practice'. Q28 states, 'Those recommended for the award of QTS should support and guide learners to reflect on their learning, identify the progress they have made and identify their emerging learning needs'. This may be through the framework of Assessment for Learning (National Strategies Website 2010) where assessment is used as a tool to further learning. It can, however, also be based not on an assessment opportunity, but on wider learning experiences. This is where I distinguish between AfL and the subset of this that could be named Reflective Practice.
Through the use of eCharts - where the teacher's online mark-book connects directly to each student, such that students are provided with documentation of their effort and achievement marks for each piece of work - Bryanston School has in the last year been working towards developing the practice of reflection in students. Each teacher is encouraged to comment and set targets attached to grades on the eChart, and equally students have means of commenting on these. This process is described and stated as school policy in the Guide to Bryanston. However, through discussion with tutees, I have identified that this process is more challenging to pupils than might be imagined. They are unsure of how to comment, and what to comment on. As a consequence of this, I have - both in my teaching, and in my role as Year 9 Co-ordinator - begun to incorporate into my teaching ideas to guide students towards effective reflective practice.
What is reflective practice and why do we do it?
Why do teachers Reflect on Practice? What do we hope to gain by being reflective?
To be an effective teacher, in the classroom and in the wider sense, requires - in my opinion - the ability to reflect on past events and learn from these experiences. Without this process of reflection, teachers could neither deliver effective learning sequences, nor be able to cope with the challenges of the wider role of the teacher. It is worth noting that much has been published in recent years on Reflective Practice in both the areas of teacher training and in nurse training (Craig 2009, Loughran 2002). I think that the benefits of Reflective Practice may be more immediately striking in the context of nursing, and these ideas can then be transferred to Reflective Practice in teaching. In the chapter entitled 'Managing Anxiety' in her book 'Study Skills for Health and Social Care Students', Claire Craig clearly identifies the effect that personal stress can have on the working ability and wellbeing of trainee nurses. Similar stresses - time management, managing people and learning new skills, for example - apply to the process of teacher training. Through applying techniques of Reflective Practice, these areas can be managed and a path through them found (Craig 2009). Thus Reflective Practice could be seen as an essential means of surviving the training programme of either profession. Further to the personal gain to be achieved through Reflective Practice, student teachers (and nurses alike) could also improve their subject knowledge (Cobb et al 1997). 'We may believe that we have unwittingly acquired some new knowledge, but it is not understood until we have exercised reflective energy upon it and made it our own.' (Ranson et al 1996). Through looking effectively at what has occurred in the past, we can use that information to improve what we do in the future. Moreover, there is a difference between 'knowledge' and 'understanding' (Ranson et al 1996). If student teachers develop a better awareness of their own learning through Reflective Practice, they are likely to have a better understanding to be able to develop the learning of their students.
What do we mean by reflective practice? What is 'reflection'? What is 'practice'?
In the context of student teacher education, reflective practice has associated with it a number of different particular meanings (Loughran 2002). Reflecting on practice can refer to simply thinking about an event, while it can also mean a much more fixed and structured process (Loughran 2002).
Interestingly, I find it more problematic in this context to put a definition on the idea of 'practice' than on that of reflection. There is an inherent difficulty that can be summarised by the sentence 'the practice of reflective practice', where practice can be taken in a broad sense to mean 'process', and later in combination to encapsulate the strategy that is named Reflective Practice. I do not attempt to distinguish any further between these. For the purposes of this writing, however, I find it helpful to use Reflective Practice to make the distinction. My definition of Practice is a fairly broad one, though I think there is merit in this as it prevents over-focus on 'teaching' as the sole recipient of Reflection. The role of the teacher is far wider than the lessons they deliver - as exemplified by the fact that only two QTS standards directly state teaching as their primary purpose. To define 'Reflection' is less challenging, though the outcome may be more ambiguous. Inevitably it will mean different things to different people. Marietta Giovannelli suggests that Reflection (Reflective Practice) may by necessity have different associations for different people, due to the natural 'reflective disposition' of each student teacher (Giovannelli 2003). This idea is in my opinion at the heart of Reflective Practice.
What are the Theories that Underpin and Inform the Practice of Reflection?
Donald Schön could be considered the 'Father of Reflective Practice'. His 1983, 1987 and 1992 books sparked a succession of conflagrations of Reflective Practice amongst the teaching community (Loughran 2002). Underpinning Schön's theories was the idea that teacher education should occur through experience and coaching, rather than 'the training of a technician' (Stuart 1988). Schön highlights that situations are never likely to be 'typical' enough in real-life [teaching] situations for the application of taught 'right answers'. He proposes the idea of having a set of tools which can be used to re-frame a problem, carry out experimental 'solutions' and provide feedback on these until a satisfactory outcome can be achieved (Stuart 1988). Schön does not, however, provide a fixed mechanism for Reflection (Stuart 1988) - this would, one supposes, be at odds with his fundamental view of Reflective Practice as a technique. He does put discussion between student teacher and mentor at the heart of Reflective Practice, though, which could be seen as the central 'multi-tool' of his DIY toolbox.
