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Teaching Strategies: The Value of Self-Reflection

Janelle Cox

 

Have you ever taken a moment to step back and think, “Why did I just do that?”

Self-reflection is a simple way to dig deeper into your feelings and find out why you were doing something or feeling a certain way.

With a profession as challenging as teaching, self-reflection offers teachers an opportunity to think about what works and what doesn’t in their classroom. We teachers can use reflective teaching as a way to analyze and evaluate our own practices so we can focus on what works.

Why is Self-Reflection So Important?

Effective teachers are first to admit that no matter how good a lesson is, our teaching strategies can always be improved—oftentimes it’s why we seek out our colleagues’ opinions.

However, we run the risk of our audience making snap judgments about our instruction without truly having the context to support it—especially in regard to why a student didn’t understand it or why something happened amidst your instruction.

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Self-reflection is important because it’s a process that makes you collect, record, and analyze everything that happened in the lesson so you can make improvements in your teaching strategies where necessary.

The Process of Reflection

Connecting self-reflection to effective teaching is a process. The first step is to figure out what you want to reflect upon—are you looking at a particular feature of your teaching or is this reflection in response to a specific problem in your classroom? Whatever the case may be, you should start by collecting information.

Here are a few ways that you can do this:

  • Self-Reflective Journal: A journal is an easy way to reflect upon what just happened during your instruction. After each lesson, simply jot down a few notes describing your reactions and feelings and then follow up with any observations you have about your students. If it helps, you can break up your journal into concrete sections, such lesson objective, materials, classroom management, students, teacher, etc. In this way, you can be consistent with how you measure your assessments time after time. You can find specific questions to ask yourself below.
  • Video Recording: A video recording of your teaching is valuable because it provides an unaltered and unbiased vantage point for how effective your lesson may be from both a teacher and student perspective. Additionally, a video may act as an additional set of eyes to catch errant behavior that you hadn’t spotted at the time. Many colleges actually use this method to teach up and coming teachers the value of self-reflection.
  • Student Observation: Students are very observant and love to give feedback. You can hand out a simple survey or questionnaire after your lesson to get students’ perspectives about how the lesson went. Think critically about what questions you’d like to ask and encourage your children to express their thoughts thoroughly. It’ll not only be a learning experience for you, but also an indirect exercise in writing for them.
  • Peer Observation: Invite a colleague to come into your classroom and observe your teaching. Now this is much different than when you have your principal come in and watch you—it’s much more casual and devoid of darting eyes. As a result, you’ll be able to teach more naturally and give your colleague an honest perspective of your instruction methods. To help him frame your lesson critique more clearly, create a questionnaire (you can use some of the questions below) for your colleague to fill out as they observe. Afterward, make some time to sit down with him so he can more accurately convey what he saw.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Whether you’re using a self-reflective journal or trying to get feedback from your students and peers, perhaps the hardest part is actually coming up with the right questions to ask. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Lesson Objectives

  • Was the lesson too easy or too difficult for the students?
  • Did the students understand what was being taught?
  • What problems arose?

Materials

  • Did the materials keep the students engaged in the lesson?
  • What materials did we use that worked in the lesson?
  • What materials did we use that didn’t work in the lesson?
  • Are there any resources or techniques that you’d like to see used instead?

Students

  • Were students on task?
  • With what parts of the lesson did the students seem most engaged?
  • With what parts of the lesson did students seem least engaged with?

Classroom Management

  • Where my instructions clear?
  • Was the lesson taught at a reasonable pace?
  • Did all students participate in the lesson?

Teacher

  • How effective was the overall lesson?
  • How can I do it better next time?
  • Did I meet all of my objectives?
  • How did I deal with any problems that came up during instruction?
  • Was I perceptive and sensitive to each of my students’ needs?
  • How was my overall attitude and delivery throughout class?

Analyze and Implement Effective Techniques

Now that you have collected the information, it’s time to analyze it. The first thing you should look for is any recurring patterns. If you video recorded your lesson, did you find anything that kept happening over and over?

Look at your student feedback forms. Is there anything that students kept talking about?

Now that you have figured out what needs to be changed, the easy part is finding a solution. There are a few avenues I would encourage you to explore:

  • Talk to your colleagues about your findings and ask them for advice. They may have the same issue in their classroom and can offer you some ideas on how do things differently.
  • Go online and read up on effective techniques that can help remedy your situation. As an age-old profession, there are bound to be resources that exist for the problems you’re experiencing.
  • Interact with other teachers on blogs and on social media sites. Posting questions on popular forums and blogs may open up new perspectives and techniques that you hadn’t considered before. These avenues may also have insight for any new questions that you should include on future surveys.

The ultimate goal of self-reflection is to improve the way you teach. Through the findings you gather, you may gain the insight you need to take your instruction to the proverbial next level, or you may find that you’re already doing a stellar job. In either case, self-reflection is a technique that can gauge your standing honestly and you should strive to implement it throughout the year. By the time the next new class rolls around, you’ll have a much better wider toolkit to pull from when it’s time to teach that lesson once again.

What do you think of reflective teaching? Do you practice this process in your classroom? Share with us in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.