Connecting through reflection

This is the 15th 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. Cross-posted from Teche blog with an original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

As anticipated, Over a Cuppa reflection posts have been sporadic this session. The previous post, Continuing to reflect (or how full is your cup?) was written in August, in lockdown while working and learning from home. After 106 days, we are slowly emerging. The intensity of this time has changed what reflection looks like, with limited air and light and time and space (to borrow Charles Bukowski’s words).

This post is a shout-out to many colleagues across the university, and is inspired by a comment from Rex di Bona in a post on tips for online teaching : “I found that the students were lonely [during lockdown].”

On our university blog, in a series of Spotlight on Practice interviews, teachers reflected on what worked in the transition to teaching fully online, and the value of connection was a recurring idea:

Janet Dutton summed it up well: “The notion of connection and care … is really a core dimension of my work as a teacher. I found that was heightened in the shift to online learning – the students really needed that connection.” Others echoed these words, with Andrew Burke emphasising the importance of “just really caring about the students.”

Shifting online changed the ways in which teachers connected. John Knox saw Zoom as a valuable tool but noted “the lack of non-verbal feedback from students is challenging – you can’t ‘read the room’, and you miss all those subtle clues.” Max Harwood spoke of “trying to replicate the physical presence of the teacher/student dynamic as best you can.”

There were also advantages to Zoom, as Fay Hadley revealed: “I really feel that as a result of COVID I got to know those students so much better than I’ve ever got to know them in the past. It is so wonderful with Zoom; their name is there – it’s just so good.”

For Yi Li, building an online learning community was critical: “I show students that I pay attention to them. Students easily feel left out, alone, and invisible in the online environment.” John Burrt’s performance students reimagined group work online, creating videos “where they were passing objects from one frame to another, or juggle in patterns, or do hand stands together. They explored things like connectedness, identity, and how they felt because they were all in isolation.”

With twenty years’ experience teaching in distance mode, Phil Chappell’s “golden rule … is regular communication with the students, and a flexible approach to their circumstances.” Similarly, Zara Bending discussed the importance of “connections in the room; you read expressions, gestures, emotions” and saw the role of teachers to “meet our audience where they are (and that includes their headspace).”

Connecting with colleagues is also important, as Nathan Hart reminded us: “My suggestion would be to reach out to your colleagues and find out how they are doing things because that sort of combined knowledge can be really useful.”

Today’s prompt is to practice reflecting in company with students and colleagues.

I’ve been doing my own connecting through reflection by meeting with the Reflection for Learning Circle (an invitation prompted by this blog series): Marina Harvey, Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple and Greg Walkerden.

Their work includes a YouTube channel of exemplar videos guiding online reflective practice for student learning. There are 32 videos (and counting) available, and they offer ways to practice reflection in company.

The exercises are readily adapted to engage with concepts in various disciplines and offer prompts for students preparing for exams, moments of calm during challenging times, and some novel approaches to connecting with students.

Invite your students to ‘Give your brain a break’ and move away from the computer.

Reflect on learning with ‘five main points’

Ask ‘how mindful am I?’

More detail on the research behind these exercises is available in Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators from AdvanceHE.

As we transition out of lockdown, socialise more and return to campus and face-to-face learning, finding opportunities for moments of calm will be important.

Reflection as a circle

This is the 12th 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. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

Writing these posts over the last three months has provided the opportunity to read a body of literature on reflective practice. One shape dominates models and frameworks for reflection: the circle. Gibb’s (1988) cycle for reflection has been influential:

Image: Harvey, Lloyd, McLachlan, Semple & Walkerden (2020)

In developing his model for reflection, Gibbs was influenced by cyclical models of learning, Kolb’s (1984) for experiential learning:

Image: Harvey, Lloyd, McLachlan, Semple & Walkerden (2020)

A circle is a way of representing the ongoing and iterative practice of reflection in action, on action and for action (Schön, 1983; Killion & Todnem, 1991). It invites repeated experimentation and learning from experience. Kemmis and McTaggart’s (1988) action research spiral takes it to the next level in a model of multiple circles:

Image: Koshy (2011)

Does your reflective practice feel circular? What do you need to put in place to make it an ongoing practice?

Next week, the last over a cuppa post before a pause for the session break, I will reflect on this series of posts, the experience of writing them in a hurry, and unfinished reflections to continue next semester.

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Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University. https://thoughtsmostlyaboutlearning.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/learning-by-doing-graham-gibbs.pdf

Harvey, M., Lloyd, K., McLachlan, K., Semple, A-L. & Walkerden, G. (2020). Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators. AdvanceHE.https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/Learning-to-reflect%E2%80%93a-guide-for-educators

Kolb, DA (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Koshy, V. (2011). Action Research for Improving Educational Practice, 2nd edition. London: Sage.

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.