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Abstract

To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net meanings, which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experiences. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind. [John Dewey] Abstract: This article deals with the impact of reflective teaching on the ESL/EFL field. Reflective thinking is seen as key on the road to professional growth. There is a need to reflect on our actions and classroom practices in the foreign language teaching in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice. A model is suggested as to how a teacher's practice in the classroom can be improved through reflective teaching and action research.
Universidad de Costa Rica
Facultad de Educación
Instituto de Investigación en Educación
ACTUALIDADES INVESTIGATIVAS EN EDUCACION
REFLECTIVE TEACHING AND ITS IMPACT
ON FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING
Allen Quesada Pacheco1
To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net
meanings, which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further
experiences. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined
mind. [John Dewey]
Resumen: Este artículo trata sobre la importancia que tiene la enseñanza reflexiva en el área de la enseñanza
del inglés como segunda lengua. Además, se discute la importancia del pensamiento reflexivo como un elemento
clave para mejorar y desarrollar la práctica profesional. Existe una necesidad de reflexionar sobre nuestras
acciones y prácticas en el aula de lenguas extranjeras para poder ser capaces de disminuir la brecha entre la
teoría y la práctica. Se define lo que es ser un maestro reflexivo y las ventajas que ello conlleva. Finalmente, se
da un modelo de como la enseñanza reflexiva se puede visualizar y sugerencias prácticas de como aplicar esta
teoría por medio de investigaciones en el aula.
Palabras clave: ENSENAÑZA REFLEXIVA/ ENSENAÑZA DEL INGLÉS COMO LENGUA EXTRANJERA/
PRÁCTICA PROFESIONAL/ ESL-EFL/
Abstract: This article deals with the impact of reflective teaching on the ESL/EFL field. Reflective thinking is seen
as key on the road to professional growth. There is a need to reflect on our actions and classroom practices in the
foreign language teaching in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice. A model is suggested as to how
a teacher’s practice in the classroom can be improved through reflective teaching and action research.
Keywords: REFLECTIVE TEACHING/ ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE/ PROFESSIONAL
DEVELOPMENT/ ESL-EFL/
1. Introduction
When something goes wrong in our lives, our reaction should be to set a moment aside
to think about why it happened, if we could have done something to prevent it, and how it
might affect our future. These experiences usually make us grow. Hopefully, we will be better
prepared to face the situation if it happened again. However, this is not always the case. This
introspection is commonly called “reflection”, and professionals have adopted it in order to
improve their practice. For educators reflection involves “critical thinking” about past
experiences or current experiences that occur or are occurring in classroom settings.
1 Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction (Enseñanza del Inglés),
University of Kansas (KU), E.E.U.U. Master of Arts in TESOL, New York
University. Master of Science in Educational Technology, University of Kansas.
Catedrático, docente e investigador. Vice- Decano de la Facultad de Letras de
la Universidad de Costa Rica. Coordinador de la Comisión de Autoevaluación
y Acreditación, Escuela de Lenguas Modernas.
Correo electrónico: allenq@cariari.ucr.ac.cr
Artículo recibido: 26 de julio, 2004
Aprobado: 28 de marzo, 2005
Revista Electrónica “Actualidades Investigativas en Educación”
Through reflection English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language
(ESL/EFL) professionals can react, examine and evaluate their teaching to make decisions
on necessary changes to improve attitudes, beliefs and teaching practices. This article
examines the roots of reflective practice in foreign language teaching. It discusses the
evolution of reflective thinking in teaching and the perspectives of different authors. At the
same time, it debates over the importance of theory and practice, especially in language
teaching development in the foreign language context. Added to this, this article addresses
the need to implement reflective inquiry in classroom settings and ways to improve the
teaching and learning of English as a Second or Foreign Language through on-going
reflection.
2. Historical background
Reflective thinking is not an innovation in teaching. It has its roots in the work of a
number of educational theorists and practitioners. The concept has been around for more
than 50 years. Richardson (1990) has stated that John Dewey was already discussing it in
1909 by suggesting that “a moral individual would treat professional actions as experimental
and reflect upon the actions and their consequences” (p. 3). Leitch and Day (2000) clarified
Dewey’s considerations by explaining that being an effective “reflective practitioner” is more
than just improving practice and developing additional competence. It is more than that. A
reflective practitioner should possess a set of attitudes towards teaching practice based upon
broader understandings of self, society and moral purposes. This attitude involves stopping,
slowing down, noticing, examining, analyzing and inquiring about aspects and complexities
encountered in different situations.
