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Review: The Reflective Cycle of the Teaching Practicum

The Reflective Cycle of the Teaching Practicum
By Fiona Farr and Angela Farrell
Equinox, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-78179849-2

For many undergraduate trainee teachers in the UK, the final year spent in classrooms in different schools can be a harrowing experience. The most demanding of the three stints I did was usefully situated next to a police station just outside Northampton; help was at hand if needed, I felt. As with most readers of this journal, though, I survived and eventually did most of my learning on the job, in my own case in central Turkey.

I should point out that much of what has been published over the past decade on reflective practice (RP) I have found confusing, and it was with a degree of caution I approached this title. So here goes: the book under review here focuses on the practice cycle or ‘practicum’ of the ELT education programme, and if you’re looking for entertaining anecdotes relating to alarming episodes experienced by novice teachers, then the chapters within are probably not for you. However, as they outline the reflective thought processes of ten teachers during their practicum in schools in Ireland on a course leading to an MA in ELT, then much of it will probably resonate.

The reflective model presented here is labelled ‘PENSER’, and if you listened even a little on your High School French course you’ll recognise that verb without my needing to remind you. It’s also an acronym describing the cycle outlined by the authors: Puzzle identification, Embracing, Noticing, Solving, and Experimentation and Research. The cycle of these five steps in five weeks is repeated three times over the course of an academic year. For each cycle, student teachers are asked to identify one aspect of their teaching practice where they felt particularly challenged, and on which they could focus during the following cycle. All crystal clear thus far, I think you’ll agree. Let’s take a closer look.

Chapter One introduces the concept of RP; it explains its origin and provides several evidence-based cases showing how effective it may be. Also outlined are the inevitable pros and cons. In the following chapter the authors explain their PENSER approach, and cover the literature related to RP theories, frameworks and approaches. Moving closer to the classroom, Chapter Three discusses socio-cultural theory and, almost inevitably, Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). After reading here how short his life was, however, I think perhaps we should refrain from continually stating how inchoate his notion of the ZPD appears. Completing this chapter are immensely insightful sections on the huge value to novice teachers of mentorship and observation by teacher educators, cooperating teachers and peers.

Chapters four to seven trace the reflective thinking and professional development of the ten teachers involved in the study. Chapter Four focuses on challenges faced in the early days of lesson planning and preparation. For novice teachers, classroom management is of the utmost importance, and the following chapter provides snapshots of challenges faced by the research cohort, anxiety being one of the main issues. Chapter Six introduces the reader to three cases, of which 22 year-old Shona is the first. By going through the PENSER stages, Shona was able to overcome her initial difficulties with teaching English grammar. The targeted RP involved in PENSER also enabled the two others to assume a more confident and expert teacher identity and role.

Corpus linguistics is used in Chapter Seven to assist with the development of appropriate teacher talk and interactive skills, including the role and features of L2 classroom communication. Case studies involving two more course participants, Nina and Maria, are examined in chapter Eight, as they engage in post-observation feedback sessions. In the concluding chapter the authors suggest that the RP model they outline may be introduced on teacher development programmes. I would fully agree; this title more than most on the same topic, manages to clarify the value of RP to ELT practitioners.

Image courtesy of Library
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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