Teacher reflection: asking yourself, "Did I . . . ?"
Over the years I have found the most fruitful method of reflecting on my teaching is by asking myself a series of “Did I . . . ?” questions at regular intervals while planning and teaching my lessons. These questions help focus my attention on elements of my teaching which are either helping or hindering student learning. In this article I will discuss some questions that I habitually ask myself and which I believe can help teachers reflect on their own practice.
To begin, let’s look at the planning stage. The questions a teacher asks themselves will of course depend on their learners. For example, when planning for young learner classes I always ask myself, “Did I include the right balance of settlers and stirrers?” and “Did I include a variety of classroom interaction patterns?” On the other hand, when selecting, adapting or creating materials for business students I ask myself questions such as, “Did I acknowledge that my students have just come from work and might not find this article on the banking process a motivating resource?”
Asking yourself these kinds of questions at the planning stage will help for a smoother and more engaging lesson for both you and your learners. However, you should not stop asking “Did I . . . ?” questions there, for it is in the lesson itself when you can reflect on your teaching most powerfully. Whether things are going well or you are standing in the midst of a teaching disaster, there is much to gain from asking yourself, “Did I . . . ?”
When students are on task, happily engaged in an activity, some useful questions to ask yourself could be, “Did I create this task myself, adapt it or pluck it straight from the book?” or “Did I set up the activity with clear instructions, instruction checking questions or demonstration?” or “Did I deviate from my plan to exploit an effective activity or abandon an ineffective one?” Asking yourself these questions in the face of success will not only build your confidence, but also allow you to repeat effective teaching strategies.
Teaching is no different from other areas of our lives in that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Therefore, when things are going awry in class, do not panic or blame your students; but instead calmly – serenely almost – ask yourself “Did I . . . ?” For what you learn at these moments will likely stay with you for the rest of you teaching career.
Earlier I mentioned asking the question, “Did I set up the activity with clear instructions, instruction checking questions or demonstration?” in response to learners being on task. This question could equally be well asked when faced with a sea of blank faces or a classroom of learners incorrectly performing the task you painstakingly designed. To give you an example of the latter, I once had a class of students carry out a find-someone-who mill interview. Instead of asking each other questions, they simply showed one another their worksheets and copied the answers down. Nobody spoke a single word of English. I asked myself, “Did I set up the activity with clear instructions, instruction checking questions or demonstration?” and realized that no I had not. Thanks to this moment of reflection, subsequent find-someone-who’s have been far more successful.
Some other questions you might find it useful to ask yourself while teaching include: “Did I pre-teach the vocabulary necessary for students to successfully perform this listening or reading task?” “Did I monitor enough during that last activity?” or “Did I model and drill the vocabulary after I had introduced meaning and form?”
As you can probably tell by now the list of questions is endless. Habitually asking yourself these questions promotes reflection, making you more aware of what works in your classes and what does not. And when something does go wrong, you will likely already have the answers as to why this is and solutions.