Reflecting on “Reflecting on reflective practice”

Reflection“Reflecting on performance and acting on reflection is a professional imperative.”
McKay in Forthcoming (2008), quoted by Finlay1

I have been asked to reflect on an article from Finlay entitled “Reflecting on reflective practice“. Although the article is really helpful to reflect on reflective practice (… sorry …), it is a rather ironic exercise … if you want to know why, please read the article. In this post I will highlight points that I relate to and briefly comment on my own model of reflection.

Highlights

In the article the author highlighted the contribution of Schon2 to this field. Schon described two types of reflection, i.e. ‘reflection-on-action’ (after-the-event thinking) and ‘reflection-in-action’ (thinking while doing) and I agree with the phenomenological concerns with ‘reflection-in-action’3. However, as Finlay’s research suggests, I find that I have become “mindfully aware” of my actions as I gained teaching experience over the years. Whenever I am in class, I seem to be constantly evaluating the impact of the words I use to make statements, the choice of words when I ask questions and the effectiveness of the activity I have chosen to facilitate a specific learning goal.
She summarises it well, “Professional practice is complex, unpredictable and messy”1.

Zeichner and Liston’s five levels of reflection, mentioned by the author, are interesting to note. They are “rapid reflection”, “repair”, “review”, “research” and “retheorizing and reformulating”7. I am of the opinion that most teachers, myself included, engage with Zeichner and Liston’s first three points on a daily basis but I think the last two are often neglected. Although I have done informal research over the years to improve teaching and learning in my classroom, a lack of formalising this research has probably led to it having a smaller impact on my practice. Secondly, as I have mentioned in a previous post, spending a lot of time in education’s social media sphere the past few years has had me unwittingly disengage with the meatier aspects of our profession – such as keeping up-to-date with peer-review research on academic theories.

Finlay’s explanation of the difference between reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity shows that reflective practice is a complex, context-dependent process that requires the input of other people. For 14 years I taught ‘alone’ in a traditional classroom but the past two and a half years I am often team teaching in an open learning space. This context gives a whole new meaning to ‘critical reflection’ since your practice is completely transparent and accessible to the other members of your team. I have been forced to be a more reflective practitioner because I cannot ‘hide’ in my classroom anymore. My team members will challenge me, and they have to have the permission to challenge me, to ensure sound teaching and learning take place in our learning space. By the way, based on this experience, I want to argue that reflective practice has to be an integral part of a knowledge society4.

At Elim Christian College (my employer), there has been a major shift the past few years from teacher appraisal being an evaluative process done to the teacher to it being an authentic collaborative process for growing great teachers. This has enabled me to have a positive attitude towards being a reflective practitioner. Seen against the author’s comments on the challenges with reflective practice, my shift in attitude comes as no surprise. I agree with her quote of Hobbs, “Reflection and assessment are simply incompatible”5.

What model of reflection do I use?

I tend to gravitate towards a model of reflection shared by Tony Burkin of Interlead with a group of our staff members. Basically you ask yourself three questions, i.e. “what is happening”, “what’s not happening” and “how can I influence what’s not happening”. When this is done against the backdrop of the reflective questions in the practising teacher criteria6, you have a robust model of reflection at your disposal. I have to think through my own assumptions and engage my students and my team in conversations to determine whether we are on the same page or not. However, I still need to work on being more intentional about scheduling enough time for reflection into my day and keeping a better written record of these reflections. Will this blog enable me to do it? 🙂

I will close with this quote,

“Reflective practice should be applied selectively, taught sensitively and generally used with care.” Finlay (2009)

References and Notes:
1. Finlay, L. (2009) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL. Retrieved from http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf
2. Schon, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
3. Finlay writes, “In strict phenomenological terms actual pre-reflective, lived experience, by definition, can never be grasped in its immediate manifestation.”
4. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
5. Hobbs, V. (2007) Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced? Reflective Practice, 8(3), pp.405-417.
6. Practising Teacher Criteria. Retrieved from http://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Registered-Teacher-Criteria-Handbook-(English).pdf
7. Rapid reflection – immediate, ongoing and automatic action by the teacher; Repair – in which a thoughtful teacher makes decisions to alter their behaviour in response to students’ cues; Review – when a teacher thinks about, discusses or writes about some element of their teaching; Research – when a teacher engages in more systematic and sustained thinking over time, perhaps by collecting data or reading research; Retheorizing and reformulating – the process by which a teacher critically examines
their own practice and theories in the light of academic theories.

Photo creditphil41dean via Foter.com / CC BY

Key competencies to success

Choosing the right key

So you may have noticed that I am enrolled in the “Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice: Digital and Collaborative Learning” offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. In Week 3 we completed a survey to identify which of the key competencies we considered our strengths and which of the key competencies we would like to develop further while we attend the course. I felt that my strengths were thinking, using language, symbols, and texts and relating to others and I wanted to develop participating and contributing.

We are now in week 26 and we have been asked to reflect on which two key competencies have developed the most and to discuss two key changes in our practice.