On the other hand, there do exist models to follow when developing skills in Reflective Practice. A number of these models are best represented diagrammatically, and all of them deal with a spectrum of similar ideas. Below I have provided a diagram and review of three commonly used models of a 'cycle of reflection'.
Model 1: Kolb 1984
Kolb's Learning Cycle
This model is perhaps the simplest formal interpretation of a reflective cycle. It is interesting that Kolb uses the title 'Learning Cycle', demonstrating the critical importance that he places on the process in the context of learning. Although this is a simple model, it should not be seen as primitive. The benefit of having an uncluttered outline method must be weighed against the need to 'translate' the meaning of each stage of the cycle. It could be termed an 'academic aide memoire'.
Model 2: Gibbs 1988
Gibbs' 1988 'Model of Reflection' provides a more specific and detailed approach to Reflection. The addition of key questions, in non-technical language, makes this model a useful teaching tool in presenting ideas about Reflective Practice. It also sets up a forum for the discussion element that Schön kept at the centre of his writing about Reflection.
Model 3: Atkins and Murphy 1994
It is unsurprising to me that of the three models I have chosen to sample here, the 'Atkins and Murphy Model of Reflection' appears less frequently (than the previous two) in a Google search for Reflective Cycle images (Google Search October 2010). It is the newest of the cycles, and conceivably could be seen as a 'reinventing of the wheel'. The same processes of experience-discussion-action are present, but they are given more in-depth descriptors than previous models. I think there is merit in this in terms of academic study, and in furthering knowledge of Reflective Practice. Equally, I think that to the student who wants a model for practical application of Reflective Practice, it would form a relatively inaccessible starting point.
How do these Ideas Relate to My Practice?
I find it helpful to apply a model to my Reflections on Practice. Loughran (2002) distinguishes between Reflective Practice and 'Effective Reflective Practice', and equally makes emphasis of the difference between rationalization of an event and Reflection on that event. Although Schön's original idea that - in essence - Reflective Practice should be a dynamic and free-formed process, based around discussion, I think that the skills involved can be helpfully structured to help make the move from 'thinking about practice' to 'Effective Reflection on Practice'. Equally, this idea can be extrapolated. If the theory is that effective Reflection is achieved in the context of a trainee teacher through discussion and application of Reflective 'techniques', then these same techniques - or variations on them - could be used to encourage Reflective Practice in the students that I teach.
According to the National Strategies website, 'Assessment for Learning is a natural, integral and essential part of effective learning and teaching and is a key element of personalised learning. Teachers and children continually reflect on how learning is progressing, see where improvements can be made and identify the next steps to take.' (National Strategies Website 2010). As with any aspect of the teaching role, the skills necessary for Reflection need to be imparted by the teacher and taken up by learners. I am interested in laying the foundations of Effective Reflective Practice in the students that I teach. In the teaching of Mathematics, we do not expect children to be able to multiply before they can add, nor to be able to add before they understand the concept of number. Similarly, I would not expect that a child would necessarily understand the motivation, benefits or even mechanism of Reflective Practice without some guidance. Conversely there is perhaps an argument that learning here should occur experientially. Those learning to Reflect should gain from their mistakes - indeed, this is at the very heart of Reflection. I do not, therefore, seek to remove from my students the process of finding out which Reflective methods will ultimately work best for them. I would aim to give them a 'tour' of some methods that are both appropriate to them at their stage, and that will lead them towards discovering their own Reflective disposition.
As A Classroom Teacher
In light of the pressures associated with teaching an entire syllabus in advance of exams, I always feel a resistance towards assigning time to allow students to Reflect in the classroom. Commonly, we will progress through a Unit of Work, topic by topic, whilst allowing little or no time to Reflect on progress already made. There are mechanisms in place to allow feedback from teacher to student, and for students to comment on this feedback. One such mechanism is the Bryanston eChart (as discussed above, and below). A sample of the feedback and potential for discussion is given in Appendix 1. Nevertheless, this medium does not provide a forum for collective Reflection between a class group.
I am particularly interested in developing Reflective skills in my Year 11 GCSE Biology class ('B4'), as I feel they are at a stage where they could really benefit from implementing Reflection as a learning technique. The topic that we have been studying this term has been 'inheritance', which contains some of the most challenging material in the GCSE syllabus. This was another motivation for my encouraging reflection in this particular class. As such, over the course of the first six weeks of term I have been encouraging them to begin to think Reflectively.