Most definitions on reflective thinking found in the literature are based on Dewey’s
inquiry oriented concepts (Martin & Wedman, 1988). Richardson (1990) has explained that it
was in the 1970s that educators began to show interest for reflection and inquiry. It was then
that qualitative research based on ethnography started to gain popularity. In turn, the beliefs
and actions of teachers in the interactive learning process could be explored through an
approach based on Dewey’s ideas. Later on, in the 1980’s, Donald Schön extended Dewey’s
foundational aspects on reflection. He coined two new concepts on reflective thinking:
reflection-in-action and reflection-on action. According to Schön (1983), reflection-in-action
relates thinking and doing. Schön explained that these two actions (thinking/doing) lead to
modifying teaching practice with the purpose of improving learning. Reflection-in action is an
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internal conversation of the practitioner where he/she takes hold of the process/ or
experience that has occurred, reframes it, and tries to experience it from a different
perspective. He/she develops on-the-spot strategies of action to improve or adjust previous
experiences. Thus, the “competent practitioner learns to think on his/her feet and is able to
improvise as s/he takes in new information and/or encounters the unexpected” (Pickett, 1996,
p. 1). Reflection-on-action, on the other hand, is viewed by Schön as “teachers’ thoughtful
considerations and retrospective analysis of their performance in order to gain knowledge
from experience” (cited in Leitch and Day, 2000). Pickett (1996) clarified that reflection-on-
action is when “the practitioner reflects on the tacit understandings and assumptions s/he
holds and subjects them to scrutiny in order to achieve deeper understanding of
instructor/student roles, motivations and behaviors” (p.1).
Schön’s distinctions in critical reflection has been investigated by Ross (1990) and
Spraks-Langer and Colton (1991) by identifying five components of reflective thinking:
1. Recognizing an educational dilemma
2. Responding to a dilemma by recognizing both the similarities to other situations and
special qualities of the particular situation
3. Framing and reframing the dilemma
4. Experimenting with the dilemma to discover the consequences and implications of
various solutions
5. Examining the intended and unintended consequences of an implemented solution
and reevaluating the solution by determining whether the consequences are desirable
or not. (cited in Pickett, 1996, p.1)
In order to do this, educators are forced to look back into their own teaching practices,
beliefs, attitudes, goals as well as those beliefs and attitudes of their students, of their
colleagues, and of the teaching community itself. Educators, thus, need to be aware of the
importance of the theory-practice relationship to really engage in reflective inquiry effectively
and appropriately. This awareness will enable teachers to become thoughtful, as Dewey
suggested, and learn from their work in light of purposes and principles that are “moral”.
3. Theory vs. practice
Teachers around the world have different views about whether theory is more important
than practice or vice versa. Some people would argue that in order to be able to teach
effectively, teachers must posses a rich background knowledge, while others would claim that
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theory does not guarantee a good performance, that knowledge is acquired by doing. Both
arguments are valid. The key to effective teaching is definitely a balance between theory and
practice. Collin (1996) has said that some practitioners are skeptical about the value of theory
and question its relevance, mainly because they do not how to use it. I think that theory is
important not only to perform well, but also to be able to answer students’ questions. For
example, language teachers need to know about language acquisition theory to be able to
explain students’ behavior and help them in the learning process. At the same time, theorists
need to be exposed to have first-hand experience in which to base or apply their research.
The lack of one element makes the other one meaningless. I agree with Dahlin (1996) in that
we need to demonstrate our research base by conducting our own classrooms research
(reflective practice) and by reading, using, and citing professional journals. The time
has passed when teachers can simply say, ‘It works.’ We have to show that we
understand the hows and whys of our theory and practice. (p. 57)
Imel (1992) has suggested ways for understanding these hows and whys:
- Questioning what, why and how one does things and asking what, why, and how
others do things
- Keeping an open mind
- Comparing and contrasting
- Seeking the framework, theoretical basis, and/or underlying rationale
- Viewing from various perspectives
- Asking for others’ ideas and viewpoints
- Using prescriptive models only when adapted to the situation
- Considering consequences
- Hypothesizing
- Synthesizing and testing
- Seeking, identifying and resolving problems (p.4)
Indeed, these strategies or processes will help teachers reveal any type of discrepancy
between theory and practice. It will also bridge the gap among educators who tend to
implement teaching practices without understanding why, and those who know why certain
types of teaching practices should be implemented but do not know how. That is why two
different types of educators are found in higher education settings: those with a vast expertise
on theory and research practices, but with difficulties in teaching practices; and those novice
professionals who can implement innovative and wonderful activities, but with little
understanding about the rationale behind their teaching practices. Both types of
professionals are missing one of the two components, theory and/or practice. Beyer (1984)
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has explained that situations like this (gap between theory and practice) occur because there
is a tendency “to accept existing classroom situations as given, essentially unalterable, and
beyond criticism” (p.38). He believes that once this happens, critical thinking or any other
alternative possibility is considered useless or irrelevant. Therefore, many close-minded
educators are reluctant to change. Perhaps the key to avoid this taken-for-granted attitude is
to prepare teachers for the possible situations they will encounter and train them with
teaching tools so that they can deal with these problems before they enter the classrooms. I
believe that if both pre-service and in-service teachers are aware of the benefits of reflection,
and if they experience the potential of this process, the results would be overwhelming as it
would narrow the gap between theory and learning and would ensure more effective and self-
confident instructors in the field of ESL/EFL. This is highlighted by Richert (1990) in the
following statements:
The ability to think about what one does and why – assessing past actions, current
situations, and intended outcomes- is vital to intelligent practice, practice that is
reflective rather than routine. As the time in the teaching process when teachers stop
to think about their work and make sense of it, reflection influences how one grows as
a professional by influencing how successfully one is able to learn from one’s
experience (p. 509).
