Stop and think: Let’s use reflective teaching strategies

We can look to educational expertise to learn how to be a reflective teacher.

When we visit center and home childcare settings, we see a lot of busy children and even busier adults. The role of caregiver or educator of young children is a very active one and includes a wide range of duties. What we do not often get to see is an adult caregiver or teacher sitting quietly mulling over the activity of the children. Most of us are too busy interacting with children, other adults and our environment to have time for quiet contemplation in the classroom.

We know that contemplation must occur if we want to be more effective teachers. We have to think about what we are doing and how the children are responding. We call this reflective teaching. This is not a new concept in the education profession, but it is one we lose sight of sometimes in the hectic lives we lead. In 1933, educational philosopher and reformer John Dewey wrote, “Thought affords the sole method of escape from purely impulsive or purely routine action.”

When we think back on our teaching days, we can all recall times we fell back on instinct and routine when faced with a difficult situation. However, we also learned from these experiences that being thoughtful about our practices helped us become better teachers.

With all the demands on a teacher’s time and our ever-growing list of responsibilities, how do we make the most of the time we do have for reflection? We can look to educational expertise to learn how to be a reflective teacher. Early childhood experts have broken down the process of reflection so that we can get a better handle on what we can do to improve our practice. In their article, “Becoming a Reflective Teacher,” in Teaching Young Children, a bi-monthly publication of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, authors Margie Carter, Wendy Cividanes, Deb Curtis and Debbie Lebo offer this definition of a reflective teacher:

“For reflective teachers, their work is an ongoing process of closely observing and studying the significance of children’s unfolding activities. Rather than just following preplanned lessons and techniques, reflective teachers consider what they know about the children in their group and about child development theory to better understand and delight in what happens in the classroom.”

The key, as they suggest it, is to think about what we know about child development theory when we observe the children with whom we work when we spend our time reviewing our daily experiences with children. That is, we need to integrate two bodies of knowledge, or, in the author’s language, use a “thinking lens” to view what is going on with our group of children. We apply the information about theory to our real-life experience in order to interpret those experiences. The authors expand on this concept in detail, offering six areas to consider and many questions teachers can ask themselves to clarify their thoughts. We think it is a great tool to help analyze your teaching practice.

Another education expert has created a different tool to better understand the intricacies of reflective teaching. Peter Pappas relates each level of the reflective process to a level in Bloom’s Taxonomy. An outline of his process can be found in “The Reflective Teacher: A Taxonomy of Reflection (Part 3).”

No matter what tool or method we use to think about, examine, explore and scrutinize our professional behaviors, making the time to do so is important. If we don’t, we can find ourselves repeating some less-effective choices and feel frustrated about progress.

For more articles on early childhood education, child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

 

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