Evaluation and measuring progress in reflective practice #eltchat

I am very grateful for the opportunity to write this summary (my second one) because it gives me a whole new perspective on an issue I am currently delving into. Before I begin, I'd like to thank Michael Stout for suggesting Reflective Practice (RP) as the topic for the 26/2/2014 #eltchat. As RP had already been touched upon before, Marisa Constantinides started the chat by drawing our attention to the corresponding #eltchat summary. The chat started slowly - I suspect that it was due to the fact that many participants (including me) were refreshing their memory by studying the summary mining for information they might find useful during the upcoming discussion. Nevertheless, it quickly got as lively as usual. Looking at the transcript, I'm surprised by how much I missed during the live chat, even though I tried to fully concentrate on every tweet in the heavy stream.

Marisa Constantinides had a good idea and suggested that we briefly recapitulate the concept of RP. A few definitions popped up immediately. Shaun Wilden, for example, started off with a nice metaphor: It is using a mirror so you can see yourself teach? and Hada Litim reminded us that RP is mulling over what worked, what didn't, why and how to improve it. For Wiktor Kostrzewski the best question he had ever heard from a coach was: What happened there? And for him, in effect, this sums up RP. For Greg Curran RP means trying to see what happened through another's eyes. Later on he expanded the definition by adding that RP is asking curly questions, i.e. questions that really push us out of our comfort zones.

The next part of the chat revolved around various forms of RP. Creative Newbie CELTA Trainer suggested that RP might as well be a sketch pad - why not draw a picture that reflects some aspect of the lesson? This could be interesting for more impressionist types. Hada Litim mentioned blogging as one of the effective ways of reflecting on one's teaching. Naomi Epstein revealed that her three year old blog had had an extremely powerful impact on her reflective practices. Steve Brown had also found blogging as a really good form of reflective practice. Newbie CELTA Trainer tried to bring up ELC - Experiential Learning Cycle - but this was, unfortunately, not elaborated on. For those who are not familiar with this concept, I am attaching this link to an interesting post on ELC by @ZhenyaDnipro.

Some participants considered making videos and recordings of their classes as a possible way to do RP. This proved to be an interesting subject for many of us, even though some expressed doubts regarding effectiveness of such a method. Wiktor Kostrzewski pointed out that video always brings the observer effect to mind and raised a question: would students behave differently if the camera wasn't there? Shaun Wilden stressed that teachers can only make videos with permission. Maria Colussa expressed her worries saying that her adult students would panic at the idea of getting recorded but Marisa Constantinides reassured everybody that when it becomes an everyday thing, the students eventually forget that they are being recorded. Eily Murphy seconded this by adding that students and we can get used to being observed; teaching in rooms with glass helps. As I missed the repeated request from the #eltchat participants to share a link to my post regarding video snippets and classroom observation, I'm doing so now. Accept my apologies for the delay. Marisa Constantinides then revealed her 'secret' tip - Evernote - a suite of software and services initially designed for note-taking and archiving, which does great voice recordings and can be accessed anywhere. Greg Curran shared his observation that Evernote is a great tool to capture quick thoughts or realizations, as well as a time saver. I'd like to conclude this paragraph with Marisa Constantinides's words: Although recording lessons is a good first step, what we do with the data is even more important.

This brings me to the next part of the evening chat. What should RP actually look like? Most participants agreed with the statement that RP must be systematic. Michael Stout believes that teachers need to problematise, investigate and share. Marisa Constantinides confirmed this by saying that some of our reflections are intuitive and not fully articulated, but structured reflection has different demands. She later added that detail is important to base our action plan. Steve Brown used different words to express the same idea: reflection involves looking ahead as well.

A few chatters, for example Marjorie Rosenberg, pointed out that when reflecting, it is good to focus on the positive and disassociate from the negative. Greg Curran had a similar view; it is important to train our eyes and ears to what we do well. We often focus on what went wrong but by fixating on something that went awry we may miss the myriads of positives passing by. Malefaki Joanna also felt that it's easier to find the weaknesses than the strength of a lesson, and I couldn't agree more when Marisa Constantinides said that much self-flagellation is not always desirable, since it can ruin the good stuff as well. However, Newbie CELTA Trainer pointed out that reflection can sometimes become self-indulgent and that it should be seen more as social interaction.

A great part of the chat was devoted to self-evaluation checklists and their place in RP. According to Marisa Constantinides, a strong proponent of checklists, these needn't necessarily be official; they can be self-created or created with a colleague. They can serve as a form of assessment based on which one can make an action plan. One thing Marisa does is training teachers to create individual checklists, e.g. on vocabulary teaching or reading. A conclusion that emerged from this part of the discussion was that checklists must be narrowed down and focused, otherwise they would become too overwhelming.

The participants agreed on the need to respect various formats of RP - the format must follow the teacher and we have to find what works best for us. While some teachers will reflect individually, using their videos or recordings, others will prefer reflective buddies. Steve Brown paraphrased John Dewey, an American educational reformer, saying that RP needs to be interactive (Marisa provided a link to an interesting article outlining Dewey's ideas). Some of the participants then shared their favourite formats of RP. For example Wiktor Kostrzewski's favourite would be a coffee-fuelled podcast, whereas Naomi Epstein needs to write things down in order to organize her thoughts; for her spoken word is too quick. Hada Litim concluded that a video followed by a chat with a colleague is more instant than blogging, which is probably more effective in the long term.

Towards the end of the chat Vedrana Vojkovic came up with an interesting question regarding tertiary education. She asked if anybody would agree with her observation that those teaching at tertiary level can be a little reluctant to reflect on or question their teaching. She supported her assumption by telling us about a colleague at university who she once wanted to observe but who finally found an excuse. Marjorie Rosenberg, also a teacher at tertiary level, replied saying that she constantly reflects and changes if need be. Marisa argued that the problem Vedrana had mentioned may be true locally and especially for state-employed teachers. Vedrana's explanation of the situation would be inertia, long-term job security, and the fact that the teachers are overworked in Croatia.

Another burning question was posed by Wiktor Kostrzewski : How to sell RP to those who don't want it done to them - those who probably need it most? Anthony Gaughan wondered how we can do reflective practice to someone else. Greg Curran added that he would be wary of suggesting what people need. According to him, RP has to come from the people and from what is important to them.

Although the chat went on till almost quarter past eleven (Prague time zone), I'd like to conclude my summary with what Marisa Constantinides said about RP at 23:01:

"Reflective Practice requires a teacher who is observant, attends to detail, knows about learning and teaching and can speculate critically."