In sum, linking theory and practice through reflective inquiry brings flexibility in
instructional settings by helping practitioners examine successes and failures in a
constructive environment and promote self-awareness and knowledge through personal
experience. It also provides practicality because it not only asks practitioners to make
connections between their beliefs and what really is happening in different contexts, but also
involves those types of practitioners who teach in varied contexts and meet a great range of
individuals with different styles of learning. Thus opportunities to explore and reflect on
techniques, ideas and approaches are considered in the reflective process and immediate
links between theory and practice are established. Added to this, linking theory and practice
brings professionalism as a matter of promoting deliberate actions in planning, and as a way
of implementing instructions and ongoing engagement with theory by assessing, revising and
implementing new theories and practices. It also provides sustainability since time is allotted
for reflection, implementation and follow-up practices (Florez, 2001).
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Reflective practice requires a commitment, a commitment towards change, towards
understanding, and most importantly, a commitment towards continuous self-development. If
practitioners are willing to invest time, effort and resources in this type of training, reflective
practice can indeed be an effective means for professional growth.
4. Reflective teaching as professional development
Reflective teaching is beneficial for both pre-service and in-service teachers. Because
it offers more advantages than disadvantages, teacher education programs are becoming
more devoted to developing reflective practices in their student teachers. These programs
seek to help novice teachers become more aware of decision-making processes to help them
determine the effect their decisions have in the context in which they are implemented. So,
experience previous to a “real job” prepares professionals for a better performance. Beyer
(1984) has suggested,
As typically the final portion of the prospective teacher’s professional preparation, it is
expected to provide sufficient ‘real life’ experience to allow students to explore teaching
methods and styles, connect ‘theory’ (chiefly learned in the college classroom) and
‘practice’ (mostly as experienced in a school setting), become familiar with the
demands of teaching, and acquire the necessary skills and values needed to function
adequately in that setting. Since the classroom is the arena within which students will
presumably spend a major portion of their work lives, it seems reasonable to include
experience of this sort as a prelude to their professional activities. (p.36)
Dewey (1933) has added that when teachers (novice or experienced) speculate,
reason, and contemplate using open-mindedness, wholeheartedness, and responsibility, they
will act with foresight and planning rather than basing their actions on tradition, authority, or
impulse (cited in Cook, 1993). That is why, Dewey was among the first to promote reflection
as a means of professional development in teaching. He believed that critical reflection is the
most important quality a teacher (pre-service or in-service) may have and that it has much
more impact on the quality of schools and instruction than the teaching techniques one uses.
It is very encouraging to know that teaching education programs usually include
extensive field practice before student teachers take full teaching responsibilities. These field
practices help pre-service teachers to analyze different types of methodologies and strategies
of teaching as they go along in their training. However it is important to pinpoint that reflective
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inquiry should start at this stage (training stage). It is rarely done and the benefits pre-service
teachers can obtain from this self-inquiry are valuable. As the student-teacher works with
his/her mentor or training teacher, both share ideas, and through analysis, synthesis,
evaluation, and reflection, the situations that are encountered in these field practices can be
discussed and solved on the spot by means of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.
