Ever since I was young my dancing has been an important part of my life, and the training I received appears to not only have shaped the kind of dancer I am, but also the kind of learner and, ultimately, the person I've become, both personally and professionally. However, who I am has also shaped the world I live in, the experiences I have had and the learning I have assimilated. In other words, without "me" there would be no experience or learning, but without experience or learning there would be no "me"!
Having been through the Reader and done some further reading, I can see that I use several "tools or practices for reflection" (Module handbook WBS 3730, p18) in my professional practice. In this blog I shall look at three of these practices, and how they relate to certain reflective theories:
- Previous experience
- Lesson planning
- Different teaching styles
An example of previous experience is how I feel I have been shaped as a teacher by the people who have taught me. During my college years, I remember a particularly vocal teacher who, although we all moaned about it, managed to get us all going during her 8.30a.m. ballet lessons by her sheer enthusiasm and physical presence; she would leap around the room, voice at a high pitch, hands waving. I also remember feelings of worthlessness brought on by the manner, and language, in which a particular teacher at my dance school critiqued my weekly performance.
In my present practice I am very aware that the behaviour I exhibit towards my pupils - the language I use, the way I act towards them, how I present myself, how I react to unexpected situations - can make the difference between a positive and a negative learning experience. By reflecting on experience, I have been able to see that some teachers from my past produce very negative feelings within me and so I have consciously taken steps to try to avoid creating the same feelings within my own students.
I think that this example fits in with the theories of both Boud and Dewey about how reflection turns experience into learning (Reader 2). Boud suggests that "reflection is a form of response of the learner to experience" (Boud, Keogh, and Walker, 1985, p.18), whilst Dewey sees reflective thought as:
‘Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it leads...it includes a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of evidence and rationality’ (Dewey, 1933, p9).Before every lesson I make a plan of the topics/ exercises that I am going to cover. To help me do this I look back at the previous lesson's plan to remind me what I covered, what I didn't have time for, what needed more time, problems or ideas.
During the class I adapt and change the lesson plan if, for example, I feel that it's not working, or if external events affect my ability to achieve what I had planned.
After every class - sometimes straight after but more often than not at the end of the day - I make notes on how the lesson went, for example, what was achieved, whether my plan was realistic, how balanced it felt.
I also have a term's plan in mind, along with an overall plan for the year, for example, to take an examination or to produce an end of year piece for parents to watch.
In reflecting on the process by which I plan my lessons I can see that I can apply Kolb's learning cycle.
Informed by Dewey, Kolb developed a learning cycle (Reader 2, p5), which creates a four-point learning process:
Picture from Curve
Kolb theorised that every reflective experience follows through the cycle but can start from any point. In my example, I clearly enter at the planning stage of the cycle, implement my plan by taking the class, and follow that with initial reflection on what I did before making sense on what I did.
In her blog Adesola talks about how you can be in several of Kolb's learning cycles at a time, and that you won't necessarily have entered each one from the same point. For example, I also go through a second cycle whilst in the midst of the concrete experience phase of the first cycle - during a lesson I will deviate from the plan if necessary, for example, I might be taking a class and a child has a nosebleed!
Another tool for reflection is keeping a journal but I've never kept one before I started this course...or have I? Isn't planning my lessons a form of journal keeping?
My lesson plans:
- Are written records concerning an aspect of my professional practice
- Take the same format so that I can easily compare one to another.
- Are a place to reflect on past lessons and prepare for future classes
- Allow me, by reflecting and writing on every plan,to be able to take steps to avoid making the same mistakes in the future or to expand further on successes.
- Mean that I can see one class, or a whole series of classes, in one place
In order to be able to provide a positive and fulfilling learning experience that maximises potential I need to be able to "reach" every pupil in the way that I teach. Yet in every class, in every school I work, there are no two children the same - I'm not talking about physical attributes but about the way that they learn.
For example, I know that if I stand still and give instruction whilst taking one of my "baby" classes, where the average student age is roughly three years, I will end up with a riot on my hands! Or, if I break down a tap rhythm into a series of mathematical beats I might be speaking loud and clear to one student but another will just hear goobledygook.
To understand that there are different ways of learning is a vital tool, and Gardners Multiple Intelligence theory is one of many theories suggesting that "people had different ways to engage with understanding and learning" (Reader 2, p.7).
Gardner, who researched into developmental and neuropschology, believes that:
human cognitive competence is better described in terms of a set of abilities, talents or mental skills, which I call intelligences. All normal individuals possess each of these skills to some extent; individuals differ in the degree of skill and in the nature of their combination (Gardner 2006, p.6)He goes on to suggest seven intelligences,
However, being aware of these multiple intelligences doesn't just put me in a better place to understand my students, and therefore present information to be learned or skills to be developed in several, more user-friendly ways. It also allows me to look at my own combination of intelligences so that I can be more aware of the areas where my practice may be weaker, and reflect on whether, perhaps, I teach with a slight bias towards my own particular strengths.
Of course, there are many more theories, ideas and concepts on reflective practices, which I hope to carry on exploring outside of this module. I also look forward to finding those writers that disagree with some of these ideas.
So much information, so little time!