Posted by: raghdah | February 8, 2010

Reflection in Education


Presented by : Raghdah Al-Madany


In this paper I discuss issues related to reflection. It starts by general presentation of its history. Then, I give an account of various definitions of reflection. After that I speak about kinds of reflection. Later on, I discuss the importance of reflection and it is benefits for teachers and educators. Finally, the paper concludes with the challenges that face teachers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in implementing reflection in this particular context and the use of reflection in several fields.

Historically, the root of reflective teaching began in the 1930s by Dewey who defined reflection as a proactive, ongoing examination of beliefs and practices elaborating on the ideas of previous philosophers and educationalist as Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Solomon and Buddha (Houston, 1988). Dewey (1933) identified three characteristics of reflective individuals that are quite important for teachers of today which are open-mindedness, responsibility and enthusiasm (Farrell 2007). This spark of reflection ended soon and the educational society never heard about the reflective teaching until the beginning of the 1980s and with the great efforts of Schön (1983, 1987) whom built his work on the concept of practitioner-generated intuitive practice.

An interesting definition is offered by Richards (1994) who defines reflection as a process of learning from experience, in which self-inquiry is regarded as a key component of a learner’s development. There are many definitions for reflection. A definition that I found interesting says that in reflective practice, practitioners engage in a continuous cycle of self-observation and evaluation, so they could comprehend their own actions and reactions (Brookfield, 1995; Thiel 1999) There are many definitions; however most can be restricted to two main views of reflective teaching, one that specifies reflection on the classroom while the second kind indicates reflection outside the classroom Farrell (2007).
There were many ideas about what is reflection such as Schulman (1987:19) who proposed that reflection takes place when a teacher ‘ reconstructs, re-enacts and/or recaptures the events, emotions, and the accomplishment’ of his or her teaching. Nevertheless Zeichner and Liston (1996) preserve that such definition does not connect teaching to a bigger population which is identified as critical reflection. Critical reflection implies historical, moral socio-political framework of education given that reflective teachers can ‘come to see themselves as agents of change’ (Jay and Johnson, 2002:80). In order for teachers to reflect on their performance they, for example, should not consider the three foremost actors only (teachers, students, and parents). Moreover, the school culture or it is context. Each teacher has to be aware of these diverse methods to reflective teaching and identify the concept of reflective teaching.
There are many methods for using reflection in order to improve a teacher’s practices such as writing journals, peer observation, lesson reports, teaching portfolios, teaching journals and teacher development groups and many more activities (Moon, 2008). Other ways of reflection can be through using non-verbal techniques such as drawing exercises, role play simulation and drama, poetry, drawing (Korthagan, 1993).

There are three main types of reflection offered by Farrell (2007):
1) Reflection-in-action is when teachers are in the classroom teaching in their everyday routine knowledge. Given that teachers carry out such actions everyday they have to employ a kind of knowing-in-action Schön (1983). Knowing-in-action is essential since teachers in KSA continue teaching in the classroom without the thought of our actions or producers we follow. What teachers do in the classroom is unconscious since they are unable to describe what they do and it is quite difficult according to Schön (1983) who indicated that such information frequently is at the unconscious tacit and universalized stage of our feelings (Clark & Yinger, 1979). On the other hand, if something happened in class like a faulty application, teachers can employ reflection-in-action which undergoes a certain process (See Schön, 1983).
2) Reflection-on-action is less problematic since it is viewed as teachers’ thoughts and retrospective study of their presentation (Schön, 1983). Russell & Munby (1992:3) describe it succinctly as the ‘systematic and deliberate thinking back over one’s actions’. Another definition which involves thinking back on what teachers have done to discover how knowing-in-action might have contributed to unexpected action (Hatton and Smith, 1995)
3) Reflection-for-action is different from the other two types since it is proactive in nature (Farrell, 2007). Killon and Todnew (1991:15) disagree with this idea as this type of reflection is the product of the prior types of reflection.

