Questioning

This is the 11th post in Over a cuppa, a series which offers prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. I have set myself the challenge of keeping these posts to 300 or so words. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

If I had to sum up reflection in one word I would say: questioning. Reflection treats teaching as an experimental learning process.

After (too much) thinking for one word, I discovered Reflective Teaching in Higher Education (2020) has questions as its table of contents. It opens: Who are we as teachers and who are our students? How can we develop the quality of our teaching? Then questions on spaces, curriculum, communication, inclusion… It ends: How do we develop a career-long fascination with teaching? How does reflective teaching contribute to society? I’ll let you know when my copy arrives! In the meantime, the website includes useful individual and group activities.

I am currently reading Sarah Krasnostein’s (2021) The Believer: Encounters with Love, Death & Faith, a work of narrative non-fiction that resists description. Krasnostein writes:

It is thinking—in the specific sense of an honest interior conversation that tries to distinguish between right and wrong, both factually and morally—that anchors the human world. Arendt speaks of the willingness to hold these inward interrogations as the disposition to live with oneself (p 45).

Bell hooks’ (1994) in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom offers the inward interrogations of reflection as a process of imagination:

Excitement in higher education was viewed as potentially disruptive of the atmosphere of seriousness assumed to be essential to the learning process … Critical reflection on my experience as a student in unexciting classrooms enabled me not only to imagine that the classroom could be exciting but that this excitement could co-exist with and even stimulate serious intellectual and/or academic engagement (p 7).

Initially I thought this post would ask ‘why reflect?’ but the process of writing it, and the books I am reading, made this seem like asking ‘why think?’ or ‘why imagine?’ How could we do otherwise?

What’s in your reflection toolkit?

This is the 5th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching to prompt you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

There’s one tool that Stephen Brookfield still uses regularly 25 years after the first edition of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher: the Critical Incident Questionnaire. The CIQ invites anonymous feedback from students in response to five questions:

  • At what moment in class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in class were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs).

The CIQ is included in a comprehensive scholarly practice guide written by Marina Harvey, Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple and Greg Walkerden for AdvanceHE. The short evidence-based activities are designed to support reflective practice for student learning. I highly recommend this as the go-to resource on reflection for learning.

The brief of Over a Cuppa is to focus on your practice as a teacher, rather than your students’ reflections for learning. With this in mind, we will revisit many of Harvey and colleagues’ ideas in future posts (storytelling, feeling, listening, exploring, dreaming). Of course, many practices apply to students and teachers, such as:

Give your brain a break: Instead of checking email between classes, spend some time watching out the window or mindfully walking with senses open to notice sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.

Here are two other tools I regularly recommend and have revisited many times (free but login required):

  • Teaching Perspectives Inventory – a 45-item instrument that explores your orientation to teaching.
  • ImaginePhD – designed for humanities and social sciences, three assessment tools – Interests, Skills and Values – offer an excellent tool for reflection.

Wishing you many happy reflections.

The first sip

I am reblogging this from my university’s learning and teaching blog. The poem will be familiar to regular readers of this blog (but well worth reading again). Future posts will be new content, but it seemed fitting to start from the first sip. And I want to share the artwork created by my talented colleague Fidel Fernando.

Welcome to a new regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching. Once a week during Session 1 and Session 2 we will publish a short post (250 to 300 words) which prompts you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa.

One of the most well-known models for reflective practice comes from the work on Donald Schön in The Reflective Practitioner (1983), which was based on his university teaching in urban planning and his students’ experience of fieldwork. Schön describes reflection as a process whereby individuals try to understand “some puzzling or troubling or interesting phenomenon” while questioning “the understandings which have been implicit in [their] actions, understandings which [they] surface, criticize, restructure, and embody in further action”(Schön, 1983, p.50). Schön developed a neat binary which offers a useful starting point: reflection-in-action (occurs in the moment) and reflection-on-action (after the event). Subsequent reflective practitioners have added reflection-for-action (future-oriented) (Killion & Todnem, 1991).

Reflection is a learned skill and an ongoing process. The focus of these posts will be your practice as a teacher, rather than your students’ experiences of reflection for learning (although, as you will see, the two are interconnected). These guided activities will be linked to scholarly literature and practical resources, and aligned with Macquarie’s Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework.

PLaCE level of competence (Reflective practice)PLaCE Capability
FoundationalR1.1 Articulate the principles of, approaches to, and the values of, reflective practice.
ProficientR1.2 Reflect on own teaching, learning support and/or curriculum/assessment design practices.
R1.3 Explain actions taken in response to reflection on, and in, practice.
AccomplishedR1.4 Engage in sustained reflection on own educational practices and critique actions taken in response.
Highly AccomplishedR1.5 Implement strategies to promote a culture that values reflective practice.
ExpertR1.6 Develop and support the strategic and systematic embedding of reflexivity into educational practice.

Reflection and feedback on practice from the Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework

For now, I will leave you with a poem that struck a chord for the awkwardness of being new to teaching, the power of poetry in the classroom and the importance of reflection.

School of Embodied Poetics by Nina Pick

When I first started teaching, I thought
my students could see my heart on my sleeve.
I thought they could read the footnotes of
a body splayed open as a book.
I felt embarrassed to have such a
visible heart; there was something shameful about
the whole goopy mess, its ungovernable pulsations,
its lightening blush. It seemed none of my students
had a heart like mine; their hearts were bundled
in their baggy sweatshirts like a packed lunch.
I stood up there on the first day and
dug my hands into my pockets, thinking I
could hide my heart and its waywardness.
I slumped my shoulders, faced
the blackboard, shouted from
behind the projection screen.
But wherever I stood, my heart sparked
like a disco ball, doing
its unmistakable kaleidoscope dance.
I went to my supervisor: I’m so
embarrassed, I said. I think my students
are judging me harshly. They’ve probably
never seen such a heart before.
She shuffled papers, looked at
the results of my classroom observation.
She said, Well, the best you can do
is be a role model. Maybe they’ve never had the chance
to learn about the heart. Try teaching it
the same way you teach grammar.
So I went back to class, and returned to
the living pulse of the text:
I glimpsed the luminous globe behind
the poem’s dark ribs, felt its warmth streaming
through form, through syntax, through meter’s
tangled orchard. I saw the poem as a latticework
interwoven with sun. Each sentence was
parsed by the light.
On the desks we drummed
the heartbeat of the iambs. My heart led an
orchestra of small flowers.

Killion, J., & Todnem, G. (1991). A process of personal theory building. Educational Leadership, 48(6), 14–17.

Pick, Nina. (2013) ‘School of Embodied Poetics’ in This Assignment is so Gay: LGBTIQ poets on the art of teaching, ed. Megan Volpert. Little Rock: Sibling Rivalry Press.

Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Next week: The second sip: ‘Put on your ‘teaching cloak’.