REFLECTIVE TEACHING THROUGH PEER OBSERVATION AND JOURNAL WRITING
Most teachers develop their classroom skills fairly early in their teaching careers. Teachers entering the profession may find their initial teaching efforts stressful, but with experience they acquire a repertoire of teaching strategies that they draw on throughout their teaching. The particular configuration of strategies a teacher uses constitutes his or her “teaching style”. While a teacher’s style of teaching provides a means of coping with many of the routine demands of teaching, there is also a danger that it can hinder a teacher’s professional growth. How can teachers move beyond the level of automatic or routinized responses to classroom situations and achieve a higher level of awareness of how they teach, of the kinds of decisions they make as they teach, and of the value and consequences of particular instructional decisions? One way of doing this is through observing and reflecting on one’s own teaching, and using observation and reflection as a way of bringing about change. This approach to teaching can be described as “Reflective Teaching”, and in this paper I want to explain about the implication of reflection process in using Journal and Peer Observation.
What is reflection?
Reflection or “critical reflection”, refers to an activity or process in which an experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose. It is a response to past experience and involves conscious recall and examination of the experience as a basis for evaluation and decision-making and as a source for planning and action. Bartlett (1990) points out that becoming a reflective teacher involves moving beyond a primary concern with instructional techniques and “how to” questions and asking “what” and “why” questions that regard instructions and managerial techniques not as ends in themselves, but as part of broader educational purposes.
How does reflection take place?
Many different approaches can be employed if one wishes to become a critically reflective teacher, including observation of oneself and others, team teaching, and exploring one’s view of teaching through writing. Central to any approach used however is a three part process which involves:
Stage 1 The event itself
The starting point is an actual teaching episode, such as a lesson or other instructional event. While the focus of critical reflection is usually the teacher’s own teaching, self-reflection can also be stimulated by observation of another person’s teaching.
Stage 2 Recollection of the event
The next stage in reflective examination of an experience is an account of what happened, without explanation or evaluation. Several different procedures are available during the recollection phase, including written descriptions of an event, a video or audio recording of an event, or the use of check lists or coding systems to capture details of the event.
Stage 3 Review and response to the event
Following a focus on objective description of the event, the participant returns to the event and reviews it. The event is now processed at a deeper level, and questions are asked about the experience.
Let us examine approaches to critical reflection which reflect these processes.
II. PEER OBSERVATION
Peer observation can provide opportunities for teachers to view each other’s teaching in order to expose them to different teaching styles and to provide opportunities for critical reflection on their own teaching. In a peer observation, the following guidelines were developed:
1. Each participant would both observe and be observed
Teachers would work in pairs and take turns observing each other’s classes.
2. Pre-observation orientation session
Prior to each observation, the two teachers would meet to discuss the nature of the class to be observed, the kind of material being taught, the teachers’ approach to teaching, the kinds of students in the class, typical patterns of interaction and class participation, and any problems that might be expected. The teacher being observed would also assign the observer a goal for the observation and a task to accomplish.
The task would involve collecting information about some aspect of the lesson, but would not include any evaluation of the lesson. Observation procedures or instruments to be used would be agreed upon during this session and a schedule for the observations arranged.
3. The observation
The observer would then visit his or her partner’s class and complete the observation using the procedures that both partners had agreed on.
The two teachers would meet as soon as possible after the lesson. The observer would report on the information that had been collected and discuss it with the teacher (Richards and Lockhart, 1991).
The teachers identified a variety of different aspects of their lessons for their partners to observe and collect information on. These included organization of the lesson, teacher’s time management, students’ performance on tasks, time-on-task, teacher questions and student responses, student performance during pair work, classroom interaction, class performance during a new teaching activity, and students’ use of the first language or English during group work.
The teachers who participated in this observation gained a number of insights about their own teaching from their colleague’s observations and that they would like to use peer observation on a regular basis. They obtained new insights into aspects of their teaching. For example:
• It provided more detailed information on student performance during specific aspects of the lesson than they could have gathered on their own.
