Reflective Practice – Better and Faster

Most teachers will have used some of their holiday time to think back over the previous weeks. We’ll have considered what went well and what could have been better; we’ll file some lesson ideas as successes and others as ‘learning experiences’. I’m not even the only blogging teacher to have been thinking along these lines, this week – see this post at the Creative Education blog for example.

No teacher is perfect. No matter how experienced or innovative, there are lessons which don’t go as planned. For many of us, the habits of detailed, regular self-evaluation we had as novices are less practical with a full timetable. However, we still reflect on good and bad points of a lesson or activity. The problem for many of us is finding time to reflect in any kind of systematic way. There’s not much chance at the end of one lesson to go through a detailed form or complex process, when we need to be getting the next one started. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Reflection – often focussing on ‘critical incidents’ – is hardly unique to teaching. My wife is a health professional and one of the formats she uses is called the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. Parts of it are obviously less relevant to us, but it’s worth a look.

The ‘action planning’ concept is often useful to give a focus to the process. It’s often considered a critical part of PGCE and NQT mentoring, for example. I find this more detailed approach useful for bigger problems (I’ve recently been struggling with a few ‘challenging’ year 11 students, for instance, and it’s given me clues about some of the more subtle causes and influences) but it’s specifically intended for events that are out of the ordinary, both positive and negative. It’s too lengthy to use every time. So how can we capture the day-to-day issues, the little things that add up over a week or fortnight?

Most issues in the classroom can be placed in one of three areas; what we know, what the kids do to learn about it and how we manage what they’re up to. Of course they overlap; we choose some learning strategies specifically to manage behaviour, don’t we? But thinking in terms of these areas will let us focus on whatever is the biggest concern – or the biggest triumph – at any one time.

You only need to watch Jamie Oliver’s Dream School to see that subject knowledge alone is a waste of time in a classroom. (Relatively) recent research (here and here) has shown that even at university level interactive learning activities make a significant difference to students’ achievement. And if behaviour management fails – something which we should remember depends on the consent of the pupils and the support of the school – then teaching is often a step too far.

It can be quick to check how a lesson went, by using these areas to guide our reflection. How you score them is up to you. It could be a simple tick or cross for each category, or a score from 1-5 under each heading in a table. You could make a note in your planner in your own code. Ideally there should be some way for you to record particular high and low points, whether it was a less successful lesson in terms of managing difficult students or an activity that really got the whole class engaged. I’ve saved one possible table as a pdf which is at the bottom of the page, along with some prompt questions. These are mostly Yes/No to make it easier and quicker – that is, after all the whole point of this blog post!

Subject Knowledge

  • Did you refer back to notes/texts for information, or just to check that everything had been covered?
  • Were you able to give extra examples or applications when needed?
  • Did you suggest useful extension activities or challenging questions to more able students?
  • Were there any questions you were dreading?
  • If there are areas you want to check or recap, do you know where to look?
  • Were you confident enough that your enthusiasm was noticeable to students?

Learning Activities

  • Do all students have the required/intended content recorded in some way?
  • Were your instructions followed by useful questions or a groan of “Not again…”
  • Did you use a range of activities? (you may use VAK or multiple intelligences checklists for variety)
  • Did the responses (e.g. during the plenary) show that students across ability range made progress?
  • Were the starter and plenary useful?
  • Did you tick the cross-curricular/careers/metacognition box? Should you have?

Behaviour Management

  • Were activities helped or hindered by your procedures and how you phrased your instructions?
  • For both positive and negative actions, did you follow your school/college strategies?
  • If students acted on your reminders/instructions, were you able to show that you recognised this?
  • Did you act and react fairly, both in your opinion and that of the class?
  • Did you prevent problems from escalating and so affecting more focussed students?
  • Do you need to follow up any of your actions?

printable: reflectivepractice as a pdf

I hope that you can see how this ‘quick and easy’ approach to regular reflection could help. A lot of us do this subconsciously, perhaps intuitively. But we tell students that by thinking about what they’re doing, how they’re learning, they can do it better. Why shouldn’t we be the same? I find it useful to look back over my ‘scores’ every fortnight or so, and in fact I’ve now allocated one of my PPA sessions to just that. Doing it a few days after means I’ve got a better perspective, and I can see how a series of lessons went rather than just one. That way I can tell exactly which issues were transient – we all have them, after all! – and which I need to work on. Perhaps you’d like to share what approaches work for you in the comments below?



One thought on “Reflective Practice – Better and Faster”

  1. I love this post, thank you for sharing. I really like the Gibbs cycle and will be using that in cpd sessions. I am trying to encourage colleagues to blog so they build a relective learning journal and this post will be one I shall be using as an introduction, thanks Ian.

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