Friday, December 10, 2010

8.6 On Becoming a Reflective Practitioner - Reflection on my own experience

I have a high school class that I teach once every two weeks on a Saturday. It is my worst class in all my teaching environments... I was used to Communicative teaching at my regular school, so I thought that I could use that knid of teaching in this new environment.

However, the students sleep, or yell, or do their make up in the back, or even bring Mcdonalds into the class...The regular class teacher stays at the back doing nothing, or even contributes to the mayhem, and if that wasn't all, the school is in a lower socio-economic area of Osaka.

Unconsciously using the reflection process...

RIA - was my initial response...change whatever I could at the moment of teaching, and to respond to individual students...effective to an extent...but still I found it difficult.

Then ROA-


Broad -

* What is it about the class or my teaching that is causing this?

* What if I changed my material?

* Why are Ss not interested in the lesson?

* What if My methods didn't match the Ss?

* Is it because it's Saturday?

Later I started thinking about the detailed questions:

* What should I have done?

* What can I do next time?

The answers were not so clear...Should I wake Ss? Is ok to change from Ss centered to Teacher centered or do I persist with my method until they get used to it? Are there any other types of lessons I could implement?

* Why did I react in that way?

* What have I learned from this?

My initial reaction was of hopelessness. I started blaming the context: the school, the teachers, the fact that Ss had to come on Saturday, class size, student ability, the learning styles of the Ss not matching my own teaching style, and so on...

I learned that it was a combination of these things and more. Yes, my idea that Ss needed to be able to circulate, didn't quite match with the way they were being taught. In addition, I didn't have enough time with the Ss each time, and my activities got them doing things that they are not ready for yet.

I identified that modification to my objectives needed to be made, to include time for Ss to get used to a new teaching style.

I formulated a plan of action, that included both ROA and RIA (even though I didn't know that at the time) and also that included the Ss learning styles and the context that they were in.

In practical terms, I got them into countries (small groups to get them feeling more personalized learning and teaching). I developed their identities under these countries, and identified them as their countries.

I allowed for more written activities, and teacher centered discussions (at first), then as a bird started to wean them off teacher centered-ness, into more communicative learning...starting with pair-work, then to group work then finally circulation type activities.

It is still not perfect (far from it), but the students are starting to respond (it will be a long and slow process). I have a lot more thinking to do, and reflection about that thinking. Yet, the signs are positive...

Well that's a summary of where it stands today...the process of reflection continues.

8.5 Becoming a Reflective practitioner: The Cycle of reflection

I wonder if anyone has seen the You tube video on the process of reflection...
Video: Becoming a Reflective practitioner: The Cycle of reflection (click here)
It is a comical look at the process, but provides a simple understanding of the reflective process.
I made some basic notes...

What is Reflection:
Cyclic process = Think-Question-Reflect-Act

Thinking: Meta-cognitive - thinking about thinking
  • Monitor your thinking
  • Probe/inspect/study/examine------confusing, conflicting, disturbing situations--------try to make comprehensible---------identify possible solutions.

Questions: Pertinent or irrelevant, Broad (What if...?/I wonder why?), Detailed (What should I have done? What can I do next time? Why did I react in that way? What have I learned from this?)

Reflection: Clarify what you are thinking about.
i. Reflection on action (ROA) - Thinking afterward
ii. Reflection in action (RIA) - Thinking during
This seems to be the kind of thinking on your feet type of action....

Reflection includes: Past / Present / Future

Through reflection:
  • Look at Student learning
  • Search meaning of class events
  • Consider your strengths and weaknesses
  • Identify ways to improve
  • Formulate a plan of action
Take the time to reflect:
  • on the course.
  • your strengths and weaknesses.
  • the viewpoints of others.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

8.4 'Problem- based learning (PBL)"

Reading my lecture notes, I came across 'Problem- based learning (PBL)" and was wondering if it connected to the types of information gap, and task based learning that I often get my students (Ss) to do. Often, language textbooks contain tasks, where the Ss, by sharing the information they have, can come to an understanding of the total picture of their conversation. Or, Ss by sharing information, have a chance to use the language they are learning. Therefore the activity is the tool as Brodie states, which is used as a way for Ss to use the target language that they have learned, and the use (which is the objective of the activity) becomes the goal of the lesson.
I understand that PBL in other content areas would be more practical/concrete problems, such as in medicine. However, can it also be applied to more abstract areas such as language teaching, psychology etc...?
Just a few thoughts...ciao Steve

(click here) for a detailed explanation.
Problem-Based Learning and Adult English Language Learners
Julie Mathews-Aydinli, Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, Center for Applied Linguistics

What is PBL? Watch the following video.

What is PBL? from Metafoor Media on Vimeo.

