“…Teaching also involves complex choices about difficult problems that, if left unaddressed, often escalate. A different type of thinking is needed to address such choices. Tough choices call for teacher to engage in sophisticated reflection – including self-reflection.” (Danielson, 2009)
I chose for this individual reflection to keep both a “sticky note” journal in my plan book and a written journal of the overarching ideas of the week. I felt that the sticky notes which I took directly after a lesson would capture my immediate thoughts and reactions for that lesson, while the more detailed and time-intensive journal would allow me the time and space to truly reflect on my practice and provide next steps. After looking at the various methods I felt that this would be the easiest way to capture my thoughts in real time. It is hard to remember details if you wait too long and I knew that would be a key to learning for me.
The beginning of the project went relatively smoothly. Following each lesson I would record positives (+), negatives (-), and next steps for future practice. Then at the end of the day I would reflect on the notes I took on each lesson and write my further reflections, thoughts, ideas, and next steps that were not already documented. I utilized the 4-Step reflection process for my journal portion as detailed in the text. This idea of individual reflection dates back to the work of Dewey in 1933. He suggested, “Reflection begins with a dilemma. Effective teachers suspend making conclusions about a dilemma in order to gather information, study the problem, gain new knowledge, and come to a sound decision. This deliberate contemplation brings about new learning.” (Danielson, 2009) The dilemma I was having is that my lesson pacing seemed rushed and I was struggling to get to my closing activities and implement them with any fidelity. I was hoping through the reflection process that the “why” this was happening would be clear to me.
At first, to be honest, this seemed like another tedious act that would not provide much impact for the amount of work it was taking, but quickly, I realized I was wrong. Each lesson that I reflected on, asking myself the What?, Why?, So What?, and Now What? Questions, I saw easy changes that I could make immediately. I realized things about my students that I had not known before and I would come into the next lesson that day with a different mindset and drive. I discussed some of these observation with my grade level team and one realization we made was that my class this year is very young compared to the other groups of third graders. My students have later birthdays with many in the spring and three of them just turning eight this September, where most of their peers are turning nine during this school year. This observation was clearly linked to the dilemma I was having. This group needs many more examples, visuals, and hands on learning opportunities than my third graders needed last year.
This is an example of “deliberate thinking” which goes beyond just reflecting back on each lesson and having notes for future practice. While that is extremely worthwhile and enables me to plan better for next year and even for lessons for this current group. Deliberate thinking means, “An educator purposefully seeks more information than the immediate context provides by, for example, revisiting theory, talking with colleagues, interviewing students, or reviewing student records. The goal is to learn more to better understand the dilemma.” As the authors stated in Reflective Teaching to Improve Schools, “In preparation for future use, she makes changes in lesson immediately, not only to capture specific ideas that emerge but to document the reasons and thinking underlying the changes as well.” (York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere, & Montie, 2006) As far as addressing my original dilemma, some recurring issues stood out to me in my reflections. I was basically trying to do too much. By incorporating good teaching strategies, wait time, deeper questioning, and allowing for the extra processing time this group needs, I was trying to add too much content into a day. That is why I couldn’t get to that final and all important piece of my closing activity.
I decided to implement some changes right away. This week for science I used my reflection observations as I planned. For each lesson I took out one step and moved that to the next day. Then I added a lesson on Friday which is usually not a science day. Making a few simple switches to our schedule and finding the extra 45 minutes gave me time to complete all the teaching needed, slow down my pacing, and incorporate the closing activities. I saw that my students were less stressed and it seems that their learning has already been deepened. I was also less stressed and enjoyed the teaching much more! Clearly, the time it took to do the reflections was worth it and enabled me to actually make better use of time overall. This realization has made me see that reflecting on lessons and daily practice is not just something we should do as a student teacher or when we have a problem and want to solve it, but should be a part of my daily practice. A next step for me will be to incorporate students’ reflections into my closing activities and then use those comments as part of my own reflection process. Being intentional in reflection can only be a positive to myself and my students.
Danielson, Lana M. “Fostering Reflection.” Educational Leadership 66.5 (2009): Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/Fostering-Reflection.aspx>.
York-Barr, Jennifer. Reflective Practice to Improve Schools: An Action Guide for Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2006. Print.