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Week 4: A toolkit for inclusive teaching and learning

2. Reflecting on practice

Teaching can be a lonely activity. Once you are in the classroom, or lecture hall, you are on your own with your learners. Occasionally, you may be observed by a colleague or manager and get some feedback about what you are doing well and how to improve your practice. It is important therefore that teachers learn to evaluate their own practice so that they can improve and develop – and move along the continua you met in Week 2. This means being reflective.

Becoming a reflective teacher involves thinking about what worked well or what did not, in your classroom, and trying to work out why that was the case. It is suggested that you start with the positives: if a new idea or activity worked well try and work out why that was the case, so that you can do it more often. Your evidence will come from the learners’ responses, the work they do, the questions they ask and how they behave.

If something does not work well, it is easy to feel demoralised. But don’t be – you can learn a great deal from activities that did not go quite as planned.

Here are some questions that you could use to help you reflect on your teaching. (PDF)

Did you notice how questions 2, 3 & 5 are all followed by one word: ‘Why?’ and that some of the questions focus on the learners? Noticing how learners are reacting to a lesson is an important part of being reflective. You might also be able to talk to them informally and ask what they found easy or difficult. Alternatively, you could use a strategy similar to that used by Florence in the classroom example below.

Examples from practitioners

Florence teaches mathematics in a secondary school. Her students completed a test and she was disappointed in the results. She realised that she had made assumptions about their understanding which were not correct. She introduced the idea of asking them to annotate their work at the end of each lesson, with a face:

😊 – means I understand this idea
😐 – means I am fairly confident, but need more practice
😢 – I am finding this difficult

When she took the books in, she noted those who were lacking in confidence and finding the work difficult. She talked to some individuals about their work and made time to go back over some of the ideas.

In this non-threatening way, Florence was able to better support her students.

When you are reflecting on a lesson or series of lessons it is important to move on from describing what you have done to analysing why it was successful or not.

Admitting that something did not go as well as you hoped is not a sign of weakness. It can actually be seen as a strength, because it is through being analytical and honest that you will improve as a teacher.

Activity 4.2 Reflecting on teaching

Allow approximately 30 minutes for this activity.

Read these two examples of teachers’ reflections, written after the lesson on their lesson plan.

Example 1. The pair work I tried worked very well, but it was time-consuming.

Example 2. The pair work in which students practised ‘what is this’ and ‘this is a…..’ using objects in the room engaged some learners really well because it was a practical activity. I faced challenges because I forgot to demonstrate how the practical work should be done and some learners did not know what to do. I gave some instructions desk-by-desk, but those I did not get to became restless. I think it would have worked well if I gave clearer instructions and made sure those who find English difficult were not paired together.

Did you notice:

In Example 1 the teacher just describes what they did. This teacher needs to be encouraged to think about why it went well and how to make pair work less time-consuming. 

Example 2 moves away from just describing what has happened in the lesson. The teacher is reflecting on what happened and why. This teacher is thinking more deeply about the lesson and has thought of some ways to improve their practice.

Think back to a teaching session that you taught recently. Use the 7 questions above to note down your reflections in your study notebook.

Now, based on these reflections write down two actions to incorporate in your lesson planning next week.