Zeichner and Liston (1987) have emphasized that when educational programs include
reflective inquiry as part of their curriculum, these programs seek to train student teachers
who
are willing and able to reflect on the origins and consequences of their actions…These
goals are directed towards enabling teachers to develop pedagogical habits and skills
necessary for self-directed growth and towards preparing them individually and
collectively, to participate as full partners in their making of educational practices (cited
in Richards, 2000, p.21)
Schön (1987) has called for the inclusion of reflective practices in education when he says:
the professional schools must rethink both the epistemology of practice and the pedagogical
assumptions on which their curricula are based and must bend their institutions to
accommodate the reflective practicum as a key element of professional education” (p. 18).
The risk of not doing what Schön proposed is that practice “fossilizes.” In fact, there are
teachers who teach the same course several times, and they use exactly the same strategies
throughout the years without considering the needs of students from group to group. They do
not realize that these practices sometimes are to blame for the decline in students’
achievement. However, many teachers still believe that the problem lies in the students’
abilities, not in their teaching. That is why in-service teachers should be the first ones to view
reflection and inquiry as key components of teacher development. In-service teachers cannot
continue guiding their teaching practices by impulse or routine. Instead, they should bring a
change in classroom settings guided by reflection, inquiry and critical thinking.
But how can this be done? Barlett (1990) have included a model of five elements in
the cycle for the process of reflective thinking which in hand leads to professional growth to
both pre-service and in-service practitioners. The model makes the teacher ask
himself/herself questions such as “What do I do as a teacher?” in the mapping stage or
preliminary stage, to self-inquire as an individual and internally observe beliefs, attitudes,
methodologies, etc. In the second stage, informing, questions will be directed to the meaning
of the teaching process itself, like, “What did I intend? With this question the teacher
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deepens into what his/her aims were in the teaching/learning process to determine successes
or faults. When the practitioner asks him/herself questions like “How did I come this way?” or
How was it possible for my present view to have emerged?”, then he/she is encountering the
contesting stage which will oblige him/her to uncover situations and engage into discussions
and reflection with colleagues by sharing ideas and thoughts. The fourth stage in this model
deals with appraising, which is one of the most important stages because the teacher will
inquire on new ways of teaching when he finds him/herself asking “How might I teach
differently?” During this stage there is a growth towards innovative actions to improve
problems encountered in previous experiences. At the end, Barlett suggested that
practitioners should experience an acting stage as an on-going stage of action where new
ideas arise in a continuing process every time this question is asked: “What and how shall I
teach now?” This stage leads the reflective teacher to implement new practice, observe,
analyze and evaluate it, and determine if the changes implemented have worked or not
(cited in Pickett, 1996). Reflection is central in all of the stages of Barlett’s model, and most
significantly, as practitioners experience the stages, there is professional growth. This
process will force teachers to step back and critically reflect not only on how they teach, but
also why they teach in a particular way.
Simmons and Schuette (1988) provide a definition of the reflective teacher which evokes all
the aspects involved in the process,
the truly reflective teacher is one who makes instructional decisions consciously and
tentatively, critically considers a full range of pertinent contextual and pedagogical
factors, actively seeks evidence about the results, and continues to modify these
decisions as the situation warrants. (p. 20)
Teaching within the rationale of what responsible professional practice is, requires constant
renovation. If teachers remain at a stage where practice is mechanical, without learning from
their experiences in class and relating them to theory, their practice will never be considered
professional. For Wallace (1991) a teacher education course should include two kinds of
knowledge for it to be professionally structured:
a. Received knowledge. In this the trainee becomes acquainted with the vocabulary of the
subject and the matching concepts, research findings, theories, and skills which are widely
accepted as being part of the necessary intellectual content of the profession.
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b. Experiential knowledge. Here, the trainee will have developed knowledge-in-action by
practice of the profession, and will have had, moreover, the opportunity to reflect on that
knowledge-in-action.
In this case, experiential knowledge is not limited to practicing the received
knowledge. It also includes reflecting on what is done. I remember that when I did my
practicum, I received feedback forms from my professor who pinpointed the strengths and
weaknesses of my lessons. Based on her comments, I tried to improve my teaching for the
next session. However, I never really thought about why I was making the changes. I simply
had been told to do so. Reflective teaching is not simply doing what you are being told to do.
The practitioner should really dig and investigate the “why” something is wrong to make
intelligent changes to teaching procedures. This understanding will interconnect received
knowledge and experiential knowledge making the link mandatory for professional practice.
