RP 5: The Challenge to Generalize

Following is my attempt at the next Reflective Practice Blog Challenge: generalization. 

This challenge was set by Zhenya Polosatova over at John Pfordresher’s blog.

Here are the directions for the challenge: 

Directions for RP Challenge 5: look back at the description and analysis you provided and formulate generalizations about learning, teaching, communication, (personal and professional) awareness, etc. Are you surprised to see the generalizations you wrote? Have you had them for a long time or are they the result of that particular experience you had?

To see how others have approached the challenge, check out Hana’s post on How I see it now and Kate’s post on iamlearningteaching.


One thing that I have come to love about reflective practice is exploring my beliefs. When I first started I remember clearly claiming that I didn’t have any beliefs. To me beliefs were things that I couldn’t change my mind about. Sure I had strong feelings on some things, but I didn’t want to be stuck to those in my own mind or anyone else’s. As I’ve been practicing, reflecting and blogging, I’ve started to uncover the beliefs I didn’t think I had, much to my own astonishment. Now I sort of enjoy the process – peering into my practice and saying “Oh, look. This must be a belief!” and then taking a closer look at it to see if stands up to scrutiny. I don’t feel so afraid of being attached to beliefs anymore.

In the interest of uncovering my beliefs, I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory online. I’ll tell you more about that in another post perhaps. I mention it because my highest score is for Nurturing (this makes sense to me since I think L2 communication requires vulnerability). And this is exactly what I did not do with Josh, which makes me wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me.

And so with all these things I mind, I begin to generalize from my analysis of my description of the incident in my class.


I wrote: He may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.
It seems I believe: It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.

I wrote: It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough.
It seems I believe: Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.

I wrote: It is possible that my instructions were unclear.
It seems I believe: Giving clear instructions and checking understanding of those will make an activity more smooth.

I wrote: It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.
It seems I believe: Understanding students’ culture can help avoid misinterpretation of body language.

I wrote (in a comment): The interactive way I teach didn’t register to them as “study” and they thought they’d just been playing around, which is why they weren’t taking it seriously.
It seems I believe: Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.


Most of these statements seem pretty obvious to me. The one that surprises me most is the first one: “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.” I’m not sure whether I believe or practice this. Not all learners are alike and some are more independent while others if I take my eyes off them for five seconds they might burn the building down.

One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration. I look forward to your comments!

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  • Zhenya  On April 23, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Dear Anne

    I really loved how you organized the post, and enjoyed reading about your generalizations.

    Combining these two beliefs make a lot of sense to me (not sure it does to you too – so see what you think!)
    1) Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.
    2) Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.
    From my perspective as a reader, I seem to have one more here: something like ‘treating students as adult learners might add to their motivation for the lessons and activities’? (not sure if this makes sense to you at all)

    You wrote: ‘One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence’. I re-read your analysis post, and confirmed that you did mention feelings and needs there (both yours and your student’s) Are you surprised that you did not include them into the generalizations/beliefs part? Or that they are not a priority, for any reason, at this very moment? (am I starting a new ELC here? Please stop me! 🙂

    Thank you for the great post – now off to write mine 🙂

    • livinglearning  On April 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Zhenya,
      You’re absolutely right – combining those two beliefs makes a lot of sense. They are not exactly the same thing, but they are on the same path.

      I’m not so sure about “treating students as adult learners…” I think I believe that developmentally 14 year olds are not adults and in a couple years I will be able to treat them as adults and trust them to take more control over their own learning. I believe they should be treated with respect, as should all students. I’m curious to hear how this part sounds to you.

      I’m surprised not to find any generalizations about feelings and needs. I didn’t include them because I couldn’t see any generalizations to be made. Paying attention is important, but having named them what do I do about it? And now I’d better stop myself and think about it more.

      Thank you always for your comments to help me think more. I’m going off to read your new post! 🙂

      • Zhenya  On April 25, 2014 at 2:56 am

        Hi Anne (just wanted to add re ‘learners as adults’ attitude)
        I think your question clearly prompted me to go back and read more about this concept. What I meant was showing respect (which you mentioned), plus letting students see the purpose or a goal of (each) task in a lesson, and perhaps asking them for feedback. Now, I agree with you about the age: what works with 16 year olds might be too early for those who are 16.

        Thank you for the comment to my generalizations: I am now seeing the benefit of sharing the beliefs and enjoying the discoveries that are brought!

  • springcait  On April 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Dear Anne,

    It was really interesting to read this post since I have previously done Teaching perspectives inventory, but it hasn’t occurred to me to connect my reflections to the results of the inventory. It’s a bright idea and looks very fruitful.
    Speaking about the outcomes of your generalization I see I have some similar issues. For example, I assume that my task is clear because it’s pretty obvious for me and I have done it hundreds of times but it quite often turns out that it’s not obvious for students. I tend to blame my logical mind as in my head everything is structured and I honestly suppose that my students have the same structure but it’s transparent they don’t. It’s difficult for me to think about it while explaining or giving instructions. And here come problems! So, I wanted to say that it might be hard to work on sometimes obvious issues like giving clear instructions.
    As regards objectives of activities it comes rather important in Russia when you work with adults. A lot of them take education very seriously due to their learning background and it really helps to say why they are asked to play a game.
    Well, these were the believes which appeal to me, thank you for sharing your generalizations!

