Meta-reflection

Saturday was Busan KOTESOL’s Reflective Practice Symposium.

 

 There were five speakers at the four-hour symposium, which was held at Busan’s University of Foreign Studies.

 

 It was a rainy afternoon and the weather combined with the out-of-the-way location of the university ensured that only the most hard-core reflectors were present.

 

 As a novice in the area of reflective practice, most of the presentations seemed similar to me. After the first presentation, I wondered what the other presenters would have left to talk about. However, as it turned out, each presenter had something unique to offer the symposium and the progression of presentations and workshops drew me further and further in to reflecting on my reflecting.

 

 

The first presentation “Principles and Practices: Second Language Teacher Development through Exploration” was given by Jerry Gebhard.

He went through the principles underlying exploration and ways to apply those principles. I took quite a lot away from this presentation. I learned that the goal of exploring is to see teaching differently, not to improve. Improvement might be a result, but it is not the focus. We should use exploration to understand our beliefs and our teaching behaviors. Judgment should be kept out of the exploration and description should replace prescription. A point that really struck me was about the overuse of praise. I realized that I’m guilty of praising students for wrong answers just because they tried to answer. There is a difference between being nice and praising for work well done. One of the things I’ve reflected on over the past few weeks is praise itself. One of my colleagues often gives praise of the “good job” or “nice work” variety. The other usually gives feedback “I like the way you did _____.” The praise feels good, but it’s easy to question its sincerity. The feedback is specific and helpful, whether it’s positive or negative, and it’s based on observation. Moreover, feedback helps me to see what I have done the way an outsider sees it. This presentation gave me a lot to think about in terms of exploring my own classroom.

 

 

The second presentation, on ways of reflecting, was given by Michael Griffin.

I’ve seen this presentation before, but what made it special for me this time was two things: first of all, I’d never seen it given by Mike, who is able to give information with humor and passion and (thankfully) without PowerPoint to distract my attention. The second factor was my partner. This presentation was part talk and part workshop. My partner in the activities was insightful and interesting. She came up with a number of good ideas I’d never thought about before, like the importance of sharing your work. It caused me to reflect that the act of sharing involves being prepared and organized to think about and put words to the observations we make. Sharing is similar to presenting in that way. Mike dealt with this, too, in the form of accountability. It is one thing to say you will do something or even to do it inside your head, and quite another to be accountable for it and need to have something to show. If I did it in my head, is it what I thought it was when it comes out on paper or verbally? Other important points from the presentation were time limits. You don’t want to set a goal with a limit of “indefinite”. You’ll never start if there is no end in sight. I remember last semester when I was writing some of my final papers for classes. I made my to do list on Facebook and asked everyone to guess which I was going to do first. It was an easy question: only one of the things was finite and, while unpleasant (I’ve always hated ironing), it certainly got done before the tasks without an end in sight! What is the best way for me to reflect on my own teaching? I’m still coming up with questions to ask myself, but most of all, which way of reflecting will be best for me?

 

 

The third presentation was called “Reflective Practice: Formulating your teaching experience” given by Josette LeBlanc.

This presentation showed how to reflect based on the experiential learning cycle. She showed how teachers can get stuck in a rut and think they are reflecting, making plans, and making changes, but actually end up doing the same things again and again. Josette shared the intriguing idea that we can see mistakes as gifts. I spent a while thinking about it, but I’m drawing a blank. Why are mistakes gifts? I’d love to ask her. One thing she pointed out that I’d heard just once before was that feelings are relevant to the reflective cycle. They’re outside the cycle, but they have an impact on our observations. From the handout during the workshop portion, I could see what she meant. In using feelings as part of the describing process, it adds detail and depth to the description because it adds questions that can be asked. Another important learning was how to make an achievable goal which states the situation, the intention and the reason. “Next time _________, I will _________ so that _________.” The presentation concluded with a question: Why do we reflect? Her answer: Because we want to become better teachers. Seeing things with a new perspective helps us make different decisions. I reflect because I want to know what is going on in my classroom and what I’m missing in the moment so that I know why I am making the teaching choices I make.