Aside from Barlett, Wallace (1991) also developed what he calls a “reflective model”
applicable to both pre-service and in-service education. The model is separated it into three
stages: the pre-training (trainee’s existing conceptual schema or mental construct ), the
professional development (theory and practice) , and the professional competence (the
ultimate goal).The difference between this model and other teacher-training models is what
Wallace calls the “reflective cycle.” There is a continuous relationship between reflection and
practice. Moreover, this cycle allows for reflection both before and after practice. For
example, English as a Second Language teachers can relate theory about interference of the
native language on second language acquisition to why student “X” is having trouble
differentiating “he” and “she,” and build on that to help him. Or, we can relate a given problem
in the classroom to an article previously read. In short, knowledge makes sense when it can
be related to immediate and/or past experience. At the same time, experience creates
knowledge. Therefore, I think it is important to make both students and teachers familiar with
reflective teaching, so that they can improve their performance and become respected,
knowledgeable professionals of education who can account for their actions.
4.1 Reflective teaching in foreign language contexts
An unquestionable premise involving reflective teaching is that it facilitates meaningful
thought and discussion among peers (teaching faculty) about teaching and learning that will
inspire appropriate change in curriculum and pedagogy. In ESL/EFL contexts, these
judgmental practices can impact positively in understanding what is going on in our
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classrooms and in producing changes in methodology, assessment, and instruction.
Language teachers cannot see themselves as passive agents in the field. Rather, teachers
should be involved deeply in the process, and the only way to do this is taking time to think
and reflect on their practices to foster more effective learning in their students.
ESL/EFL teachers or any other teacher in the field of education bring to class personal
beliefs about teaching; they bring to class personal styles for teaching, personal perceptions
of students needs and even personal assumptions of what good teaching is. Some of the
objectives of the reflective process is to deepen into what the teacher believes “good
teaching” is, to mirror the teaching/learning process through different perspectives. Thus, the
reflective practitioner visualizes through different eyes a picture of classroom environment
and practices, and this awareness develops professional growth in his/her own teaching to
make appropriate judgments and decisions. Pennigton (1992) has defined reflective teaching
as that of “mirroring experience” and as the “input and output for development”. She has
proposed a reflective/developmental orientation as a turning point to improve classroom
processes and outcomes and to develop self-confident and self-motivated teachers and
learners through an ongoing and recursive cycle in the classroom (cited in Farrell, 1998).
What leads to reflection? Definitely our successes and failures in teaching practices.
When teachers comment about their teaching practices as the following example statements,
there is room for improvement: ‘I used an information gap, but it did not work. Students
couldn’t perform the task. It was too difficult.”; ‘Students were lost; they couldn’t understand
what I was saying’; ‘The opening of the class was confusing’; ‘Students did not understand
my instructions’; ‘The activity was too long’; ‘Students rarely talk. Am I doing most of the
talking?’; “Most of the students fail on the test. I put things we had not practiced in class.”
These statements may lead to reflection. They are the starting point towards a positive
pedagogy. Underhill (1991) has explained that teacher development is related to personal
development, particularly personal development as a teacher. He has clarified that this
process entails the teachers’ personal choices about the way they think, feel and behave as
teachers, and how teachers can become aware of the learning atmosphere they create and
how the moment by moment choices they make can affect the learning environment of their
students (cited in Miller de Arechaga, 2001). Unfortunately this practice rarely occurs at
different levels of teaching (elementary, high school, university). Teaching is sometimes
taken for granted and not as a means for growing pedagogically in the field. It is amazing
what things can be observed in this reflective inquiry and how teaching procedures can be
improved. Indeed, reflective teaching is enriching, empowering, and enduring.
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ESL/EFL teachers encounter many issues in classroom settings. Most of the rich data
of classroom occurrences is mostly gathered by the instructor himself/herself. Other
contributors are peers, teacher trainers, students themselves (one of the richest data is
obtained through them). However, these occurrences are seldom detected or immersed in
some sort of reflection. Many ESL/EFL teachers are more interested in completing the lesson
plan they have organized (regardless its effectiveness) and never stop and reflect. Their
daily lessons can be observed from different perspectives to gain insights on understanding
their own teaching (through analysis and interpretation) as well as the effect teaching has on
students, positively or negatively.
Wajnryb (1999) has explained that observing our own teaching is a way of discovering
the classroom from a perspective other than the one we actually engage in; it is a way of
providing focus and clarity; it is a means of collecting classroom-observation data and
information about teaching. Self-observation provides meta-language to teachers ( a
language to talk about with other colleagues about classroom situations and procedures).
She has highlighted that it promotes a raised awareness of classroom realities and a
‘reservoir of information and experiences’ that will direct ESL/EFL teachers towards
discussions and reflections of classroom situations with peers, and the decisions taken would
be more informed and systematic. Added to this, reflective observation builds the groundwork
for better relationships among colleagues based on mutual support and respect.
