The title of this post is a bit of a mouthful: try repeating the –ive ending of effective and reflective without stumbling over your tongue. The spelling and punctuation is a little bit tricky: should organise be with an “s” or a “z”? However, it is the notions behind the title which are most challenging for the Teacher Trainer, not only in terms of theory but also in practice. It therefore begs two fundamental questions:
- What is Reflective Practice?
- Why is it a challenge for Teacher Trainers?
What is Reflective Practice?
In his book An A-Z of ELT, Thornbury (2006: 194) provides a thorough definition of Reflective Practice, defining it is as “reflecting on your teaching” with the aim of understanding “how to improve it further”. Thornbury also talks about how this feeds into Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, referring to “planning, acting and learning” as key stages of reflective teaching. However, an #ELTchat (2011) summary on the same topic provides a much shorter and perhaps more workable definition:
“Mulling over what worked, what didn’t, why and how to improve it”
In short, Reflective Practice is the process of pondering the causes of successful and not-so-successful lessons.
Why is it a challenge for Teacher Trainers?
Teacher Trainers are limited in number, resources and availability. Having someone by your side as you develop your teaching skills from day one to the end of your career would perhaps be useful but it is neither practical nor realistic. Teacher Trainers not only have to encourage teachers to be Reflective Practitioners because of limited resources but also because it leads to autonomous learning. Autonomy in learning is strongly encouraged in language courses, so it should also be encouraged in training course. It is the old adage of why give a man a fish when you can teach him to fish. The challenge, however, for trainers is showing trainees what areas to focus on.
The Three “Knowledges” of Competence in Languages Teaching
In a recent interview for the TEFLology podcast series, Scott Thornbury defined competence in language teaching in terms of three “knowledges”:
- Knowledge of the languagee. knowing how to speak and use the language
- Knowledge about the languagee. having the metalinguistic knowledge necessary to talk about the language
- Knowledge of Pedagogy e. having the necessary skills to teach the language
Looked at from a training point of view, these three areas could be a useful tool for pointing trainees in the right developmental direction. In fact, working on one knowledge area might well have positive effects in the other areas.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine you have a Newly Qualified Teacher who is a native speaker. They haven’t studied any linguistics, apart from the little Language Analysis they came across in their Initial Teacher Training Course. This teacher will probably call on their knowledge of language and pedagogy to make up for their short fall in knowledge about the language. As a trainer, this teacher needs to be encouraged to reflect on which linguistics aspects of the language they lack knowledge about, how they can learn more and how to apply it in lessons. Although they might have many flaws in their pedagogy, sending them off to observe a teacher with a task about Teacher Talking Time might be useful, but it would be more useful – and possibly help to resolve other problems in their teaching – to provide them with observation tasks specific to Knowledge About Language. This teacher might have a high Teacher Talking Time because they are trying to make up for their short fall in linguistic knowledge through talking their way out of it.
Let’s look at another example. Imagine you have a non-native teacher who has studied the language for many years at university. They are probably very confident in their knowledge of the language as well as about the language, but they perhaps have little pedagogical training. They might be very good at explaining or even setting up situations in which the learners can deduce meaning, but they might have poor pedagogical skills in managing the classroom or interaction patterns. Sending them off to see a more experienced teacher with a task about lesson frameworks might be useful, but giving them an observation task on interaction patterns in which they take note of who is interacting with whom, might pay greater dividends in their Continued Professional Development.
Meaning Observation Tasks
In short, sending a teacher off to observe a more experienced teacher on the basis they will gain something useful might be beneficial for the teacher. However, it would be even more beneficial if they knew what their weaker area of knowledge is and were given tasks to focus on that. As can be seen the examples above, focusing on a single area might pay huge dividends in other areas, too.
Thornbury (2006) An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: MacMillan