Resolve to reflect on teaching in 2015!

The New Year often brings with it an invitation to reflect on past actions and future prospects. We make resolutions aimed at self-improvement for the year ahead (for me, it’s getting back on my exercise regimen, doing more recreational reading, and blogging more regularly!). Introspective reflection can also be a vital component of successful teaching.

In Reflective Teaching and Learning, Jennifer Harrison explains the roots of “reflective practice” in John Dewey’s examination of though and problem solving in the classic 1910 volume How We Think: “Dewey’s view was that reflective action stems from the need to solve a problem and involves ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’” (Harrison 9, citation omitted).  Harrison continues to explain that reflective practice can be considered as occurring at three levels, each succeeding level being less instinctual than the previous:

  1. technical reflection: examining events and action to determine what worked and what didn’t, and why;
  2. practical reflection: examining “the interpretative assumptions you are making in your work” (Harrison 8);
  3. critical reflection: examining “the ethical and political dimensions of educational goals and the consensus about their ends” (Harrison 8).

While each level is important, the second — practical reflection — is what draws me to blog this New Year.

As I have worked with colleagues in interpreting their student evaluation data from the IDEA Center Student Evaluations instrument we use at Augustana, one of the matters we discuss is the selection of learning objectives that is central to the process. IDEA SRIs focus on student reports of progress on specific learning objectives selected as “essential” or “important” by the instructor. So, the instructor’s selection of priority objectives is obviously crucial. There are a couple of areas in the summary report to which I draw their attention: the reported progress on their selected objectives, of course, and also the raw data on objectives they did not select. If the scores on selected objectives is lower than expected, and/or the scores on unselected objectives is higher, at least one important question for practical reflection arises: Are the objectives you’ve selected really the focus of your teaching practice? Or is there a disconnect between your assumptions about teaching goals and your actual practice in the classroom? For instance, you may hold firmly to the notion that Objective #8, “developing skill in expressing oneself orally or in writing,” is important to your class. But do you actually spend time and energy instructing in this skill area in the class? Do your assignments clearly reflect and articulate that learning objective? If not, there may be a disconnect between what you believe or intend in teaching and your actual action in the classroom.

These three components of teaching practice — beliefs, intentions, and actions — are at the heart of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), a free self-assessment instrument developed by Daniel D. Pratt and Associates based on extensive research into teaching beliefs, intentions and actions. The TPI is a 45-item survey that analyzes these three dimensions across five key teaching perspectives:

  • transmission: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”;
  • apprenticeship:  “Effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working”;
  • developmental:  “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted ‘from the learner’s point of view'”;
  • nurturing: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”;
  • social reform: “Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways” (Pratt and Collins 2001-2014).

Any teacher will have varying levels of all five perspectives; some will be dominant, some recessive, and the levels may well change over time based on changes in knowledge, experience… and reflection!  I took the TPI last fall — here’s how it shook out:

Klien_TPI_results_Oct_2014

Developmental  teaching reached above the upper line, indicating a dominant perspective. Apprenticeship, Nurturing, and Social Reform all fall below the lower line, indicating recessive perspectives. Overall, the results in the 30s suggest that these perspectives are held moderately. The emphasis on developmental teaching makes sense to me, although I note a bit of a disconnect between my intentions and my actions — something I’ve been pondering about my practice since I took this survey. I was a bit surprised that the three recessive perspectives were at these levels, considering the emphasis on disciplinary analysis of communication as political and social agency that I (think I?) stress in my classes. More fodder for reflection!

The TPI doesn’t assume that some perspectives are “better” than others. And it’s not a perfect instrument, to be sure. Rather, the results provide one lens for practical reflection: what assumptions about teaching drive your practice at a given time? And is there any disconnect between what you believe, what you intend, and/or how you act as a teacher?

So, as we move into 2015, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the work we do, and resolve to be more reflective practitioners in order to match our actions to our intentions and serve our students well.

For more resources on reflective practice, check out the following:

Happy New Year!

 

Work Cited

Harrison, Jennifer. “Professional Development and the Reflective Practitioner.” In Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison (Eds.), Reflective Teaching and Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008. 7-44. Print.

 

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Have your students read your teaching philosophy? Get on the bus!

When we last left our heroes, they were discovering how “painting a portrait” of one’s classroom experiences with concrete details and reflective discussion can help craft a teaching philosophy statement that is attractive to job search committees and useful for faculty review portfolios.  But have you considered sharing your teaching philosophy with your students?

A friend of mine at Augie has often done this as part of an exercise at the start of the course with her students: she shares her teaching philosophy, which vividly uses the metaphor of the ’90s educational children’s TV program The Magic School Bus to describe her thoughts about ideal teaching and learning. Well, she’s like that.

