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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take a course and put yourself in the role of a learner – online courses are best if you have limited time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.