Reflective teaching: Exploring our own classroom practice

Reflective teaching means looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works - a process of self-observation and self-evaluation.

By collecting information about what goes on in our classroom, and by analysing and evaluating this information, we identify and explore our own practices and underlying beliefs. This may then lead to changes and improvements in our teaching.

Reflective teaching is therefore a means of professional development which begins in our classroom.

  • Why it is important
  • Beginning the process of reflection
    • Teacher diary
    • Peer observation
    • Recording lessons
    • Student feedback
  • What to do next
    • Think
    • Talk
    • Read
    • Ask
  • Conclusion


Why it is important
Many teachers already think about their teaching and talk to colleagues about it too. You might think or tell someone that "My lesson went well" or "My students didn't seem to understand" or "My students were so badly behaved today."

However, without more time spent focussing on or discussing what has happened, we may tend to jump to conclusions about why things are happening. We may only notice reactions of the louder students. Reflective teaching therefore implies a more systematic process of collecting, recording and analysing our thoughts and observations, as well as those of our students, and then going on to making changes.

  • If a lesson went well we can describe it and think about why it was successful.
  • If the students didn't understand a language point we introduced we need to think about what we did and why it may have been unclear.
  • If students are misbehaving - what were they doing, when and why?

 

Beginning the process of reflection
You may begin a process of reflection in response to a particular problem that has arisen with one or your classes, or simply as a way of finding out more about your teaching. You may decide to focus on a particular class of students, or to look at a feature of your teaching - for example how you deal with incidents of misbehaviour or how you can encourage your students to speak more English in class.

The first step is to gather information about what happens in the class. Here are some different ways of doing this.

 

Teacher diary 
This is the easiest way to begin a process of reflection since it is purely personal. After each lesson you write in a notebook about what happened. You may also describe your own reactions and feelings and those you observed on the part of the students. You are likely to begin to pose questions about what you have observed. Diary writing does require a certain discipline in taking the time to do it on a regular basis. 

Here are some suggestions for areas to focus on to help you start your diary. 

Download diary suggestions 51k

Peer observation
Invite a colleague to come into your class to collect information about your lesson. This may be with a simple observation task or through note taking. This will relate back to the area you have identified to reflect upon. For example, you might ask your colleague to focus on which students contribute most in the lesson, what different patterns of interaction occur or how you deal with errors.

Recording lessons
Video or audio recordings of lessons can provide very useful information for reflection. You may do things in class you are not aware of or there may be things happening in the class that as the teacher you do not normally see.

  • Audio recordings can be useful for considering aspects of teacher talk.
    • How much do you talk?
    • What about?
    • Are instructions and explanations clear?
    • How much time do you allocate to student talk?
    • How do you respond to student talk?
  • Video recordings can be useful in showing you aspects of your own behaviour.
    • Where do you stand?
    • Who do you speak to?
    • How do you come across to the students?


Student feedback
You can also ask your students what they think about what goes on in the classroom. Their opinions and perceptions can add a different and valuable perspective. This can be done with simple questionnaires or learning diaries for example.


What to do next
Once you have some information recorded about what goes on in your classroom, what do you do?

  • Think
    You may have noticed patterns occurring in your teaching through your observation. You may also have noticed things that you were previously unaware of. You may have been surprised by some of your students' feedback. You may already have ideas for changes to implement.
  • Talk
    Just by talking about what you have discovered - to a supportive colleague or even a friend - you may be able to come up with some ideas for how to do things differently.
    • If you have colleagues who also wish to develop their teaching using reflection as a tool, you can meet to discuss issues. Discussion can be based around scenarios from your own classes.
    • Using a list of statements about teaching beliefs (for example, pairwork is a valuable activity in the language class or lexis is more important than grammar) you can discuss which ones you agree or disagree with, and which ones are reflected in your own teaching giving evidence from your self-observation.
  • Read
    You may decide that you need to find out more about a certain area. There are plenty of websites for teachers of English now where you can find useful teaching ideas, or more academic articles. There are also magazines for teachers where you can find articles on a wide range of topics. Or if you have access to a library or bookshop, there are plenty of books for English language teachers.
  • Ask
    Pose questions to websites or magazines to get ideas from other teachers. Or if you have a local teachers' association or other opportunities for in-service training, ask for a session on an area that interests you.


Conclusion
Reflective teaching is a cyclical process, because once you start to implement changes, then the reflective and evaluative cycle begins again.

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • How effective is it?
  • How are the students responding?
  • How can you do it better?


As a result of your reflection you may decide to do something in a different way, or you may just decide that what you are doing is the best way. And that is what professional development is all about.

Julie Tice, Teacher, Trainer, Writer, British Council Lisbon

This article was first published in 2004

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Comments

Submitted by georginahudson on Fri, 06/04/2010 - 17:59

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Thank you Julie for such a enlightened view on how to reflect and eventually improve our classes.

I usually observe my students a lot. I try to see if they're auditory, visual, kinesthetic and I try to plan accordingly.

One thing that has helped me is the Mandala ("In your hands", Revell and Norman) to see on a piece of paper the amount of tasks I delivered in a class designed for every type of student.

I'm going to start putting into practice the "recording the lesson" tip. I've always thought it's a great way to see what is going on in class. I've also found all sort of excuses to put it off.

Thank you again!

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/georginahudson

Submitted by Ajit Singh Nagpal on Thu, 06/16/2011 - 02:29

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Dear Julie,

An excellent article.  Nothing can be more important then self reflection, i.e. looking inwardly to find out what you did, how you did it and how and what you need to do to make it better.  Unfortunately we seldome reflect on ourselves. 

