Reflective practice is more than casually pondering your effectiveness as a teacher, a new book is keen to stress.
Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching: research-based principles and practices
By Steve Mann and Steve Walsh
When a language teacher floats out of the classroom feeling good after a successful lesson, or when they snarl down the corridor after dealing with an unruly class, you could say they were indulging in some reflective practice (RP).
‘The two Steves’, as the authors describe themselves in their introduction, would almost certainly disagree.
‘Fine,’ you might ask them, ‘so what is it then?’ Briefly, RP is the systematic analysis of your own teaching practice that enables deeper teacher learning to occur.
The first chapter reviews important literature and ideas related to RP, presenting some critical positions regarding its nature and status.
It points out how RP is too often only done in written form, insufficiently data-led, lacking appropriate reflective tools and largely presented as an individual process without collaboration.
More disturbing is the authors’ comment on how RP is ‘often undermined by professional educators who do not practise what they preach’.
Chapter two provides responses to these challenges and gives ways to put the emphasis on ‘talk in the workplace’, thus making RP more evidence-based and focused around teacher-to-teacher conversation.
Each chapter of the rest of the book has three or four examples of real data in the form of ‘reflexive vignettes’ through which the authors highlight key issues.
Chapters three and four look at pre-service teacher training (Preset) and in-service teacher training (Inset), where too often RP is simply tagged on to courses in the form of participants writing journals.
Chapter four provides several systematic approaches to RP, such as reflection grids, narrative texts and loop input, each of which is well exemplified.
‘Reflection in the wild’, the curious title for chapter four, concerns how, following training, teachers might continue life-long development by engaging in RP either alone or in professional groups.
Of particular interest here are the examples of stimulated recall, and SETT (self-evaluation of teacher talk), which involves analysis of transcribed recordings.
Chapter five provides examples of how RP might be achieved in the written format. Examples here include diaries, journals and portfolios. Interestingly, the authors see digital platforms as the future of written RP.
They outline how the divide between the course tutor and participants might be reduced to allow for more spoken reflection.
The authors are keen to point out how the divide between written and spoken RP is over-simplistic – chapter eight highlights how deeper teacher learning might occur through a combination of dialogic reflection and micro-analysis of extracts of lesson recordings.
The final two chapters consider the relationship between reflection and research and look at the role of reflection within action research.
This book is an important addition to a growing area of concern in language-teacher education. Although novice teachers in particular will find the advice most valuable, I would also strongly recommend it to those involved in long-term professional development programmes.
Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.