She then asks students to draft a brief “philosophy of learning” statement, which gets students (most of them for the first time) to do some reflective metacognition on how and why they tend to approach learning the way that they do.

A research study brief published in the new (free!) online Faculty Development Today newsletter discusses a pilot approach to sharing teaching philosophy statements with students and assessing their end-of-course responses. The results are intriguing: this move can not only provide you with helpful feedback on your teaching, but also might encourage a greater sense of classroom community for students!  It’s worth checking out.  Maybe you’ll end up showing your students the inside of your magic school bus and take them for a spin!

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6 Reasons to Use Student-Directed Teaching Strategies

Faculty members traditionally develop a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) as part of the job application process, for tenure reviews, or to encourage reflection. In a study published in the Journal of Faculty Development, we propose an alternative approach—to develop the TPS with students as the primary target audience, distribute it to students at the beginning of a course, and collect evaluative data from students about its accuracy at the end of the course. Data were reported from three faculty members who used this student-directed TPS approach. The study revealed implications for faculty development and for the creation and use of teaching philosophies.

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The four-question path to critical thinking. Really? Really!

Thinking is hard — just ask Christopher Robin’s friend, who observes that even valiant efforts at problem solving can suffer from underdeveloped critical thinking skills:

Even harder is to figure out approaches to engage students in critical thinking — a central goal embraced, at least philosophically, by most all college and university teachers — in ways that can actually lead to observable outcome gains.  It’s a tricky business.  The VALUE rubric developed by AAC&U for assessing student development in critical thinking defines it as  “a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.” The rubric is a useful tool, largely because it lays out stages of critical thinking development from initial benchmark to capstone in a variety of important areas: explanation of issues, use of evidence, considering assumptions and contents, establishing a position, drawing conclusions.

So we’ve got some guidance on assessing what students do… but how can we provide them explicit practice in doing it, in ways applicable to a broad range of learning contexts?

Coming to our rescue again,  from the Teaching Professor Blog shares what appears to be a too-simple pattern of four question prompts that guide students through four important paths to critical thinking: analysis of concepts, reflection on the relevance of concepts, application of concepts to other situations, and continued questioning about concepts.  The four-question plan comes from Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009), whose SOTL research on the use of this question set revealed significant effects on student performance!

So you don’t have to bruise the side of your head like poor little Pooh to think of ways to get your students to think. When in a pinch, just take them down the four-question path!  And stop for some hunny on the way, silly old bear.

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AUGUST 28, 2013

Prompts That Get Students to Analyze, Reflect, Relate, and Question

By: in Teaching Professor Blog

A simple teaching technique that helps students learn; now there’s something few teachers would pass up! This particular technique involves a four-question set that gets students actively responding to the material they are studying. They analyze, reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:

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Don’t check out yet; check in… with yourself.

I know, it’s close to the end, you’re ready for the beach. I get it.  This late in the academic year, with finals looming (or, for some of you, finals completed! you people can shut up now), it’s easy to check out and get some well-deserved rest.

But my colleague David Gooblar at Augustana College, blogger for Pedagogy Unbound (featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae career website) suggests that the investment of just a little time at the conclusion of a course can reap serious benefits for your formative assessment and self-improvement as a teacher (as well as for more effective learning outcomes for your future students). This kind of self-reflection is also handy to form a basis for an eventual self-reflection report that may be part of a faculty review in your future.

Following his short piece below are reflection prompts from the self-evaluation form he references.

Best of luck to all of us at the end!

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The Semester’s Just About Over! Now Grade Your Own Teaching. 

It’s been a long semester. We’ve all worked hard, tried out new things, adapted on the fly, managed to keep our heads above an ocean of work while still being present for our students. We’ve made it through the mid-semester doldrums. Depending on how much grading we’ve got left, we’re now within sight of the end. If you’re anything like me, to say that you’re looking forward to the end is an understatement. Does anyone else visualize entering that last grade, closing your folder of class notes, and then throwing that folder into the sea?

Today I’d like to suggest that you not be so quick to move on from this term, no matter how desperately you long for a summer away from teaching.

I learn a lot every semester: Trying out ideas in the crucible of the classroom is really the only way to improve as a teacher. I always feel better about my pedagogy at the end of the term than I do at the beginning. Curiously, though, these gains don’t always carry over from semester to semester. By the time that next semester rolls around—particularly if it’s the fall term—the lessons I’ve learned have been mostly forgotten. Did that new approach to a familiar text produce the results I’d hoped for? How did that new topic go over with the students? Was the multi-part assignment too much of a headache, or was it worth it? A few months later, it can all get kind of hazy.

Of course, some of you may have better recall than I do. But I think it’s valuable to take note of the semester’s gains and losses while they are still fresh in our minds. I’m suggesting giving yourself a course evaluation at the end of every term.

[details after the jump!]

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