Looking Back, Moving Forward



As the academic term draws to a close and after my marking is complete, I find myself looking back over the semester, determining which learning activities went well and why, the teaching goals I set forth for myself, where I succeeded and fell short, and what I should do differently the next time I teach.  For me, the process of reflecting on my teaching practice, or “recapturing my experience, thinking about it, mulling it over, and evaluating it” (Boud, Keogh, & Walker 1985) begins on the last day of class when I ask my students to come prepared to tell me one significant thing they’ve learned or taken away from my course.  I participate in the activity too, setting the stage by explaining something new that I’ve learned that year, even though I’ve been teaching for over a decade.  I always seem to be able to find something, whether it’s seeing something I’ve taught the same old way in a new light, or learning about a new perspective, which prompts me to question how I could better present all sides of an issue.  As I listen to my students, I think about the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year as well as the course’s learning outcomes.  Did I accomplish what I set out to do?  Why or why not?  What will I do differently?  What resonated most with students, and why?  Did students learn what I intended them to learn?  Did they learn anything unexpected?  Why or why not?

Reflection involves looking back over the journey of where we have been, but I think most would agree it’s about moving forward too.  In the academic world, when time spent on marking final exams in April quickly turns into time on research, conferences, course planning, and other activities, it may be challenging to find the time to truly reflect.  But as Jean Koh Peters and Mark Weisberg (2011) note:

Often, when we’ve paused and picked up our heads from our grinding “to do” list, we’ve experienced something remarkable, even beautiful- the spread of the semester behind us, the long journey travelled, the deep thinking, hard work and meetings of mind that have comprised what we and our students have learned and how we’ve grown.  For teachers yearning for reflection, ending times are rich in insight and unique in opportunity; this can also be true for our students (p.172).

For teachers new to reflection, sometimes all it takes is a prompt or two, for example answering a few of the questions that I’ve posed above.  If you’re a more experienced practitioner, consider this time of year the perfect opportunity to explore the “exercises, stories, and invitations” in Koh Peters and Weisberg’s (2011), A Teacher’s Reflection Book.  As you reflect, consider ways to make reflection a learning opportunity for your students too.  How could you share what you’ve changed about your course (and why) with former students?  Think about how powerful it might be from your student’s perspectives to learn that your teacher made actual changes to their course based upon feedback received from your classmates.  By sharing the changes we have made with others, we go beyond self-assessing our own growth as teachers to modelling the powerful nature of reflection to our colleagues and students too.

References

Boud, D., Keogh, R., and Walker, D.  1985.  (eds.)  Reflection, turning experience into learning.  New York: Kogan Page.

Koh Peters, J.  and Weisberg, M. 2011.  A teacher’s reflection book: Exercises, stories, invitations.  Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

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