    • livinglearning  On April 24, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Dear Kate,
      Thanks for reading! I’m so glad to know I’m not alone with the struggle to give clear instructions. You put it so succinctly!
      It is interesting to hear about the differences between here and Russia. In Korea, the students would not usually ask why we are doing things (unless they’re being belligerent), but it still helps to tell them, as I have learned from this experience and others.
      Did you write a blog post about your teaching perspectives inventory? I’d be curious to read about it. I have seen a couple other teachers blog about it (http://afteroctopus.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/whats-my-teaching-perspective/) and (http://teachandreflect.com/2013/11/09/whats-your-teaching-philosophy/) and I have been really interested in exploring what mine really means for me as a teacher.
      I look forward to reflecting with you more! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      • springcait  On May 2, 2014 at 6:57 pm

        Hi Anne,

        Thanks for interesting information. I’ve never worked abroad, so it’s incredibly interesting for me to know about other students.
        Speaking about the TPI. It’s actually a good idea to blog about it, I hope I’ll find time for it but a bit later. But I’d be interested in reaing yours too)

  • David Harbinson  On April 25, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Hi Anne,

    I like how you have approach this stage. At the end, you mention “Most of these statements seems pretty obvious to me”, and I think that’s a big part of this process, uncovering and validating the obvious. I think that what might seem obvious only does so after we have thought about, which is what this process is all about, right? But before our reflections, would we have been able to see it, even if we were thinking about it on some level? And I think this is emphasized by your point about whether you believe or practice “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class” – This is something that only today I was discussing (and suggesting we should be doing) with a colleague, but do I practice it? It seems to me from your final comment that you are saying that you didn’t think it was your belief, but from your analysis suggests it maybe is (am I reading that right?), I would be interested to know what you think now. Because even since my discussion today with my colleague, I have begun to question whether my belief (that we should try to give equal attention to students) is in fact correct. Something I will consider even further after reading your post.


    • Zhenya  On April 25, 2014 at 3:04 am

      Hi David

      Just realized that you mentioned something very important to (as I now see!) about making generals: they become obvious after we uncover them in the analysis based on detailed description. Also, a great point about believing versus practicing, or acting based on the beliefs (I guess one reason to have the next step of the ELC is the conscious decision about what part of the beliefs to bring to action — but I am jumping ahead here) Another thought: it is by articulating a belief we become aware of it, just as in your example about ‘paying equal attention’. Did I just mention another portion of ‘the obvious’? Hm… 🙂

      • David Harbinson  On April 26, 2014 at 3:13 am

        Hi Zhenya, I’m not sure whether articulating a belief causes us to become aware of it or not, but I certainly think it goes a long way to doing so. Even if it is a belief that we sort of think we have, I think that by writing it down or speaking about it helps us to reformulate it, much as we do when we actually speak or write, and thus helps it to become more concrete.

    • livinglearning  On April 25, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Hi David and Zhenya. Thank you for the really poignant and thoughtful comments. You’re absolutely right – writing down and uncovering my beliefs helps me see them more clearly. Were they always there? Are they new? Should I accept them uncritically since the analysis has already been done? If there is something that I believe but I don’t practice, that’s call for a whole nother reflective cycle. And what is the relationship between practice and belief? Especially when they conflict? Am I acting contrary to my beliefs? Why is that happening? (I’d better stop. My head is spinning!)
      Thank you for making me think more.

  • Hana Tichá  On April 25, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Dear Anne,
    I like what you say about beliefs. You say you used to claim that you didn’t have any in the past. I went the opposite direction. I used to believe strongly in this or that but with the passage of time, I’ve become more careful about what I believe in. However, there’s one thing I’m convinced about; that there are always two sides of the coin and it only depends on what side you are looking at at the given moment. Once you flip the coin, the perspective changes dramatically. I think it’s essential to be familiar with both sides in order to see the whole truth. That’s why empathy and listening to others are so important in communication.
    Plus I really like how you uncovered some of your beliefs in the generalization stage, almost as a side effect, I dare say. It’s interesting to see that there’s actually an inherent belief in everything you say (and do). Every word, the way you express your ideas and your actions imply a set of convictions and assumptions, even if implicitly.
    I also loved what you said about the discrepancy between your beliefs and the way your students may see you. You say: I wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me. This is really interesting because I know my beliefs and intentions are much higher that what I actually do. This is sometimes a source of frustration for me and I’d say it can lead to certain inconsistencies in my approach to teaching. As I said earlier in another comment, it’s not easy to find the courage to apply what you believe in everyday practice. I hope our reflection practice will give me more and more courage.
    Anyway, I think I’ve expressed quite a few strong beliefs in my comment, even though I earlier claimed I’d become more cautious. This is what’s tricky about online commenting. Your beliefs become immortal, hard evidence of your present state of mind – a digital footprint of your thinking. And you can never take your words back. But the advantage is that you can refer to them later on and see how much you’ve changed and grown.

    • livinglearning  On April 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Dear Hana,
      I really relate to what you said about seeing both sides of the coin. I’m even known to play devil’s advocate at times or argue a position I don’t really hold in an effort to make sure all points of view are present and respected. (Of course, as a result, I end up having no clue what I think anymore!) Oddly enough, I hardly ever do this with my students. I wonder why.
      I think it’s really interested that you said “there’s actually an inherent belief in everything you say (and do).” That is something I have to remember. It must be true of my students as well and I wonder if reflecting on this with them will help them to see and examine their beliefs about their role in their education.
      Oh so much to think about in your comment! Thank you for adding so much more to my generalizations.


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