Ways to Reflect on Your Teaching – A Practical Approach

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How often do you reflect on your teaching? Do you have enough time to reflect in a meaningful way? Reflective practice is an area I’m quite passionate about. However, I understand that many teachers struggle to find the time to reflect, or they may not know how to reflect in a way that enhances their teaching and benefits their learners. Making the time to reflect is key. I know first-hand the feeling of not having enough time to reflect when, for example, you have a pile of essays to mark. The second hurdle to reflection is figuring out how to reflect in a practical and purposeful way. In this post, I’d like to share some practical tools and ways to reflect that you can use right away, including some that do not require a lot of time.

First, though, a little backstory. Earlier this year I presented to a graduating class of newly certified ESL teachers at Algonquin College on the topic of reflective teaching. Prior to the presentation, I reached out to colleagues at work as well as other educators on LinkedIn to discover how they reflect. What follows is a condensed version of what they shared with me, and my own approach to reflective teaching.

8 ideas to get started

  1. Use the Stop, Start, Continue approach to get student input on courses you’re teaching. This is a great tool for critical reflection used by many of my colleagues. With 3 short questions that ask learners what they would like you to stop doing in the course, start doing, and continue doing, this survey is a simple and effective way to get feedback much earlier in the course than standardized course evaluation surveys. The beauty of this survey is you administer it when you want. For instance, if you’re teaching a 14-week course, you might do the survey in week 5, and then use that student feedback to reflect on and adjust aspects of your teaching. While end-of-term course evaluations can be useful, they benefit the subsequent group of learners you’re working with, not the current group. Another benefit of the Stop, Start, Continue survey is that it has a more personalized feel compared to the standardized course evaluation surveys. Here is a good overview of the Stop Start Continue survey, courtesy of Humber College, with a template you can use.
  2. After reflecting on student feedback, choose one key area that you want to work on, and then read up on it. Several teachers said that doing a simple Google search, and even watching related YouTube videos, helped them accomplish this.
  3. Talk regularly with colleagues to share teaching ideas, best practices or just to gain new perspectives after a particularly good or bad lesson. Avoid complaining; instead, focus on sharing what has worked for you and be open to your colleagues’ suggestions.
  4. Jot down short-hand notes for 2-3 minutes after class about what worked, questions/concerns you have, etc. Use these notes as a future source of reflection.
  5. Take a course and put yourself in the role of a learner – online courses are best if you have limited time.
  6. Consider starting a simple Teacher Development Group (TDG) with a trusted colleague. For me, this involved in-person meetings with my colleague, classroom observations, and online sharing via email and Blackboard. Observing my colleague and seeing how she taught in similar or different ways from me was very helpful. When I was being observed, I asked for specific areas of feedback on my teaching, and that was also helpful.
  7. Get a video of yourself teaching. Have a trusted colleague record you as part of a TDG, or just set up a tripod to capture some of your teaching. You need students’ permission to do a recording, but if they understand the video is for your professional use only, most are fine with this.
  8. Attend conferences, complete online webinars, and read TESL blogs as sources of reflection. Also, consider doing an online search with the words “reflective teaching” to gain insight into how other educators reflect on their teaching practice.

What works for you? How do you reflect on your teaching? Please share in the comments section below.


Michelle Wardman has been teaching English as a first, second and foreign language for the past 18 years. She has taught EFL in South Korea, Japan, China and Qatar, and currently teachers EAP full-time at Algonquin College. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys photography, reading, hiking, swimming, and playing with her 2-year-old son.

POST COMMENT 7

7 thoughts on “Ways to Reflect on Your Teaching – A Practical Approach”

  1. Hi Michelle,
    Thank you for bringing up the subject of self-reflection. So far, I have been using methods that are not time-consuming to reflect on my teaching. There have been many times when I believed that I would be able to remember what did not work well, or what worked efficiently. Time has shown, however, that I can’t remember important details within different contexts, which contributed to either a successful lesson or a lesson with difficulties.
    The Stop, Start, Continue approach has definitely helped discover some possibly annoying things I might be doing in class, such as giving my students tips while they’re trying to concentrate on their work; and some other times I’m encouraged to keep doing things I’d never thought would matter. I’ve recently used the ‘Padlet’, which young students seem to prefer since they are tech savvy. Students like this technique of evaluation, as they feel they’re participants in a practice that can shape, improve and enhance their learning.
    I haven’t yet tried to put down my thoughts right after I finish a class, always blaming the insufficient time for it. I usually make some notes on the lesson plan every now and then, which eventually end up scattered in different binders. I’m planning to work on it in a more systematic and meaningful way, though; I just need a cute little notebook with an appealing cover to start jotting down notes and -why not- write journals when time permits:-)
    From the ideas/techniques suggested, I’m intrigued by the Teacher Development Group (and particularly to be observed by a colleague). I believe it would offer me great opportunities to get valuable feedback and chances to exchange ideas through collaboration and documentation. Recording myself teaching would also help me become aware of why students form certain perceptions of me as a teacher.
    When we continuously teach in the same way, we inevitably shut the door to opportunities to change things for the better. For me, self-reflective inquiries can help approach my teaching thoughtfully and meaningfully.

    Mary

    1. Mary,

      I used to make changes to my lesson plan and make notes that I would eventually lose as well. One interesting way for me to keep ideas and comments safe is using Google Drive. I am trying to save all my documents.

      Sherry

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with reflection, Mary. I love the comment you made about the limitations of always teaching the same way and how, if we do not reflect on our teaching practice, we are essentially shutting the door to opportunities to change our practice for the better. I’m glad to hear that you’ve had success with the Stop, Start, Continue survey method. It really is a wonderful tool to help teachers see the classroom from the learner’s perspective, to discover what is working (in your case, the fact that students really enjoyed using Padlet) and what areas may need to be changed. If you get a chance, definitely invest in that “cute notebook” you mentioned to jot down your impressions/thoughts right after class (or later that same day if right after class isn’t feasible). Literally two minutes of short-hand notes can make a big difference and, over time, these notes can become a great source of reflection for future teaching contexts. When you look back on the notes you’ve taken several months (or even years!) later, the memories of teaching that particular class come flooding back, often in vivid detail. Thanks again for sharing your comments & happy reflecting! 🙂

  3. I absolutely agree with the Stop, Start, Continue approach. It helps understand the audience and it is not time-consuming.

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