A way to ensure positive changes in English Language Teaching (ELT) is through the
formation of reflective inquiry groups. These are formed by faculty staff members who show
respect, mutual growth and understanding on issues encountered in class such as students’
learning styles/, their needs, wants and lacks; and assessment instruments, among other
aspects. Through this cycle, teachers can identify an issue or question to bring before the
group and with the help of other colleagues, a thorough description and analyses of the issue
takes place. Discussions occur and a series of interpretations are brainstormed with the
purpose of planning actions that might lead to successful teaching practices. Amazingly, a
great number of issues arise through reflective inquiry groups. Many of these deal with the
way a teacher acknowledges students (verbal/non-verbal), the degree of motivation of
students in class, the types of materials used (up-dated/out-dated), the types of activities
programmed (boring/engaging), and the types of tasks (authentic/non-authentic). Indeed, it is
enriching to have opportunities for reflection, interpretation, discussion, and decision-making
on all of these aspects which are part of our daily lives as teachers. It builds trust among
staff, improves teachers’ practice and engages staff in serious commitment on our field, and
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it tells learners that they are important in the process, and that there is a profound interest in
facilitating the acquisition of a foreign language.
Reflective teaching is undoubtedly a valid means towards effective teaching practices.
Authors like Richards, Lockhart, Ramirez, and Wallace, have carried out studies to help
English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to teach reflectively. Bartlett (1990) has
stated “for teachers of students of diverse ethnic backgrounds, becoming a reflective teacher
offers a very real challenge” (p.214). This is true because teaching a second language
involves many different factors, as the ones mentioned previously, that need to be
considered, and which may affect both teaching and learning. Ramirez (1995) has added “in
the second language classroom, reflective teaching may entail asking a number of “what” and
“why” questions about teaching practices, reasons for language study, and explanations for
students success or failure” (p.372). These questions will make teachers learn what is good
or bad, what works or does not work, what motivates or frustrates learners, what facilitates or
hinders learning, etc. Thus, language teachers in general need to know about linguistics,
education, psychology, and any other field that may affect the teaching/learning process.
Being theoretically illustrated will bridge the gap towards appropriate and efficient ESL/EFL
instruction.
4.1.1. Suggested procedures for reflective teaching in EFL contexts
People unfamiliar with reflecting teaching may logically assume that reflective teaching
is an isolated practice where we find a time and place to be alone and think. It is much more
than that. It is a serious process. Reflection asks practitioners to stop, to slow down in order
to notice, analyze, and inquire on what they are doing. It tells them to relate theory and
practice, to evaluate both old and new teaching experiences, and to make interpretations on
the situations encountered. In fact, reflective teaching, as defined by Cruickshank &
Applegate (1981) involves collaborative action research.
Collaborative involvement in action research strengthens the decisions that ESL/EFL
teachers will make on professional practice through critical thinking, identification of
classroom situations, planning, observation, reflection, and intervention. Ross (1997) has
highlighted the importance of collaborative action research:
Collaborative action research is a powerful form of staff development because it is
practice to theory rather than theory to practice. Teachers are encouraged to reach
their own solutions and this is far more attractive and has more impact than being
presented with ideals which cannot be attained. (cited in Burns, 1999).
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Answers obtained through action research are straightforward, and the authentic voices
of concerned teachers are overheard as a source of change because they arise from the
sharing of common problems which are realistic accounts of what truly happens in ESL/EFL
classroom settings.
Kemmis and McTaggart (1982) have listed a number of benefits of action research:
Thinking systematically about what happens in the classroom
Implementing action where improvements are thought to be possible
Monitoring and evaluating the effects of the action with a view to continuing the
improvement
Monitoring complex situations critically and practically
Implementing flexible approach to classroom improvement through action and
reflection
Researching the real, complex and often confusing circumstances and constraints
Recognizing and translating evolving ideas into action (cited in Burns, 1999, p. 16-17).
Collaborative action research requires the intervention of several participants to gather
different perspectives of situations encountered in the classroom, and this is done through a
variety of data collection procedures to ensure validity and reliability of the information
gathered. The rich data obtained is thus triangulated or tested one against the other to mirror
authentic classroom situations. Based on these findings, a great deal of analyses and
reflection occurs in order to speculate reasons for these occurrences, provoking a plan of
action or intervention on these happenings to later observe again for possible changes on the
learning process. Much of this data is collected through the use of observational techniques
such as observations, notes, diaries, journal entries, audio and video recordings, photographs
or non-observational techniques like for example, surveys, interviews, and questionnaires.
