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How and When to Reflect on Classroom Teaching

How and When to Reflect on Classroom Teaching | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Reflective teaching is not a contemporary science however, to find evidence of when this science began it would be an impossible task, like accessing the Vatican library. One could presume the first person which taught another something resourceful dedicated some time to reflect on its delivery and considered observing research, and planning.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Stephen A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Generally, reflective teaching is the process of self-observation and self-evaluation i.e. looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works. The aim is to improve and change personal teaching accordingly, but what sort of information does a teacher need to gather? and why will these changes ensure a better outcome for the teacher and learners?

Let us first consider the benefits of reflective practices deployed by the teacher.

  • To help teachers become better teachers by developing abilities to solve problems;
  • To ensure greater responsibility for teachers and students by understanding how one teaches and so encouraging a more active role in the learning cycle;
  • To encourage innovation by providing a richer experience;
  • To encourage engagement by developing an understanding of different perspectives and viewpoints of students, colleagues sharing different strategies;
  • A benefit to all through creating an environment that centers on the learner and demonstrative mutual respect. Source: (Cambridge International Education Teaching and Learning Team, Year unknown).

At the two extremities of reflective teaching, the teachers’ reflective perception can be distinguishable between reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. i.e. reflection as something happens and reflecting after something happens respectively. For both scenarios, the teacher allows their initial understanding of the phenomenon to construct a new description of it, and consequently test the new description. Then, it is possible to arrive at a new theory of the phenomenon by articulating the feeling he/she has about it.

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As Schon explains:

Considering both these approaches the teacher can develop a critical approach to teaching considering things how they are, and how they could be by applying the respective timing to the reflective action. (Schon, 1991)

Schon also goes on to explain the phenomenon of reflection in action: When someone reflects in action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and techniques, but constructs a new theory of the unique case. (Schon, 1991)

esl teacher by the whiteboard


In action, the teacher accepts the experience of surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomena before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit on his behavior. Then executes an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomena and the change of situation. (Schon, 1991)

Example 1: the teacher gets the feeling that the students’ receptive skills are not at a level to engage in communicating an evaluative discussion about a tape recording to identify incorrect accuracy. Rather than replaying the tape several times and prompting the students he/she using a backup plan which was normally on hand for faulty equipment. Then skips to a gap-fill exercise on the board based around the same theme.

Example 2: The teacher previously reflected that there may be confidence issues’ among some of the male students. During class, the teacher had provided the necessary language and included some drilling during the study phase. However, now it appears that not all students engaged the lesson at the same learning level. The faster learners successfully demonstrated the necessary productive skills for the lesson role-play activity however, some slower learners hadn’t. The teachers' rapport of the students had considered faster and slower learner issues during the class plan and then decided to pair the faster and slower learners together. However, whilst observing the lesson’s decision that he/she can’t expect all students to produce the new language fluently, consequently, a learning gap will occur. Hence this new unforeseen issue the teacher decides the role-play activity of the class plan should be aborted and decides upon a Story Building activity where Students create stories based on topics.

Example 3: After explaining the next activity in the lesson will be a game of jeopardy for the linguistic skills of intermediate level learners, some students felt the need to talk to each other in their mother tongue. The teacher considers several reasons why the students could need to communicate in their native language. Then considers mitigation of this need whilst facilitating the activity. For example, ignore non-English questions in place of clear instructions.

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The constraints of reflection-in-action are: * Discussions are based on the teachers’ knowledge and action at the time, so discussion with other colleges, research is not undertaken. Hence there is skepticism about professional effectiveness. * Problems with students are interconnected, environments are turbulent, so what is called for is not only the analytic techniques that have been traditional in operation research but the active, synthetic skill of designing a desirable future and inventing ways of bringing it about. * Professional practice is the act of problem-solving, problems of decision are solved through the selection. Thus, teachers run the risk of ignoring the setting and are not apparent from the materials of problem situations. Hence, the problem set does not present themselves in the practitioner as givens. They must be constructed from the materials of problem situations, which can be puzzling, troubling, and uncertain.

Source: (Schon, 1983)

english lesson


Many teachers discuss their classes with their colleagues. However, the danger is swerving toward particular characteristics which do not deploy a systematic process of collecting, recording, and analyzing. The overall goal of reflective teaching wouldn’t be effectively found via trial and error. The goal is not obtained via means which do not involve as much inclusive interaction with every stakeholder.

Teaching resources that regard reflective teaching are widely available however, the networks available to the teacher and his/her institution have expanded to new horizons due to the trends in technology. Not only is the teacher posing questions during a live discussion among ordinary conversations with colleagues and other web-related blogs. Students have also a great potential to provide feedback from the classroom and within other types of forums externally. How can this fit into a contemporary process of teacher reflection?

To ensure the teacher is reflecting correctively, the teacher can adapt tools and models broken down into clearly defined sections. Such as Gibbs cyclical model (1998). Gibbs's model is similar to Kolb’s four-step cycle of reflective teaching published in 1984 encouraging teachers to reflect on their thoughts and feelings. The six parts of the Gibbs reflective teaching cycle model include: Step 1: Description which clearly outlines the experience; Step 2: Feelings the teachers had at the time of the event (positive or negative) and offer examples that refer to the experience. So, strategies can be made to overcome identified issues; Step 3: Evaluation of what went well and analyze it, which also considering areas needed for development and did not work out as initially planned from the teacher and student’s perspective; Step 4: Analysis of what might have helped the learning or hindered it referring to any relevant literature or research to help make sense of the experiment; Step 5: Conclusion describing what needed to improve and how to do so; and Step 6: an Action plan that sums up each element of the cycle into a step-by-step plan for the new learning experience. For example, what the teacher needs to keep, things that need to be developed and things that would need to be done differently.