I have presented below the 'story' of my experiment with encouraging this class to Reflect. I have written the 'story' in the third person, to try to increase the objectivity of my observations and 'storytelling'.
Reflection in B4 Biology
Initially strategies fell in the category of identifying problems with work, as this is the first step towards effective Reflection (Loughran 2002). When handing assignment work back B4, Miss Lowes would encourage them to think about the mark they received, and why they might have obtained that mark. Miss Lowes then would encourage them to think about what they could have done to have improved that mark. Some students really engaged with this, and there were noticeable improvements in later work. Others were resistant, clearly finding it difficult to see that use could be gained from work that they perceive to be 'complete'.
As we reached the end of the topic, Miss Lowes had worked into the scheme of work an 'overflow' week, to be used to go over any areas that were needing extra help. In the end, this proved an excellent opportunity to develop Reflective methods with the group. The class' assignment for the week was to construct a MindMap (or similar) of keywords relating to the inheritance topic. Using this MindMap, they then had to write five sentences about 'Inheritance' that they knew to be true. Finally, they were asked to identify three areas that they would like to know more about, either because they felt they didn't yet understand the concepts, or because they wanted to know more about these areas. When the students returned these assignments, in the following lesson, Miss Lowes then discussed with the group the following idea:
'Why did I ask you to complete this task?'
A number of students volunteered answers to the first idea. These included:
To find out what we know
For us to find out what we know
To sort out our files
To practise using MindMaps as a tool for revision
For a test
So that we know what to look at when we come to revision
These answers then led Miss Lowes to raise a second idea:
'What could you do with the information the task has identified? How could you change your "Want to know more" sentences into "I know thatâ€¦" statements?'
At this point a larger number of the class offered ideas, such as looking again at class notes, or at a textbook. Discussion then moved on to talking about which resources would be most appropriate for finding out different sections of information. Before handing in their assignment work, Miss Lowes encouraged students to write down the most useful strategy for 'answering' the 'problems' that students had identified.
Through the course of this six-week process, I have tried to take students step-by-step through a Reflective cycle. I have not initially attempted to get an entire group to engage with an entire Reflective process in one 'go', as I think that breaking the ideas down into smaller chunks may be an effective method of communicating ideas. This method also focuses - as Schön suggests it should (Stuart 1988) - on the building of discussion between students and teacher. This class were new to me at the beginning of this academic year, and relationships needed to be established between us. Through the use of earlier 'small Reflection activities' - identifying why a particular mark was awarded for work, and how this could be improved - I began to introduce students to the ideas behind Reflection, of identifying and solving problems, before embarking on a more formal reflection process with them.
Looking at the process of Reflection that I encouraged the students to follow in the main Reflection activity, it could be presented in the following form:
I feel that the development of Reflective ideas in the group has been effective, though I could have made the process more 'formal' earlier in the term, I think. If I had set out more obviously and consciously from the beginning of term, it is possible that some of the students that participated less might have come to see this as the 'norm' and be more active in their approach to the technique. However, overall, I am pleased with the progression the class made. I will ensure in future lessons that we return to the ideas discovered in the course of this process.
Over the course of this experience, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there are limitations associated with the whole-class approach to Reflective Practice. Two potential solutions arise:
Develop Reflection activities in which students work in smaller groups, such that each child has a greater chance of being 'heard'.
Use my role as an individual Tutor to work on Reflecting with individual tutees, and compare outcomes with those of class Reflection.
As An Individual Tutor
Appendices 1, 2 and 3 show examples of Reflective techniques that I have employed with one individual tutee, Bryony.
Appendix 1 shows her response, early in the term, to comments made by teachers. I had requested of her that she make some response on the eChart to comments made there. She is a high-achieving girl, and I had not anticipated that she would find this so difficult. We had discussed in tutorial some areas that were troubling her (see my comment about Hockey), but she was unable to make written comment or Reflection on that in the context of her eChart.
Later in the term, Bryony was involved in a Reflective exercise that I organised for Year 9. The results of the questionnaire that she completed are shown in Appendix 2. This more structured approach to Reflection, using analogy and prompts, seems much more successful for Bryony. She identified characteristics about her own progress thus far at the school. It was interesting that she includes ideas here that she had not raised in verbal discussions, such as her dissatisfaction with her grading in Art. This supports the idea that formal Reflections on Practice can sometimes be more informative than just discussion in developing effective Reflective disposition. At this stage of the term, however, Bryony had not been significantly challenged by anything academic, and although Reflections were of use, their real importance had not yet been demonstrated.