I would like to introduce few simple questions every teacher should ask after completing a lesson:

1. Can I state one thing thet the students took back with them after my lesson?

2. Can I state one thing that I wanted to do but was not able to it becasue of insufficient time?

3. Can I state one thing that I should not have done in this lesson?

4. Can I state one thing that I think I did well?

Answers to these questions will enable the teacher to do better in the future.

 

Cheers

           

Submitted by Tiriyoussef on Thu, 06/16/2011 - 14:22

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Hi everyone,

Well-done, Julie. I want to relate motivation to reflective teaching. It's obvious that reflections of any sort require a great deal of cognitive and emotional energy. What can be done to motivate those teachers who think that teaching is a dead-end job and that trying to develop professionally is not intrinsically motivating?

Youssef.

Submitted by howaida mohamed on Thu, 06/23/2011 - 12:17

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thank you for your valuable ideas.yet this kind of reflection can't be applied with overloaded teachers.

 

Yes, it's true that teachers are very often too busy to keep a formal reflective diary and go through every step in the check list.  However, the idea behind that is important and we can alway reflect on our own teaching, though less formally.  Sometimes, a small chat with our students is enough to let us know how well or how bad we teach.  Perhaps reflection helps make our teaching more effective and thus make us less busy!

Submitted by Hossamalnajres on Wed, 08/10/2011 - 23:02

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Yeah .. I agree on all reflection emethods you suggested in your article and I would like to shed hight on peer observation. My collegues and I have used this method for two year. However, we faced some problems when the feedback was not nice and constructive enough or when the observed teacher was kind of sensetive. I think it must be very clear from the very beginning that the feedback is for improvement! if one is kind of sensetive to getting corrected it's better not to use this method. Thanks again.

Submitted by Jaqueline C Ro… on Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:52

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Hello everybody!!

This article is really interesting.

Congratulations and thanks

Submitted by nidshak on Sun, 11/13/2011 - 19:57

In reply to by Jaqueline C Ro…

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Hello, Julie

Amazing job!, I have always thought it is very helpful to reflect on how we work with English students, what are our difficulties and abilities at the moment of teaching English to children or teenagers . I think it is very valuable this kind of article for improving our development as English language teachers

Thanks..

Submitted by jvl narasimha rao on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 17:44

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Dear Editor, This is a very useful article for English teachers and trainers. Teaching diary is a must for all teachers and trainers.

JVL NARASIMHA RAO

Submitted by Purni on Sun, 04/01/2012 - 09:22

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Hello, 

Really a wonderful article Julie! Thank you for such an informative article! It is precise, covers all aspects, simple enough for teachers to start reflecting. It is just what the teachers need to start writing without hesitation or doubts. Thank You once again.

 

Purnima

Submitted by Teacher_jaide on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 20:30

In reply to by Purni

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It was really helpful to read such an interesting article. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts, ideas and experiencies with us. We'd definitely improve our teaching if we put this into practice. Thank you very much!

Submitted by allkjamalvina on Fri, 07/20/2012 - 14:07

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Thank You . I think this is a good article to help students observe their student. This very helpful for me , because im a young teacher , and my pupils deserve the best :)

Submitted by Ruhiyye on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 20:56

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 Dear Julie,

 Thanks so much for the interesting article, they are the facts that every teacher should know. We shouldn't forget one - the teacher is the main figure in the class and every luck begins with his professionalism and creativity!

Submitted by ChifaM. on Thu, 12/06/2012 - 20:03

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Hello,

Thank you for the valuable suggestions. I have barely started teaching and I realize that there is room for a lot of improvement. I believe that by reflective teaching, a teacher will be able to have an impact on the students. 

Submitted by AndrewWeiler on Thu, 05/09/2013 - 09:17

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One practiice I have used to encourage reflective practice is not to give answers to students questions in the way that most time teachers do. Instead I ask them to think about trhe answer and if they can't, I ask a series of questions or put up other examples that lead them to the answer. 

Students of their own volition then say things like "you make me work out and think about the language I use"

The important factor here is to ensure that the language is being used..not just studied..and that way the affective involvement by the students is heightened. Here is some more insights on the values of this.

Submitted by RibeiroInes on Sun, 10/25/2015 - 18:30

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It is a useful article. I did the download of the diary. I share my day work with the others teachers and we talk about students´ behaviour or their interest in activities. Thank you for sharing Inês

Submitted by grjohnston on Fri, 06/10/2016 - 13:38

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I enjoyed this article and it underlined my belief that the presence of a culture which encourages 'reflective teaching' is perhaps the single most important factor that distinguishes a successful teaching centre from an unsuccessful one. It is my experience that teachers who are reflective and are encouraged to reflect, feel more supported and valued and have more motivation and higher esteem which can only lead to better teaching and learning in the classroom. Sadly, I have also seen that the opposite is true. When teachers do not reflect and see no reason to reflect on their teaching, motivation from both teachers and eventually learners dwindles and lessons becomes repetitive, uninteresting and less productive for all involved. Reflection is key and as the suggestions in the article illustrate, it doesn't take much to start the reflective ball rolling.

Submitted by carla.marmorale on Sat, 10/22/2016 - 14:41

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I like the idea but I don't know if I can stick to it regularly. I do reflect on lessons and activities as many teachers do and keep track of them jotting down notes on my school diary.

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