Clare Watson shares her thoughts about teaching along with the motivation underlying recent exploration into aspects of her own teaching practice, through the eyes of her students. She briefly suggests how teachers may empower themselves through the process of critical reflection and focuses on one simple tool, that of the ‘Critical Incident Questionnaire’.
Due to my current formal and thorough introduction to critical reflection via study on the Doctorate in Education, I have developed an interest in exploring and analysing my own teaching practice through the eyes of students.
In considering discussion surrounding the notion of Critical Reflection, I have been made aware that although I frequently reflect-in-action and occasionally reflect-on-action (Schon 1983), I do so in a solitary fashion without ever evidencing or formalising my thoughts or revelations. As pointed out by Race (2005), the very nature of reflection may be considered unstable due to the potential for it to dissolve if not evidenced. With this in mind, I recently decided to create a more meaningful aspect to my reflection by adopting a systematic approach with a view to making changes to my teaching style and choice of task, should changes be necessary.
Reasons for such activity, however, have not only materialised through my recent study but have in-fact emerged through my long-held conviction that teaching is actually at the core of educational practice. Taking into account curriculum development, timetabling, planning, course administration and management to name but a few pieces of creating a successful learning programme, if what actually happens in the classroom between teacher and student is ineffective or crumbles (I am sure that has happened to us all at some point), then surely the building blocks become futile. As attention to teaching within my domain is predominately through observations (formal and peer), I believe that what is actually going on in my classroom is quite ‘un-policed’ and after so many years of teaching, it is time for me to check and possibly question my own assumptions through gaining regular feedback from students. I would like to find out what students really think of particular tasks within the lessons, if and what they gain from them, along with my teaching method. Could I or should I adapt to suit their learning needs? Advantages of this approach are two-fold a) I further my professional development, b) students work with me to create and negotiate a positive learning experience.
With these thoughts in mind, ten weeks ago I borrowed and adapted the ‘Critical Incident Questionnaire’ (Brookfield, 1995). Included in the questionnaire there are questions that attempt to find out about the moments of intense engagement within a lesson, or lack of engagement. Of course, questions can be included which relate to your particular area of study/exploration. I had certain assumptions about certain tasks and approaches and was keen to find out if my assumptions were correct or questionable. With regard to the process, the questionnaire was administered over a 10 week period to a group of students that I taught for 5 hours each week. At the end of the final lesson of each week, I asked students to complete the questionnaire and to leave it on the desk closest to the exit. They were asked not to include names so that they remained anonymous (not strictly the case as handwriting can be recognisable and the student identified). The responses were then collated and I was able to draw up a list of common issues/comments that would be discussed in the first lesson of the following week. There were no surprises but it was interesting to see a common thread surrounding group work along with peer feedback. Both were appreciated. Although the comments were grouped, there was one student who stated ‘I do not always understand your instruction. Please explain better’. This alerted me to the fact that my instructions were not clear enough and allowed me to address this the following week, even if only one student needed extra clarification.
This small act of generating regular student feedback which could be acted upon without delay indicates to students that their thoughts regarding their own learning are valued. Although the ‘Critical Incident Questionnaire’ does not come without limitations, it is at least something that I have found useful and simple to implement.
For me this is merely the beginning of an exploration of my teaching practice and I am sure there are many other tools to try. If you have any ideas out there, please share them with me. To finish off, Dewey’s (2008, p125) assertion that reflective thought liberates one from impulsive and routine activity ‘It converts action that is merely appetitive, blind, and impulsive into intelligent action’ has alerted me to the fact that, through reflection, we may, as practitioners become more thoughtful and pro-active which will hopefully benefit ourselves as well as the learners.
For the past 20 years, Clare has worked in an English Language Teaching environment teaching EFL, ESP, ESOL and EAP. She has worked on a variety of projects in the UK, China, Singapore, Greece and Spain encompassing UK boarding schools, English Language Schools, In-house Business English Training centres, along with Further and Higher Education. Within these organizations, Clare has worked in a variety of roles ranging from Teacher, Director of Studies, Course Director and Principle/Centre Manager.
Clare currently teaches on pre-sessional courses and the MSc TESOL, implemented by the English for Academic Study department, School of Modern Language and Culture at the University of Glasgow.
Brookfield, S. D. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dewey, J. (2008) ‘How we think: a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process’, in J. A. Boydston (ed.), The later works of John Dewey 1925 – 1953, Volume 8: 1933 – essays and how we think, revised edition, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, pp.105-352.
Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, New York: Basic Books.
Race, P. (2005) ‘Evidencing Reflection’, The Higher Education Academy, Available at: http://www.escalate.ac.uk (last accessed 17 January 2016).
Image source: Reflection by Art-Ko under CC Licence