In week 5 of the term, Bryony received a 'unsatisfactory' effort grade for her performance in a French test. As an academic scholar, she perhaps has some underlying worry that she must continually perform at the highest standard or risk losing her scholarship. In this way, she came immediately to me - upon receiving the grade - in some state of distress. We discussed the situation verbally, and I then introduced the idea of writing some ideas down. The product of this written discussion I have included in Appendix 3. By talking through, and writing down, the stages in this Reflective cycle, Bryony was able to identify that her initial reaction to the problem had not necessarily been the appropriate one. Through the discourse she was able to change her solution to the problem from "I must work harder", to "I must find out exactly what I am expected to do, so I can work more efficiently". Moreover, Bryony identified that it was not her ability in French that had been the problem, but her application of that ability. This was important to her as it meant her confidence remained intact. At the end of the tutorial we discussed the next test, and Bryony was able to leave feeling positive about how she could approach that situation. I suspect that without following through the cycle she may have underperformed in the next test because she would have been worrying about the situation. Through the use of Reflection, she could identify the real problem, and generate her own solution.
What is my learning from this process of Reflection?
Throughout the course of this process of Reflection, I have become aware of a greater need to introduce Reflective Practice to my classes, and the important role it can have. By the very nature of the topic I have chosen, the conclusions I draw are evidence of the benefits of Reflective Practice.
I began this process by feeling that 'formal' Reflections are the most effective methods of conducting Reflective Practice. I intended to introduce students to those methods so that they might be able to make use of them. However, when thinking about how to introduce children to these ideas, I have found that in practice I have not involved the 'formal models'. At least I have not (for example) shown students the cycles of Gibbs and Kolb that I initially thought would form the basis of my 'teaching'. This was the result of considering the disposition of the students that I teach. Introducing to them yet another complicated diagram was unlikely to help them to appreciate the benefits of Reflective Practice, whereas simply engaging them in Reflective tasks gave immediate results. This is not to say that I think that there is no place for framing Reflections in the context of a cycle model. My personal experience has shown that they have a place in developing Reflective abilities, and perhaps could - or should - be introduced as a later tool to improve Reflective Practice once basic principles are in place.
So, what are these 'basic principles'? I return to Schön's assertion that discussion should form the centrepiece of Reflection. What I have come to see is that this discussion may not necessarily be verbal, but could be written. Indeed, the discussion could involve a wide range of media. This is an area that I would like to investigate further.
In addition to this 'first principle of Reflective Practice', I would add two of my own. The first is the idea of identifying the 'real problem'. This is achieved through observation and analysis of a situation, and may well be different from the initial (perceived) problem. This idea is raised by Loughran (2002). The second of my own basic principles is that a solution should be formed by the Reflectee - the 'action plan' of Gibbs' Model of Reflection.
By simplifying my Reflective Model into a two stage process;
Identify your real problem
Find your solution
I hope to provide myself and my students with a flexible enough model that it is both easy to implement and effective in its outcomes. I intend to introduce this two-stage process into my feedback and discussions with classes, and to encourage them to be pro-active in using this method themselves as a starting point for developing Reflective Practice.
Appendix 1 - The Bryanston eChart
Appendix 2 - Questionnaire
Which of these animals best represents your time so far at Bryanston? Why do you think this?
Labrador puppy, because they are young and taking everything in. Accepting new things. Happy and lively. Trying everything!
What about if you just think about the academic side of things? Why do you think this?
Tortoise/Racehorse. Getting everything done quickly but properly and taking time over it. Putting in maximum effort.
Which car do you think you'd most like to represent your work in lessons at Bryanston?
Ford Mondeo. Safe, gets it done pretty quickly, very sleek. Smart. Tidy. Efficient.
Which has been your favourite subject so far at Bryanston? Why?
Chemistry because I am finding it easiest and I've got good grades in it so far. Also, it has always been my favourite subject!
Which has been your leastfavourite subject so far at Bryanston? Why?
Art, because my teacher has given me the same grade each week even though I have put in 100% effort one week and only 65% another.
Geog: because we are being set so much prep.
Use the pictures to help you decide which is the most important factor that makes you like a subjectâ€¦
Is your favourite subject the one you get the best marks in? Why do you think this is?
Yes because it makes me feel proud of my achievements. Also if I get best marks in it, it's probably very easy for me!
If you could improve one thing about how your first month at Bryanston has gone, what would it be?
Get more sleep!
Not stay up talking!
Target to reach before half term:
Name everyone in the year
Settled in completely
Hard to organise preps, would be easier if set two 1hr long preps per night, so spread out evenly in the week. Otherwise work mounds up.