This article will explore your deep-rooted beliefs and assumptions about teaching and examine how increased reflexivity can transform your teaching practice. By S.L.L., SGI Teacher Trainer
And what do you understand by that?
“It’s when you don’t get the desired results in class, say, so you can reflect on your actions and ask yourself if you’re doing things right. So, for example, if my students aren’t getting the phrasal verbs I’m teaching them, I’d think about how I could modify my teaching technique.”
That’s called single-loop learning.
“I was just about to say that before you interrupted me.”
“So… that’s single-loop learning. But if you modify your actions and still don’t get the desired result you can engage in double-loop learning in which you challenge your underlying assumptions about what the right thing to do really is. So with the phrasal verbs I’d question whether I was teaching them the right items for their needs or preferences.”
Spot on. Well, I should add that double-loop learning is preferable from the start, in order to avoid doing the wrong things the right way.
“Ok… so what’s reflexive practice then?”
Well, the concept of reflexivity takes Argyris and Schön’s double-loop learning model and adds another layer of reflection.
“A triple loop?”
That’s right. Like this…
In this deeper level of reflection, you consider the contextual, cultural, situational and personal factors that influence your perspective lens and therefore what you consider to be right.
The metaphor of a lens is just used to talk about our individual perspective and how it is shaped by our background, experience and a million other things. I see the world through my perspective lens and you through yours. What we consider to be the right thing to do is contingent on this lens.
Reflexivity is framed within a critical paradigm. This means that the ontological position – or beliefs about existence – is that there is no such thing as an objective reality since our realities our always shaped by social bias. It maintains that there is no objective truth and everything is value-laden. In terms of epistemology – or beliefs about learning and learners – critical educators consider that the aim of education is to challenge dominant ideologies and taken-for-granted assumptions. So going back to your phrasal verbs, you would explore your beliefs about teaching and learning to understand what is it is that makes something right to teach and what the right way to do it is for you.
“Now it’s beginning to sound a bit too high-brow for my liking.”
Ok… I know there are some complex concepts and terms but the point of engaging in reflexive practice is that you do question the philosophy and theory underpinning your own beliefs, values and actions.
“That’s all very well but how can this help me in practical terms?”
I was just getting to the practical application…
- You can disrupt your taken-for-granted assumptions
Sometimes there are things we just consider to be common sense, right? But where do these ideas come from? For example, when I did my initial teacher training, I was taught that teacher talking time (TTT) was bad and should be avoided at all costs, which I did, dogmatically for years. It was only when I spent some time working in a school which used a teacher-centred method that I began to question what I had always taken for granted. After all, I could see mostly excellent student outcomes despite the reduced student talking time (STT) in class. I realised that a student-centred approach is one approach of many and engaging in critical reflection has allowed me to see the value that TTT can bring to particular teaching contexts and situations.
- You can identify contradictions between your espoused & enacted practice
This basically means you explore how what you say you do as a teacher matches what you actually do. For example, I always used to pride myself on being a teacher who listens to students and gets to know them properly – I mean, I thought I really gave my learners an opportunity to express themselves freely and give feedback on their learning. However, it wasn’t until I engaged in a piece of insider research, in which I had in-depth interviews with three learners that I realised I didn’t really know them at all. It was a real eye-opener and I felt pretty disappointed in myself, but once I had got over the self-flagellation stage I used this knowledge to make sure I improved my listening strategies and how I got student feedback.
- You can increase your integrity
If you actually do what you say you do in the classroom, you will achieve greater professional integrity. Realising contradictions between my beliefs, values and practice and resolving them has certainly increased my competence.
- You can improve student outcomes
Of course, this is a tricky one to measure in concrete terms. After all, learning is a complex social activity and it would be virtually impossible to isolate a single factor and say for sure ‘this is what has improved student outcomes!’ In any case, I think it is fair to assume that since reflexivity increases your awareness of contextual and cultural factors, as well as theoretical frameworks of learning and teaching, it must have some positive impact on the learner’s academic, social and emotional experience.
“That all sounds fab… where do I start?”
Well, the first step is to explore your platform of beliefs and the following questions might be a useful starting point:
- What is the purpose of education?
- What is the role of the teacher?
- What do you want students to gain from your classes?
- What do you consider to be ‘common sense’ about teaching and learning? Where did you learn these ideas?
- How has my experience as a learner shaped my beliefs about teaching?
- Can you think of any contradictions between your espoused and enacted practice?
- To what extent do you try to understand the perspective lens of your students?
- How might you be reinforcing exclusionary practices in your classroom?
- Is there anything you want to transform about your practice? Why?
“I wouldn’t know where to start with some of those questions.”
That’s why it could be a good idea to get a mentor to work through these with you and then help you set some goals. Likewise, you could ask a colleague and engage in some peer-to-peer coaching sessions. Once you have some goals or areas to explore further, you could carry out some kind of research project. The key point here would be to examine not just what’s going on in the classroom, but all the social and organisational structures that are embedded within it.
“Great. That’s given me some food for thought.”
Shall we go for that coffee then?
by S.L.L., SGI Teacher Trainer