The value of reflection stems from its role in aiding professionals, something that has been emphasized so they could progress in their practices (Schön, 1983). Also, the emphasis of it is value in developing a deep understanding of complex issues based on rational thought analyzing available evidence (Dewey, 1933). Numerous approaches have been used to promote reflection in teachers and students, in which some fail to do so since there is small research evidence about their efficiency and success. There are four approaches to be discussed:
1. Action research projects (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Pugach, 1990; Sparks-Langer & Colton, 1991; Zeichner, 1986).
2. Case studies and ethnographic studies of students, teachers, classrooms, and schools
(Ross, 1989; Sparkes, 1991; Stoiber, 1990).
3. Microteaching and other supervised practicum experiences (Cruikshank, 1985; Sparks- Langer & Colton, 1991; Zeichner, 1986).
4. Structured curriculum tasks (Ben-Peretz, 1984; Beyer, 1984; Smith, 1991).
From my point of view as a teacher of English, reflection plays a major part in developing the Saudi teacher and her/his students since teachers will try to progress their work and look for new ways. It will give Saudi teachers their space to function better and be more confident. Moreover, it is a good way for Saudi teachers to practice and it provides useful input.
Many studies have proved that reflection is not radically associated to teaching performance (Chandler, et al 1990). Nevertheless, Korthagen (1993) drew attention to the lack of empirical evidence that reflection is effective, citing Zeichner’s (1987) overview of research on reflection which, contained little convincing evidence. In a longitudinal study of the teacher education program in Utrecht, Korthagen and Wubbels (1995) whom proposed their own “findings, recognizing the characteristics of reflective student teachers. Certain characteristics such as being able to construct situations and problems, being clear about what they want to learn (i.e., are independent learners). Another factor is the ability to describe and analyze the experience and interaction well. Also, the use of the questioning approach evaluates the value of the experience. Korthagen and Wubbels (1995) also added two more values such as better relationships with students and peers compared to other teachers. Secondly, teacher themselves had better job satisfaction than those who did not reflect about their teaching. Many studies has already cited the significance of reflection in carrying fresh understanding to the teacher , also in serving to evaluate, confront and eventually change practice (e.g. Penny et al., 1996; Francis, 1997; Stuart et al., 1997; Taylor, 1997).
Bailey, Curtis, & Nunan, (1998), Crandall (2000), Farrell (1998), Stanley (1998), and Thiel (1999) highlighted four benefits which are flexibility in learners groups, syllabus, recourses in which reflective practice addresses such diversities. Practicality for practitioners who have restricted time and resources to separate between teaching and professional development since reflection involves building connection between specific context and their border beliefs. Professionalism given that it requires continuous exercises that encourage actions in preparation and application of instruction and engagement with theory. Since there is an urgent need for adult ESL practitioners, rather than detached workshops or conferences (Burt & Keenan, 1998; Crandall, 2000).

Reflection is a constructive instrument to improve teaching and learning; however, it does not work out well for all teachers (McAlpine & Weston 2000). There is the lack of experience of teachers in KSA, which indicates no previous and sufficient knowledge to reflect effectively or reflecting without learning. Thus, using insufficient activities, without guidance there won’t be beneficial results of reflection (Boud & Walker, 1998)
Other factors are fear of disapproval and criticism in KSA especially, if those teachers were very experienced. Another example is when a teacher has a full schedule in which she/he teaches many hours (24 hours a week) or teaches a lot of classes and levels of learners. He/she, in this case would not be much interested in any idea about reflection. Also, the teacher’s personality matters since some teachers resist change and have an attitude problem in which they would never accept ideas and thoughts from their colleagues
Reflection can differ from one practitioner to another. Another idea is the lack of focus and understanding of what teachers want to teach. There are conditions for reflection in the learning environment (Moon 2008) such as time and space; learners need time in order to reflect as well as place (Walker 1985), they will not be able to use their potentials, even if they were well trained teachers (Hatton and Smith, 1995; Francis, 1995). Another factor is the lack of the facilitator who is considered an essential part of the learning setting in which he/she will understand the nature of reflection and its relation to the learning traits (Moon, 2008). A very common factor is the lack of commitment which is required in reflective practice to continue self-development (Florez, 2001).
Although the concept of reflection exists in KSA, the term itself is not common among Saudi teachers and Saudi teachers’ trainers. In other words, the practices of reflection are there but they are not called so. The challenges that Saudi teachers face when applying reflection are quite similar to what have been mentioned previously such as the lack of time and the consistent pressure on the teachers to finish the syllabus. In addition, the personality of the teacher can be a very vital factor since if she/he resists change or has an attitude in which they do not accept different point of views, it will be very difficult to use reflection or benefit from it. Another point is concerned about old or experienced Saudi teachers who are used to a certain style and have been using it for long time. Trying to convince them of a new way to reflect can be sometimes exhausting or sometimes could be useless.
There is also the lack of commitment since some Saudi teachers like to learn many new things from attending workshops. However, once they get inside the classroom, they go back to their regular teaching. Sometimes they would sometimes practice it for a short time to make the administration happy. Later on, they go back to their own style of teaching. The lack of efficiency and competence of workshops or the inability to use reflection in a correct way is another important issue. A very important point is the lack of motivation among Saudi Teachers which can lead to the failure of a good teacher.
Reflection has been used in many fields apart from education such as counselling, theory and personal development since it (reflection) leads to self-awareness and self-improvement Moon (2008). As for reflection in teaching, Reflection in education is a field full of promises: promises for developing professional aptitude, for nurturing personal growth, moreover increasing social justice Procee (2006). Reflection can be successful if Saudi teachers show more interest and be prepared to take an adequate contextualized outlook of it. They have to work hard to test themselves, their methods and their effects.

This paper discussed the history of reflection and its definitions through the literature review. Then, there is an account of types of reflection and it is importance and benefits in the field of teaching. Finally, I conclude my paper with the challenges that face teachers in general and more specifically in the Saudi context and the use of reflection in the several fields.

1,970 words

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  1. a good attempt to write on reflective practices .i find it as enriching experience.

  2. I am in my last stage of writing proposal for completing my doctoral studies and focusing to evaluate model in facilitating reflection for nurses. The model ( LEARN ) currently is used in practice in teaching reflection and draw meaning from clinical experience and build his /her evidence based practice. Need idea to formulate the research project.

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