• It revealed unexpected information about interaction between students during a lesson.
• They were able to get useful information on the group dynamics that occur during group work.
Some teachers identified aspects of their teaching that they would like to change as a result of the information their partner collected. For example:
• It made them more aware of the limited range of teaching strategies that they have been using.
• They need to give students more time to complete some of the activities they use.
• They realized that they need to develop better time management strategies.
Longer term benefits to the department were also cited:
• It helped them develop a better working relationship with a colleague.
• Some useful broader issues about teaching and the programme came up during the post-observation discussions.
Observation is a determining factor in reflective teaching and it is used to collect information and not to evaluate it. When teachers observe colleagues they must not forget that they are expected to describe not judge; the idea is to learn from one another.
III. JOURNAL WRITING
Another useful way of engaging in the reflective process is through the use of written accounts of experiences. Personal accounts of experiences through writing are common in other disciplines (Powell 1985) and their potential is increasingly being recognized in teacher education. A number of different approaches can be used. Journal writing is perhaps the easiest tool to use for self-assessment.
This procedure is becoming more widely acknowledged as a valuable tool for developing critical reflection. The goal of journal writing is:
1. to provide a record of the significant learning experiences that have taken place
2. to help the participant come into touch and keep in touch with the self-development process that is taking place for them
3. to provide the participants with an opportunity to express, in a personal and dynamic way, their self-development
4. to foster a creative interaction
• between the participant and the self-development process that is taking place
• between the participant and other participants who are also in the process of self-development
• between the participant and the facilitator whose role it is to foster such
(Powell, 1985, Bailey, 1990)
While procedures for diary keeping vary, the participant usually keeps a regular account of learning or teaching experiences, recording reflections on what he or she did as well as straightforward descriptions of events, which may be used as a basis for later reflection. The diary serves as a means for interaction between the writer, the facilitator, and, sometimes, other participants.
Another effective way of inquiring our own teaching and practices is by being committed in journal entries/ or teachers’ diaries. This task demands making entries regularly, preferably daily, if possible, and immediately after class. It is important to review the notes while asking ourselves questions like “why do I do what I do?”, “What is the role of students in my class?” Often times, this activity is individual. However, Richards & Lockhart (1994) have pointed out that colleagues can share a journal and get together to discuss it. These journal entries help teachers understand themselves, understand their classes, and understand both the teacher’s and learner’s experiences as the lesson was developed. Wallace (1998) has explained that journals are excellent tools for reflection because they provide effective means of identifying variables that are important to individual teachers and students; they enhance awareness about the way a teacher teaches and a student learns; they provide a first-hand account of teaching and learning experiences; they provide an on-going record of classroom events and teacher and learner reflections; they enable the researcher to relate classroom events and examine trends emerging from the diaries.
Journal writing has been used for different purposes. For example, trainee teachers use journals to reflect on the teaching/learning process and practicing teachers write journals for inservice self-evaluation. To develop reflective teaching, teachers and trainee teachers need to collect evidence about their teaching. Keeping a journal is thus used as a means to enable the teachers and the trainee teachers to raise consciousness of their teaching, which is regarded as the first stage of reflective teaching. This involves mapping their ideas about teaching and about the teachers themselves, about the content of teaching and about people influencing their teaching.
With regard to self-assessment, journals can be used to help learners systematically collect data on their learning. Students may write about their learning goals, reflections on their learning or their learning development.
A reflective approach to teaching involves changes in the way we usually perceive teaching and our role in the process of teaching. As the explanation above, teachers who explore their own teaching through critical reflection develop changes in attitudes and awareness which they believe can benefit their professional growth as teachers, as well as improve the kind of support they provide their students. In conclusion, critical reflection can be done by Journal Writing and Peer Observation. Teachers should find what works best for them, as what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. We would suggest, however, that taking the time to put one’s thoughts down in writing seems to be the most practical means for language teachers.