Growth

I have to be honest that the reality of finishing the 2015 school year with a massive literature review assignment hanging over my head and starting the 2016 school year while completing the same literature review assignment, as well as planning an inquiry project based on the literature review, is making it incredibly hard to be objective. I feel like I am being taught the truth of the proverb “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body”1… but I will try my best (key competency: managing self2).

The one key competency that has been developing continuously is “thinking”2. Allow me to explain. I have been reading substantial amounts of social media since I joined Twitter in September 2008. Although it has been fascinating to follow trends and rants over the years, I have not been disciplined enough about curating social media with an intentional research focus. I have realised recently that so much of social media is noise, i.e. unsubstantiated opinion that doesn’t relate to my context, and I am actually starved for a well-composed symphony, i.e. peer-reviewed research (and I realise this sentence can be self-incriminating). Although you can prove anything with evidence, peer-review research takes you to new depths in your thinking and it helps you to substantiate common sense. For example, peer-review research has put me on to the book “Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education” by Jane Gilbert that has helped me develop a better understanding of the place of digital technology in education (a topic for a future blog post perhaps).

There is not a clear winner for the second key competency. During the first 16 weeks of the course I think “relating to others”2 developed tremendously. It was extremely valuable to get together with a diverse group of educators once a week to discuss ideas and collaborate using digital technology. It was great to hear the successes and struggles of both primary and secondary teachers and school leaders from a wide range of contexts and cultural backgrounds. It helped me develop a tremendous respect for New Zealand’s incredible teachers.

Once the course moved online, things changed dramatically. I really missed the rich, face to face interactions we had before and the online modality forced me to develop “managing self”2, i.e. a competency that “is associated with self-motivation, a ‘can-do’ attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners”. The face to face classes had a level of accountability that, for me, came through personal interaction and it positively encouraged me to engage with the course material. I found online learning to be isolating – and as a trained online teacher I should know. The past few weeks have been hard on me and my family and I am uncomfortable with that. For me the quality of family relationships come before work-related activities. Growth is painful but can this pain be justified?

Change

I think I have become more passionate about developing thinking in my students. I am not satisfied with teaching and learning that keep students busy or only focus on helping a student achieve credits. I agree with Gilbert3 that one aspect of education’s purpose is social justice and I am looking for ways to focus my students’ learning around projects that make a positive contribution to people’s lives. I feel fortunate to teach in the technology learning area since it lends itself to a project-based learning approach. This brings me to the other change that I am detecting in my practice.

I have designed two collaborative projects in this course. Both of them are intentional about “participating in and contributing to” our community. This is an area of my practice that I have neglected over the years and I am excited to see how our school can build even stronger bonds with our community through the digital tools we have at our disposal. Our principal, Murray Burton, recently challenged us as staff to change our focus from what we think we are entitled to, our natural inclination as human beings, to asking how we can serve others.

So my question for 2016 and beyond is, “How can I help Elim Christian College serve our community better?”

References:
1. Ecclesiastes 12:12
2. Key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum
3. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Photo credittamahaji via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Technology Activator version 2016

I am a pilgrim. My journey has taken me to many exotic places. Five of them have been “Home”. I have assurance of my final destination but the rest of the journey is a wonderful mystery.

Presently, my family and I are living in Middle Earth in the wonderful village of Auckland. I have the blessed privilege of teaching at Elim Christian College – oh yes, I have been called to teach! My title is: the Technology Activator.

What do technology activators do” you may ask. Before I can answer this question, please allow me to digress. In my experience, teachers are in constant beta (please forgive my geek speak). I have been upgraded more times than I can remember and this year is no exception. So my title is: Technology Activator version 2016 …

Technology activators aim to get everyone, themselves included, excited about the interesting, pedagogically-sound possibilities that digital technology bring to today’s classrooms. Koehler and Mishra1 mention that the challenge with digital technology is that it is constantly changing, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do and you are never sure what exactly it is capable of. They add that it is “neither neutral nor unbiased”. Someone has to lead that conversation …

I teach year 5 to 8 students coding, year 7 and 8 students technology and year 12 students Christian living. In addition, a colleague and I are trying to raise an awareness and correct false perceptions of a misunderstood study area at our school: computer science. I hope to start a radio station for our school and I have been asked to manage the update of our school website. I do not see boredom in my future …

When you visit my classroom, it will most likely be noisy but students are busy “doing things with knowledge”2 – most of the time anyway. I try to cultivate a culture of respect, i.e. respect for myself, my classmates and my teachers – learning seems to thrive in these circumstances. Scardamalia, Bereiter, McLean, Swallow and Woodruff3 have identified a few principles to keep in mind when you use computer technology in teaching and I realise that over the years I have aimed to include these in my classroom. They are “making knowledge-construction activities overt, maintaining attention to learning goals as opposed to other goals of an activity, providing process-relevant feedback, and giving students responsibility for contributing to each other’s learning”.

