Reflective Teaching in ELT

N.V. Fedicheva

: ³ 16 (179), 2009. Cc. 135-142.


Some of the resources that English language teachers can grow as professionals are the following: gaining teaching experience, participating in teacher development courses, attending conferences and trainings, consulting colleagues, and getting to know students better. In the article I would like to add to these recourses by introducing ways for teachers to look inward, to access information and inspiration about their efforts in language classrooms. The purpose of this article is to serve as an introduction to reflective teaching in ELT. The article also highlights purposes of reflective teaching and topics explored by reflective teachers.

The problem of reflective teaching has been investigated by V. Sukhomlinskiy, G. Kucherova, V. Dukan, M Frolov, Richards, J Gebhard, D. Nunan, D. Allwright, D. Freeman.

One of the characteristics that distinguishes adults from children is that adults have an increased capacity for self-reflective thought. This doesnt mean that children are incapable of self-reflection. Parents know that children, especially adolescents, can be highly self-reflective. But in comparison with younger people, adults possess greater capacities in this area. The challenge for the language teachers is to put such capacities to more productive use. Reflective teachers often ask themselves basic, but difficult questions about the appropriateness and success if their teaching. If students are not successful, they ask themselves how they can change their teaching or classroom behaviors to improve on their success. If students arent attentive, what can be done to motivate them? In essence, they ask self-evaluative questions and then conclude whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied. Reflection, then, is the continued self-monitoring of satisfaction with effectiveness [6.p. 21].

One of the primary architects of reflective teaching is Donald Cruickshank. He suggests that reflective teachers want to learn all they can about teaching from both theory and practice. They teach and reflect on the teaching. They deliberate on their teaching and through the process become thoughtful and wiser teachers.

The purposes of reflective teaching are the following:

1. To expand ones understanding of the teaching-learning process.

2. To expand ones repertoire of strategic options as a language teacher.

3. To enhance the quality of teaching and learning.

Reflective teachers work to improve their abilities to:

1. Gather information on whatever is taking place within a language course.

2. Identify anything puzzling about the teaching-learning process.

3. Locate and collaborate with others interested in the processes of reflective teaching.

4. Pose and refine questions tied to ones teaching that are worth further exploration.

5. Locate resources that may help to clarify whatever questions are being posed.

6. Make informed changes in teaching, even of only modest changes.

7. Document changes in teaching-learning behaviors and responses.

8. Share emerging insights with others interested in reflective teaching. Reflective teaching can be defined as an approach to language classroom instruction in which teachers collect data about teaching, examine their attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and teaching practices, and use the information obtained as a basis for reflection about their efforts in language courses. The five assumptions below can be posited about reflective teaching.

1. An informed teacher has an extensive knowledge base about teaching.

2. Much can be learned about teaching through self-inquiry.

3. Much of what happens in teaching is unknown to the teacher.

4. Teaching experience alone is insufficient as a basis for continuing development.

5. Critical reflection can trigger a deeper understanding of teaching. One reason why experience is insufficient as a base for development is that often we teach as we have been taught.

Early stages of reflective teaching begin with a classroom teachers desire to better understand the dynamics of his or her language course. This doesnt mean that reflective teaching cannot extend beyond the scope of a single course. At later stages it often does. But as a place to begin, most teachers find an individual course to be the most useful place to initiate what eventually becomes systematic efforts as reflective teaching. Some general topics that reflective teachers often explore are the following: (1) communicative patterns in the classroom; (2) teacher decision making; (3)ways in which learners apply knowledge; (4)the affective climate of the classroom; (5) the instructional environment; (6) a teachers self-assessment of growth and development as a professional [2. p. 44].

Teachers who are interested in patterns of communication in language classrooms often explore classroom management issues such as, who is doing what during lessons? As the teacher, am I the sole source of power and control? Do my lessons usually begin and end in the same way? Do my students sometimes have an impact on what takes place? Classroom communication patterns is one of the more common topics explored by reflective teachers. Most of us want to better understand how communication between everyone present in the classroom may influence teaching and learning processes often reflect on the following questions. Who speaks to whom, how often, in what sequence, and for how long? How are speaking turns distributed? What are some of the ways in which learners take the floor as speakers in the midst of classroom communications? Do patters of communication in the classroom provide opportunities for learners to take the initiative?