Action research (AR) can be very useful in getting to know our students. One of the
major concerns in teaching English as a second or foreign language is the learner
himself/herself. Probably this is one of the aspects teachers do not reflect on, or do not know
of. Learners’ cognitive styles affect learners’ preferences for particular approaches to
learning (Richards, 1999). Surveying their cognitive styles of learning can indicate whether
teachers and learners approach learning the same way. This can be done with the help of
surveys and questionnaires. Knowing this can also tell teachers what types of activities are
favored by their learners so their implementation in class can facilitate the process to them.
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AR entails knowing about particular kinds of classroom activities, particular kinds of teacher
behavior, particular grouping arrangements, particular sensory modes, such as visual,
auditory and tactile learning, or even particular modes of learning on one’s own outside class
(Richards & Lockhart, 1999). Questionnaires on learning strategies are surely very useful in
determining which of these strategies our learners use or not. In fact, the strategies ESL/EFL
learners use can make them successful or unsuccessful learners. Through questionnaires,
the teacher can also research on learners’ preferences whether they like learning English
words by seeing or by hearing them, or they like all their mistakes to be corrected. We,
teachers, many times assume what our learners interests and preferences are and that is
how we plan our classes, but do we truly know our students wants, lacks, and likes? Action
research is not a reflective process that happens once and that is it. On the contrary, it is an
on-going process or cycle. One course of action will definitely not tell the teachers what
facilitates or hinders learning. It is a recursive process during several sessions for several
weeks and months to determine positive and negative experiences in teaching and learning
English.
Another effective way of inquiring our own teaching and practices is by being committed
in journal entries/ or teachers’ diaries. This task demands making entries regularly, preferably
daily, if possible, and immediately after class. It is important to review the notes while asking
ourselves questions like “why do I do what I do?”, “What is the role of students in my class?”
Often times, this activity is individual. However, Richards & Lockhart (1994) have pointed out
that colleagues can share a journal and get together to discuss it. These journal entries help
teachers understand themselves, understand their classes, and understand both the
teacher’s and learner’s experiences as the lesson was developed. Wallace (1998) has
explained that journals are excellent tools for reflection because
they provide effective means of identifying variables that are important to individual
teachers and students; they enhance awareness about the way a teacher teaches and
a student learns; they provide a first-hand account of teaching and learning
experiences; they provide an on-going record of classroom events and teacher and
learner reflections; they enable the researcher to relate classroom events and examine
trends emerging from the diaries (p. 63).
Likewise, students’ diaries are one of the most valuable instruments to collect rich and
thick data from the learners when developing action research. Learners have so many things
to say. They are the ones who are affected by our teaching, so getting feedback from them is
productive, especially for inquiry faculty groups who can recall the information students
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provide and deeply analyze what they have to say of our teaching. The valuable aspect of
diaries is that our students are telling us their feelings as they experience the language: if
they liked the activities or not, if students feel intimidated, stressed, or anxious. Imagine the
quantity of feedback teachers can obtain through this observational technique and the
amount of reflection that can be done to make necessary changes for the benefit of our
students. Indeed, diaries are very subjective and they are based only on students’
perceptions of our classes, but this information can be triangulated with other observational
data collection techniques such as video and audio recordings.
Observing one’s teaching through video and audio recordings can be very valuable.
Burns (1999) has clarified that they are good at “capturing in detail naturalistic interactions
and verbatim utterances” (p. 94). Both video and audio recordings should be seen as an
advantage rather than a disadvantage for reflective teaching, as an individual professional
self-assessment and even for peer-assessment (faculty inquiry groups). Some faculty
members might feel apprehensive to using them because they really picture what goes on in
the classroom and these recordings are a vivid reflection of both teachers and students. If
practitioners really want to inquire in their own teaching, they should see these tools as the
means to an end; that is, the information portrayed in these recordings will answer those
doubts that usually arise when we have finished a class. Examples of specific focus would be
recording interactions of students (language used) in pair work or recording the language the
teacher uses to give instruction. Even teacher’s non-verbal communication (facial
expressions) can be recorded if that is what the teacher is concerned about or wants to reflect
about. After this is done, the teachers and a colleague can decide again on the date of the
second observation to see if the suggestions work or not. That is why it is a on-going cycle.