 

 

Personal Reflection: Being stuck in a rut reminded me of the hours I’d spent with coworkers discussing classes and complaining about administration in the local bar after work. We’d see the problems, even describe the problems, and talk about how to solve the problems, but somehow, the problems never really got solved. I think we were just to scared to make any big changes or take any risks. One of my coworkers was the first to get over that hump. One day he went to work and refused to teach any language that wasn’t authentic. He rewrote all the books and modeled to the students how people actually speak. The administration balked, but he’d been teaching there for five years by then and got his way. I disagreed with him at the time (and still do, but for different reasons now), but his actions gave me the courage to get out of my own rut and try new things in my classes. I was next to start making my own class materials. The feedback from the students and parents was positive. He and I trained newer teachers together and the result was a school that had teachers who cared about the students and about their own teaching and lessons where all the activities had a purpose and a desired outcome. We weren’t “real” teachers, but working together we got a good grasp on why we were there and the evening bar conversations became more productive.

 

The fourth presentation was given by Lyndon Hott about Reflective Practice in Integrated classes at Dongguk University in Gyeongju.

The presentation was based on his thesis. This fast-paced presentation dealt with his research and the formation of the integrated program in Dongguk U. It was a good opportunity to witness reflection in action. The designers of the new program did a lot of reflection and research to describe the current program and identify the things they wanted to change. Having created the integrated program, they cooperated with one another and spent many hours reflecting on what was working and what needed improvements. They interpreted reasons why some of the problems may have occurred. Then they made a new plan and implemented it. They monitored its implementation and reflected on whether the new plan solved the problems. The received feedback from the students and administration as well, so that more than a few people could add to the reflective process. The cycle goes on. One thing I only noticed upon reflection after the talk: this presentation was valuable because it showed an in-depth case study of the reflective cycle in use on a very broad scale (developing a university program!). This is directly relevant not only to my classes but to what I can do at my own school and gives a model of all that may be involved.

 

 

The final presentation was given by Terry Faulkner: “ABCs of Reflection: How reflective practices can improve your teaching”

He pointed out several methods of reflection, including keeping journals, action research, and a classroom environment questionnaire and went through each. An interesting statement that arose: When you write down observations, you can see patterns. This is the benefit of journaling. When you go back and read the journal, you can see what has happened and whether things are happening continuously, only on Tuesdays, only when it rains, or what. I am not very good at this. I keep journals, but I write down the wrong things. Only when I am lucky am I able to puzzle out the patterns. Sometimes I start trying to spot patterns when I get a deja vu feeling in class. By then, the pattern is already there and it’s almost too late for me to work it out. Another thought-provoking comment for me was the quote, “an idiot is someone who does the same thing again and again and expects different results.” I’m inclined to disagree with this. It can be that teachers who force students to learn long context-less vocabulary lists day after day after day and always wonders why the students can’t use the words fall into this trap. Sometimes, however, the lesson is not the problem. Every class is different and every student is different. A lesson might not work in one class but if the teacher gives it up, she’ll never know if it would have worked in another class. Or on another day. I think an idiot is someone who doesn’t consider their audience. The third thing he spoke about was CHANGE. He identified three types of change: the kind that happens by baby steps; the kind where you’ve become good, but are always striving to be better; and the kind where there’s a big radical change all at once.Most of the time, the change teachers can strive towards is the incremental type.

 

 

What my coworker and I did was the third kind and we were lucky to get away with it. We had the trust of the students, parents, and administration (to some extent).

 

I see now that change doesn’t need to be improvement. Rather, it can be a deeper awareness in my beliefs and practices – a change in myself. 

 

Typical of my life these days, I have more questions than answers. This post is long enough already and if you made it this far, you’re a real trooper! Feel free to leave comments and feedback.

 

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Comments

  • Sophia  On May 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks for posting such a detailed account. It’s great to get a bit of the experience, even though second-hand 🙂

    • livinglearning  On May 9, 2012 at 11:33 pm

      Thanks, Sophia. It was great to be there and see the reflectors in action. I have a lot to learn, but luckily, a lot of good role models to learn from.
      -Anne

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