Somehow I must find more time for critical reflection in my classes.
Without doubt, I need to teach my students how to do their own critical reflection. But what I’m talking about right now is something that Stephen D. Brookfield, author of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, does at the start of each of his classes as part of his process of being a critically reflective teacher.
I’ll explain what he does in a moment. But first, let me give you some background.
Without critical reflection, Brookfield says, we risk continually making poor decisions based on unexamined, and possibly misguided, assumptions. These are assumptions that can leave us shaking our heads in ongoing disappointment as a result of constantly failing to fix our classroom challenges.
Brookfield says if we want to improve our teaching practice, we need to look at it through four lenses: our autobiographies as teachers and learners, the lenses of our colleagues, the viewpoint of educational literature or theory, and the lenses of our students.
We need to examine ourselves because how we view learning affects how we teach it. For example, I hate in-class tests. I think they are often a poor way to evaluate a student’s writing and editing skills. I should know: I was terrible at in-class tests when I was a full-time student (assumption!).
We need to view our work through the lens of our colleagues because their experiences with similar incidents can broaden our own theories of practice.
We need to read educational theory so that we can get “multiple perspectives on familiar situations,” says Brookfield. The literature can show us, for example, what we thought were our own failings as teachers were actually a result of economic, social, or political occurrences.
Lastly, and probably most important, we need to examine our practices through the lenses of our students. And this is where we get to the focus of this article.
We need to see ourselves through our students’ eyes. We need to know if we are communicating with them well, if we are teaching them effectively or if we are failing and how to fix it if we are not succeeding. Otherwise, when we make changes, we are doing so based on unexamined assumptions.
Brookfield offers a number of methods to solicit and evaluate input from students, while at the same time helping them to learn critical reflection skills. One technique he uses that I’d like to adopt is the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ). It’s a five-question one-page anonymous survey that he hands out at the end of the last class each week. I described it in some detail in my last blog entry.Brookfield says it takes students about five minutes to complete the survey in class and teachers will take about 25 minutes to read 35 of these surveys. During the first 10 minutes of the first class of the following week, he will discuss the most common or controversial points raised in the CIQ. He will also invite other questions or he may start the discussion by asking how he can improve the course or ask how students are doing. He may start the discussion by referring to the struggles that students normally experience at that point in the semester.
By keeping tabs on how students are doing and by addressing their concerns and showing that he’s sensitive to their learning needs, Brookfield creates enormous trust with his students. He is also able to show and explain the rationale behind what he is teaching and how he teaches it.
“Letting students see the reasoning behind our decisions—and inviting their commentary on this—builds a feeling of collective deliberation,” Brookfield writes in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.
So here’s the challenge: How do I find 10 minutes at the start of class—and five minutes at the end of the last class of the week for the CIQ? Some weeks it seems like every minute is crucial to ensuring understanding of the topic at hand. How can I justify subtracting time from the core lesson?
What’s the answer? I am not sure. However, I’ll tell you one thing: If I’m to become a masterful teacher, I must learn the art of critical reflection. And in order to do that, I must understand how my students see me and how they experience my lessons.
So somehow I have to find that time. I have to find that time for those crucial 15 minutes of feedback and discussion.