The teacher as decision maker is an area for exploration which includes a vast, and yet poorly understood dimension of language teaching. Many scholars suggest that teaching is decision making. This means that teachers must make sound decisions in their interactions with students. The number of decisions teachers have to make daily is astonishing. An American educator Murray estimates the number at 1,500. Skilled teachers not only make numerous decisions but also make them well. The effective teacher structures the classroom so that it runs smoothly and efficiently. This enables more teacher time to be devoted to the most important decisions decisions that will improve student learning. For example, How much lecturing should I do? How many questions should be asked? How much reinforce cement should be used? What is the best method to assess students skills? How can Tanya be motivated? Can Peter do better in class? and Are students interested in the lesson? represent only a few questions a teacher may ask himself on a normal day. Also, note that these decisions are made before, during, and after instruction time [4. p. 62].

What theoretical knowledge does a teacher need to be an effective decision maker? More specifically, what theoretical knowledge does a teacher need to make sound decisions? Theoretical knowledge is generally gleaned from the coursework required in a teacher preparatory program. In most programs, this knowledge will be derived from such courses as history of the foreign language, lexicology, stylistics, foundations of education, pedagogy, psychology, language teaching methodology, etc. However, the theories and knowledge developed in these courses cannot be totally applied to learning situation. In other words, theoretical knowledge is of limited value if it cannot be applied to the learning environment; that is, unless it can become active knowledge. Active knowledge is the application of theoretical knowledge [5. p. 41].

Just as there are many topics to be explored by reflective teachers, there are also many different ways to gather information. Ways of gathering information will be referred to as tools. Teachers use different tools to access different sorts of information. The Table 1 below depicts a listing of some of the major tools reflective teachers use.

Table1. Some Tools of Reflective Teaching: Ways of gathering Information

Formative feedback from learners

Five-minute papers

Teacher assessment surveys


Dialogue journals

Written assessments

Students focus groups

Formative feedback from other teachers

Peer collaboration

Case interviews

Field notes and classroom ethnographies

Dialogue with a supervisor

Observation schedules

Score charts Classroom observation

Self-generated sources of information

Retrospective field notes

Teaching journals and teaching logs

Classroom diagrams and maps

Lesson plans and lesson reporting

Audio/video recordings

Protocol analysis

Course descriptions

Summative feedback from learners at the end of the course

Action research

We will look at five tools that should be especially useful to teachers interested in becoming more involved in processes and procedures of reflective teaching. These five tolls are: five-minute papers, formative teacher assessment surveys, student focus groups, retrospective field notes, and formative feedback from peers.

Five-minute papers

Regular use of five-minute papers is a direct way of finding how learners are perceiving and responding to our efforts as teachers. A few minutes before the end of the lesson, the teacher asks everyone to take out a sheet of paper and write responses to one or two open-ended prompts such as: (1) What is the one thing you are likely to remember from todays class? (2) What was the most confusing concept we covered? (3) Is there anything you think II should be doing differently? (4)Is there anything you would like to know more about?

Some teachers might want to ask students to compose five-minute papers in English or in their mother tongue. Though these papers take time away from the regular part of a lesson, using them at the end of class can better inform a teachers post-lesson decisions. When introducing the papers for the first time, the following things should be explained to students.

1. Their names should not appear on their papers (their writings will be kept in confidence).

2. When reading the papers the teacher will not be looking at things like grammar, spelling, or vocabulary choice but only for the ideas they convey.

3. The teacher will be reading papers for the purpose of improving his teaching in the course and not to evaluate students progress. When using five-minute papers, teachers sense of timing is essential. If students are asked to write them too often, they loose interest and may even begin to resent being asked to do so. In classes that meet two or three time a week, one paper in three weeks is enough [3. p. 67].

Using five-minute papers wisely can serve as vivid reminders to students that their responses to the course are valued and given serious attention.

Formative teacher assessment surveys

A complement to five-minute papers is to schedule several surveys of students perceptions of how well the course is going. Some advantages of formative assessment surveys are that they can be structured in advance, it is easy to keep students comments anonymous, a lot of information can be gathered at one tome, and the procedure may be carried out at regular intervals. One option is to implement such surveys three times during the span of an entire course. The following is an illustration of a formative teacher assessment survey a teacher may use for a high-intermediate level.

Formative Feedback

Directions: Please do not sign your name. We are thee weeks into the course. This is a time for some formative feedback from you as a course participant. Please answer the following questions. Thanks.

1. What are some features of the course that you think are working out pretty well and that you would like to see for the remainder of the course?