Observation is a determining factor in reflective teaching and it is used to collect information
and not to evaluate it. Interestingly enough, Richards & Lockhart (1994) pointed out that
teachers are often reluctant to take part in observation or related activities since observation
is associated with evaluation” (p.12). When teachers observe colleagues they must not forget
that they are expected to describe not judge; the idea is to learn from one another. To give
trustworthiness to peer observation, several methods of observation can be employed like
tally sheets, seating charts, and structured observation charts with specific titles. With tally
sheets the observer can make instant marks of many things in class to determine the number
of times they occur: use of the students’ native language, use of teacher’s specific
metalanguage, times students raise their hands to answer questions, number of instances
students go to the board, number of times girls participate versus boys in class discussions,
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number of times teachers use information questions or yes/no questions. Grids are also very
useful because they contain headings that separate objective observation from subjective
observation. These headings can be related to issues encountered in classes (Burns, 1999).
A grid, for instance, could be designed on tasks (pre-, during, post-) which students have to
perform in class. This information is placed in columns to facilitate the observation entries
and relate the entries horizontally (task – grammar – vocabulary – negotiation) when the
analyses is done.
Added to this, seating charts can be used to determine seating arrangements for every
task in classroom settings. With this layout of class sessions by the observer, the teacher
can see how seating arrangements took place in several classes and then revise them with a
colleague to determine if they were appropriate or not. In addition, structured observation
charts are very helpful because they also contain columns with headings on specific details
which are worthwhile observing like learner error / teacher response vs the phase of the
lesson, or stage of the lesson / teacher role / student role; another example can be lesson
plan phases / time planned / actual lesson phases / actual time spent; or teacher question /
student response / teacher feedback / student response to feedback (Wajnryb, 1992).
All of these observation methods can highlight aspects of the lesson and of the
teacher’s practice he or she is unaware of. Being a reflective practitioner/action researcher
demands teaching, thinking back, describing, investigating reasons, discovering new
understandings, deciding what to do next (Black, 2001). It calls for an appraisal of our own
teaching, a willingness to change, an open mind to accept suggestions, and a serious
attention to reflective practice. The answers to all our problems will not arise right away; it will
take time, patience, responsibility, endurance, commitment, encouragement.
5. Final remarks
The process of reflection is not easy. In fact, just getting engaged in it might be difficult
because of time constraints. Thinking about all the possible variables that affect the
teaching/learning process while we are teaching or reflecting-in-action, might be overwhelming
and confusing, especially for ESL/EFL teachers. Because it is almost humanly impossible to
handle all the information at the same time, reflective teaching has been designed as a process.
It means taking one step at a time, approaching knowledge with an open mind and a
wholehearted attitude, and committed responsibility. in order to renew it through experience.
Open-mindedness will create an interest in listening to all sides of an issue, and a willingness to
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seek out or create alternate possibilities; wholeheartedness will allow practitioners to self-
evaluate themselves, their work, and existing structures and will also help them overcome fear
and uncertainty; and last but not least, responsibility will lead to an extended concern and a
desire to actively seek out the truth in order to solve the problems encountered again and again.
This paper tries to demonstrate that reflective teaching is worth trying.
I am convinced that programs in teacher education should be designed to help student
teachers become successful in-service teachers. Through guided reflection on field
experiences, self-analysis and evaluation, professional development can be assured.
Teachers must reflect, analyze, and adjust or change their practice whenever it is necessary;
otherwise, thinking would actually become a waste of time. What really will make the
difference when reflective/action research practice is performed is the fact that the results are
empowering in helping ESL/EFL teachers become better teachers. The decision is ours. We
can leave a mark in our students as well as in our teaching.
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Reflective practice is becoming a dominant paradigm in ESL/EFL teacher education programs worldwide. Reflection-in-teaching refers to teachers subjecting their beliefs and practices of teaching to a critical analysis. However, the concept of reflective teaching is not clearly defined, and a plethora of different approaches with sometimes confusing meanings have been pushed in teacher education programs. This article reviews some current approaches to reflective teaching and then suggests a method of providing opportunities for ESL/EFL teachers to reflect on their work. The article seeks to examine: 1) reflective teaching and critically reflective teaching and, 2) the different approaches to reflective teaching. Five components of a teacher development model that can provide opportunities for practicing ESL/EFL teachers are discussed. One day a young girl was watching her mother cooking a roast of beef. Just before the mother put the roast in the pot, she cut a slice off the end. The ever observant daughter asked her mother why she had done that, and the mother responded that her grandmother had always done it. Later that same afternoon, the mother was curious, so she called her mother and asked her the same question. Her mother, the child's grandmother, said that in her day she had to trim the roasts because they were usually too big for a regular pot. Teaching without any reflection can lead to "...cutting the slice off the roast," and can also lead to burnout on the job. One way of identifying routine and of counteracting burnout is to engage in reflective teaching.