Now that you know who I am, please let me know who you are, dear reader.

References:
1. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
2. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
3. Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., McLean, R. S., Swallow, J., & Woodruff, E. (1989). Computer-supported intentional learning environments. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 5(1), 51-68.

Walking the talk

Please walk on the grass ...I have just completed week 2 of The Mind Lab experience and I have a number of ideas I have to reflect on. The readings I had to do this week also took me down some rabbit trails. So now I have more than enough to write about and too little time … the lament of many a teacher blogger. Is this what my students feel like? 🙂 So let’s get to the first reflection.

How is your understanding of the purpose of education visible in your classroom?

Before you jump into my ramblings try answering that question for your classroom. Do it …

Perhaps you will start, like me, with what your understanding of the purpose of education is. I briefly reflected on the purpose of education in “Room for improvement“:

In my opinion, the purpose of education is to equip my students with robust critical thinking skills that will enable them to come up with creative, collaborative solutions to the challenges they will face in life. This also implies teaching them the communication skills they will need both to collaborate and to explain their creative solutions to others.

Please read that statement in the broadest possible sense. It goes far beyond employment since there is far more to life than just a job …

Now for the tough part: will this purpose be evident when you attend one of my classes?

  1. Is there a positive classroom atmosphere that facilitates authentic collaboration?
  2. Do my students regularly work on learning activities in my class that are challenging enough that they cannot find ‘the answer’ in Google?
  3. Do my students see failure as a learning opportunity?
  4. Do I actively promote the value of thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication?
  5. Do I actively teach the skills related to thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication?

My responses to these questions are (in order):

  1. Yes, most of the time. Teaching and learning don’t really work without it …
  2. Not as much as I know they have to. However the learning areas I am teaching in, technology and the social sciences, lend themselves to more open-ended assignments.
  3. Unfortunately my students struggle with this one and it gets worse the older they get. Without getting too political, standardised testing encourages a focus on an excellent end-product instead of the process to get there. One could argue that if students understood what an excellent ‘process’ looked like, the end-product would be excellent too …
  4. I am more successful in promoting this when I teach in our school’s modern learning spaces than when I am teaching in a single cell classroom. There is something energising about a team-teaching approach in a modern learning space …
  5. I think I have grown a little slack in this area … although I try to choose assignments that indirectly ‘force’ students to develop these skills, I believe being more intentional about teaching these skills and then letting my students practice it as the year goes on may be more effective.

I want to encourage you to come visit my classroom and let me know whether I have been honest with myself … I can see all sorts of inquiry goals come from this reflection … 🙂

To walking the talk … and lifelong learning!

Knowledge is …

Human BrainLast week I started a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning) at The Mind Lab. One of the highlights of our four hours together was a discussion on the definition of ‘knowledge’. Our group came away with two visuals and one video to showcase our understanding of ‘knowledge’. Here is a copy of our pen-and-paper collaborative effort:

Knowledge isWe were also given the task of creating a video to show our understanding of knowledge and this is the result of our efforts (compliments to Amara who put everything together after the session since we ran out of time during the session):

These activities challenged me to review what I believed knowledge might be. As a Christ follower, I have to turn to the Bible first.

Knowledge according to Scripture

It is incredibly hard to compress what the Bible teaches about knowledge in a small space. So here are some points that stand out for me.

  • The Bible teaches that God is the source of all knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3), His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16), He teaches us knowledge (Psalm 94:10) and that the ‘fear’ (worship) of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). In addition, we are taught that knowledge is more valuable that wealth and that there is a strong link between wisdom, understanding and knowledge (exemplified in the book of Proverbs). As you read through the references to ‘knowledge’ in the New King James Version, it becomes clear that there are different kinds of knowledge, i.e.
    • moral knowledge / knowledge of God’s ways (the most commonly referenced example of knowledge in Scripture)
    • artistic and skill-based knowledge
    • knowledge of God as a Person
    • knowledge that enables wise decision-making
    • informational knowledge
    • knowledge gained from observing the way you and other people live
    • knowledge of the natural world
    • God’s knowledge of each one of us
    • knowledge gained from our parents and elders
    • historical knowledge
  • When Jesus went back to join God the Father (Matthew 28), He told His disciples that He is not leaving them alone but the Holy Spirit will be with them. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of knowledge (Isaiah 11:2) and He teaches us all things (John 14:26).
  • Both knowledge and the lack of knowledge can be dangerous, either “puffing us up” or bringing us under God’s judgement.

So where does this leave me? What is knowledge? I have to come back to Proverbs 1:7.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

As a Christian I believe that God has created me for a reason and a purpose. I will find fulfilment when I “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). I don’t have to worry about material things because God knows what I need. This means that when I teach I need to help my students look at the world and all its people with wonder and awe and help them realise that each one of them has a unique calling and purpose under God. When they aspire to search this out, they will go on a most exciting educational journey that will prepare them to make a difference in their family, their community, their country and possibly the world.

To lifelong learning!