2. What are some possible changes you would like to see incorporated into the course from this point forward?

Another option is to follow similar procedures but to use a format that involves less writing by providing a list of item to which students can respond on an easily accessible scale, such as:

Yes, I agree. I agree somewhat. No, I do not agree.

Illustrations of sample items to include are:

In general, the textbook, materials, and assignments in this course:

Are interesting and useful

Are at the right level

Help me to practice and improve my language skills

Require the right amount of homework

In general, the teacher of this course:

Presents well-organizes lessons

Speaks in a way that is clear and easy to understand

Is knowledgeable about the subject we study

Gives marks for assignments and tests fairly

Makes good use of class time

Returns students papers/work on time

Gives me individual help when I need it or when I ask for it

Encourages me to do my best

Treats students well

Provides opportunities for everyone to participate in class

Students focus groups

The use of student focus groups is a simple idea. It is more involved than five-minute papers or students surveys and takes careful planning. In language teaching, student focus groups engage either all members of a class or a subset of learners in a discussion of how a course is going. A colleague may serve as focus group discussion leader. Some options are as follows. Make arrangements for a colleague you trust, and with whom you have a constructive working relationship, to serve as the focus group facilitator. Invite him or her to visit the class for a lesson during which you will not be present but for which students have been prepared in advance. As agreed upon with the class, your colleagues role is to lead the whole class in a discussion of broad topics such as:

1. How is the course going?

2. What do you like about the course? Or about the teacher?

3. What are your least favorite things?

4. Does the course textbook or other instructional material seem helpful?

3. What are some characteristics of the teachers instructional style that works well?

4. What are characteristics you find to be less helpful?

5. Do assessment procedures seem fair?

6. What are some of the ways in which the course might be improved?

The facilitator could distribute a handout with the list of the above questions. Students can then pick and choose their preferred topics for discussion. Prior to the day of the focus group and at the start of the actual discussion, students need to be assured that their comments and answers will be kept in confidence. The facilitators role is to listen carefully, keep the discussion on track, and take notes (When possible) on what students have to say [1 p. 57].

When the class is finished, the facilitator writes a report that provides a synopsis for the teacher of the students suggestions for the course. No names should appear in the report.

One modification to the focus groups is to avoid involving the whole class, but to discus s the focus group process with them and ask for only a few members of the class (20-25%) to volunteer to participate. In this option, students choose whether to participate. Many language teachers find the kind of information revealed as a result of student focus group to be tremendously helpful for increasing awareness of their strengths as well as areas they could improve.

Retrospective field notes

A less intrusive way to gather information on teaching is to document your understandings and explanations of what you are doing in the course through retrospective field notes. The word retrospective signals that such field notes are not generated during lessons but only after a lesson has finished. The ides is to find a private place to write after the lesson is over. It takes discipline to compose retrospective field notes on a regular basis and it is important to start writing soon after the end of a class, for example, within 30- 60 minutes. If too much time elapses, our memories of classroom events quickly fade. The activity is similar to keeping a personal diary, with the difference that retrospective field notes focus on course-related events. To produce them, the teacher writes about whatever is fresh in his or her memory. Retrospective field notes can become a valuable source of information about ones understandings and a record of ones explanations of teaching over time. Some general ways to frame field notes are to respond to questions about yourself as a teacher, the teaching process, or anything tied to the dynamics of the lesson itself.

Formative feedback from peers

A classic way of gaining access to formative feedback is to invite appear that is, another language teacher whose opinion you respect to visit one or more of your classes. For purposes of reflective teaching such visits should be planned to be different from the kinds of observations carried out by supervisors. In setting up a peers non-supervisor visit to the classroom, it is important to discuss and clarify the visitors purpose in advance.



1. V. Dukan. Toward a Theory of Instruction / Dukan V. - New York: W.W. Norton, - 1996 121 p.

2. D.R.Cruickshank. Reflective Teaching. Reston, Va.: Association of Teacher Educators / Cruickshank D.R. - 1997 68 p.

3. D Freeman, M. Well. Models of teaching,2d ed / Freeman D., Well M. - Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, - 1990 104 p.

4. D. Nunan. Educating the Reflective Practitioner / Nunan D. - San Francisco: Jossey-Bass - 1987 132 p.

5. D. Allwright .Classroom teaching Skills / Allwright D. - Kenneth D. Moore. 4th ed. McGrawHill - 2002 107 p.

6. M. Hunter. Mastery teaching: Increasing Instructional effectiveness in Secondary Schools, Colleges and Universities /Hunter M. - 1992. El Segundo, Calif: TIP Publications - 1992 89p. 















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