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The teacher can undertake reflective teaching using the following five tools: * Learning Journal; * Lesson evaluations; * Observations; * Student dialogue; and * Shared Planning.

Source: Cambridge international education teaching and learning team. (Year undisclosed).

The best way to begin the process of reflective teaching is by keeping a learning diary, keeping it personal, explaining your actions and observation of students when things happened. This is wrapping up the results from the details and procedures executed from the lesson plan. An effective self-evaluation form aimed to feed a six-part reflective teaching cycle model is shown in the following example:

A. The extent to which the learner objectives and personal aims were met: Pairing the weaker students with the stronger students during activation ensured students demonstrated the use of phases actively with an accuracy of an upper-intermediate level. Fluency from all students was still static but the pronunciation was at a satisfactory level.

B. Accuracy of anticipated problems and solutions: One of the example phases: “I look forward to meeting you”, some of the students had difficulty understanding its tense during the engagement. The present continuous tense: “I am looking forward to meeting you”, some students thought this was the correct way of saying this statement. The students suggested that the present continuous tense was a possible sentence based on the definition of a temporary action that is not necessarily in progress at the time of speaking. The sentence also seems to be an item of confusion due to it implies habitual or routine action where the base verb “DO” is omitted. Hence, some students interpreted the correct answer based on the present simple tense incorrectly. The correct phase tense was taught during a second study, providing explanations of which the usage of the present continuous tense with a future meaning is not correct because the tense is not indicated by the main verb in the passive sentence structure.

esl class

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C. Modifications made to the lesson procedure: Modeling examples of the correct tense and wording of the phrase “I look forward to meeting you” was fairly time-consuming among all the learned phases. Some revision of present continuous, future continuous, and present simple tense was retaught during a second study phase.

D. Effectiveness and reasons: It was a successful class in terms of practicing learned common phases. The correct tense and wording of some phases were still confusing to a majority of students, and it seems as if gaps have formed during the previous lesson regarding tense. It was purposely avoided to not stray from the lessons' main point.

E. Effectiveness of each phase of the ESA; Prompting was needed during the engagement of some learned phases that everyone often talks about in daily life and business scenes. The study worksheet regarding the tense was cut short as Student 1, Student 2 and Student 3 had been showing hesitation in answering and were slowing down the class. Pairing the weaker students with the stronger students during activation ensured students demonstrated the use of phases actively with an accuracy of an upper-intermediate level.

F. Strengths and weaknesses of lesson and areas of improvement Some of the learned phases that everyone often talks about in daily life and business scenes had some elements which demonstrated learning gaps via the learner’s previous language levels. So, another few classes might ensure similar types of sentences can be understood in terms of tense. Rather than the solution provided in this lesson that “look forward to” was a phrasal verb. Relying on the students to memorize this phrase regardless of the level of confusion shown about its correctness. Investigations regarding the incorporation of phrasal verbs and phrases that everyone often talks about in daily life regarding correct tense should be pursued as a viable option at an intermediate language level. As opposed to a lesson focussing on this topic. Except for teaching 1-1 or business classes where further evaluations are needed to establish the needs of the learners.

The next step is to ensure that preceding lessons and the personal teaching style gain the most from a self-evaluation form or learning journal, which can contain a huge potential to aid in reflections-on-action and reflections-in action. Ideally, the approach is to record reactions and record the details of exposing the teaching material to the students. So, the areas of teaching that need to be more focused (and how this shall be decided) can be identified from looking at data; individual learners’ dialogue and performance; or an aspect of the curriculum.

A contemporized Cambridge assessment for international education identifies this first phase of reaction to form part of a five-step procedure of analyzing, evaluating, and reworking reflective input. (Cambridge international education teaching and learning team, Year undisclosed). Thus, this step involves the teacher cataloging his/her reflections via a journal, notebook, or form provided by the school or institution and the timing of logged issues to be quite crucial. Also, logging the particular media of its record and its potential to be reviewed via personal, peer, or a student viewpoint. Then, the teacher can justifiably provide a mode for his/her teaching assessment, aimed at how its performance has and could take place through observation, discussion, and/or shared planning.

This process of reviewing leads to revising the teachers' particular method via an integrative approach that compares the current issues of a lesson, to the future potential of lessons and the capability of improvement for the benefit of the student and teacher. So, influencing factors and potentials previously recorded can create adaptations relating to something specific about a task.

The concluding stages will require some thought of reworking to determine an action plan for how these ideas can be executed in a practical way, and reassessment of the new strategies in terms of how these may affect learning. For example: Determining specialized equipment to aid in the potential change and delivery of some of the issues identified during the initial stages of reflection and to what level this solved particular issues.

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Reflective teaching is a progressive step towards greater personal teaching critiques; student evaluation; and class management. It aims to consider how things are and how things could be dynamically achieved relative to timing. Hence, it can be undertaken in action during a class, or undertaken procedurally after a class as a conclusive component of the teachers’ class plan.

Both approaches are methodological and could be undertaken consecutively. However, whilst reflection-in-action could be deemed useful, its execution is demerited since it is up to the teachers’ personal beliefs, practical experience, and feelings to execute how their reflective approach forms the best outcome for the students and personal teaching self-evaluation.

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The outcome of reflection-on-action is to make sense of a lesson, considered to be experimental by nature, and how improvements can be made incrementally within the curriculum forte whilst not being limited to the class strata. Thus, there is a true science to reflective teaching and theorists have developed practical models to ensure teachers’ self-assessment via diary, verbal communication or other media can follow a concise procedure identifying topics for improvement and/or achieve results with a potential to involve stakeholders such as the students, institution and other colleagues.

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