Friday, November 26, 2010

8.3 'Walk the walk' don't just 'Talk the Talk' - Completing a Professional Passion Chart

Activity 1.1 - Isolate areas that you would benefit from personal development...

Hello everyone,
At the moment I am trying to grapple with activity 1.1 and I am finding that it is quite easy to 'talk the talk', but another thing to 'walk the walk' in terms of critical reflection in practical terms. In some ways, there is a real barrier to focusing the magnifying glass on my own actions...But here goes...
In terms of my own teaching, I believe that I am fairly good at writing objectives for courses, but when it comes to specific lesson objectives, I find it hard to pinpoint and keep to targets.Writing the syllabus is easier, because it is more general. However the lesson plan objectives have much more at stake (in terms of some kind of 'standards based' criteria) and it is much easier to see if the objectives have been carried out. Especially when they haven't. I also find that I sometimes skip writing them down, because I am relying on the years of experience I have accumulated. I find I rely on the feeling I have and the knowledge I have of my subject, and then adapt to individual students. This isn't always bad, but there's no way to be accountable for what you are doing in classes...
The hardest thing for me is to consistently review after class, and write down helpful evaluations. I tend to just write down what has been done and what will come next. I want to be able to focus on what worked and what didn't, and be able to write advice to myself on different elements of the lesson.
So I guess they are two things I want to work on...I want to be able to create a system for myself, possibly even a set of categories that I can apply before and after a lesson, and some system of analyzing and evaluating the information that I receive. Doing this in the most time efficient way, after each lesson, and selected times throughout the course, will help me understand my own teaching a little better. However, it will take effort on my part. However, I don't want to just 'talk the talk'...I want to really get stuck in and do something. I think that the information I have read so far is helping me to sort out a system in my own mind.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

8.2 "Beyond the looking glass"

A student in my class posed quite a poignant question the other day when she asked, "How can I get to the other side of the looking glass?" I agree with a point in Heimbecker; we have to start with the basic premise of making the things we do visible and problematic. Therefore we need to look at our teaching and highlight the 'good, the bad and the ugly' of our own practices. Not an easy thing to do, and when/if done, not always easy to accept the results.
Thus, the need for reflection, in the sense of Brookfield's (1995) idea of 'critical reflection'. What assumptions are we making about what we are doing in our classes, and how is this affecting the way students are engaging (or not) in our lessons.
I was a little amazed at some of the assumptions stated, because it was like Brookfield was plucking them out of my head. "Making a circle, not having too much time devoted to lecture time, and students liking discussion to name a few."
All the common sense ideas that we have and hear from other teachers all seem to have a flipside...
I guess what the article was hinting at was that the critical reflection helps us to be better able to understand that we are making these assumptions, and it better equips us in dealing with them in order to make better learning environments for students.
I believe that I have been making a few too many Casual assumptions about the learning taking place in my classes. Imposing my own beliefs about how the classes are to be run...believing that I have ventured over onto the other side of the looking glass, yet not really. Possibly another form of transmission, not of knowledge but of how we conduct ourselves in class...dare I say, 'Manner' continuing to be teacher-centered rather than learner centered... ciao Steve

Brookefield, S. (1995). The getting of wisdom: What critically reflective teaching is and why it's important, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass

Heimbecker, B. (2009). Changing ourselves - A gaze in the mirror, Educating and inquiry - A teacher action research site, retrieved November 23, at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

8.1 social constructivism

I just read the paper on constructivism, and was trying to make links to my own context and teaching practice...

When I read the section on social constructivism, I was reminded of the shift in ESL/EFL toward "communicative language teaching (CLT)" (Nunan, 1991), and the need for authentic texts and contexts within teaching. Thus the implementation of activities such as role-play, survey, and task based teaching has become the new in vogue thing, with activities that increase motivation by providing so called 'real life' activities with a real purpose...Within my own teaching I have tried to take this on board, with both success and failure. Success, I mean in terms of student motivation, only when the activity provides enough of a challenge (not too difficult) and when the students themselves can see the real purpose of the activity. I am truly an advocate of CLT (when the activity is truly meaningful and challenging), however, I think we have to acknowledge that the classroom environment is still an artificial environment, with all the limitations that entails.

Having students from many different countries, I am also very aware of the cultural impact on learning. One of my favorite books on teaching is Culture learning, the 5th dimension in the language classroom by Louise Damen (1987), which discusses the impact of culture on language learning. How Students form Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China (I have a class with these cultures and more) relate to each other, or even a minority culture, next to a majority from other places, or just a mix of different ethnic groups (such as in the old and politically incorrect series Mind Your Language) can all contribute to difficulty in achieving your teaching objectives.

Dougiamas, M.(1998). A journey into constructivism, Retrieved November 16, 2010