The starting point for improving teaching is often to engage in an objective self-reflective process. It is important to spend time engaging in self-reflection before engaging input from other sources like students and peers to self-identify areas in which you feel you would like feedback. The fundamental difference between casual or informal self-reflection and formal self-reflection is the documentation that accompanies a formal process. This documentation not only provides a record for you to go back through and review but also provides evidence of the process for use when you engage peers for discussion. A vital part of the process is also to formulate responsive measures to address areas of interest as a result of the process. These responses and their efficacy should also be documented.
The process of reflective journaling is used extensively in pre-service teacher education programs for very good reason - it gets teachers into the habit of continually examining, reflecting on and improving their teaching practice (from planning to delivery). This process is not designed to emphasize the deficiencies in one's teaching, but rather to help identify their strengths and help capitalize on those while selecting areas that an individual would like to grow in.
Just about any format can be used for reflective journaling (from a traditional journal with regular entries to something more formal with a consistent format). The format is much less critical than the types of information that chosen for writing. Some key areas to consider when journaling are:
- context - day, date, class, class size…
- planning - preparation prior to class (key concepts, presentation material, supporting resources, readings…)
- delivery - strategies (lecture, interactive lecture with questioning, large group work, small group work…)
- assessment - how will you assess the students’ understanding of what you covered?
- comments - comments and observations on how it all went. Did your planning and delivery match the content? How did the students’ receive the material and method of delivery? How was the pacing (too fast, too slow)? What worked really well? What didn’t seem to work the way you expected it to?
- recommendations - how would you change this class (if at all) for future delivery? Was there something that you observed in this class that is applicable to other classes/courses that you teach (positive or negative)? It is important to keep your recommendations focused to a few areas (2-3 positive things to continue to use and grow and 1-2 negative things that you would like to improve) so you can set attainable goals and realize observable results in a short amount of time.The ultimate goal is not only a record of thoughtful reflection on what is being done in the classroom from day-to-day, but also a list of planning and delivery methods that work well for both teacher and students on a consistent basis.
Below are a few possible journaling templates (in Word and PDF format) if you prefer to use something more structured:
University of Texas - Arlington, Center for Community Service Learning http://www.uta.edu/ccsl/for-students/reflection-journals.php
Lecture Recording and Reflection
There is no easier way to see what students see in your classroom than to video tape the class. While these recordings can be useful for your students (to review the class, catch something that they missed…), they are also very valuable as a reflective tool. Looking at these recordings with a critical eye and ear can provide invaluable feedback on the efficacy of your teaching. When used over a period of time, the recordings can provide very tangible feedback on any changes to teaching practice. Many people are uncomfortable recording and watching themselves, so it is recommended that this be done a few times to help reduce the nervousness involved (and get a more accurate recording). For the best results, it is recommended that the process involves some formal reflection before and after the recorded class. This process can take many forms ranging from simply reviewing the recording and taking a few notes on what is observed to reflecting on specific portions of the class and making recommendations for future change.
Below is one possible format for commenting on the recording:
How can you record your lecture for reflection purposes?
Small flip cameras are available within the Teaching Centre, that can be utilized for this purpose. We have small tripods that can accompany the camera as well. The video can be removed from the camera via an SD card or via a USB plug. Because you are not editing the videos but simply reviewing them, they should be able to use your default video player on your computer to view them.
Depending on what type of mobile devices you have, using the camera on your phone or tablet is another option you could use to capture your lecture. You may want to find a compatible small tripod for your device, so it can stay steady while shooting.
A good way to keep reflective material together in an organized fashion as well as keeping artifacts of teaching development is with a teaching portfolio. Teaching portfolios or dossiers can range from showpieces (useful for an interview and hiring purposes) to working/living documents that are continually added to and modified as your philosophy and practice evolve. There are many online guides on how to create a teaching portfolio as well as exemplars. What is important to understand before starting a teaching portfolio is how you want to utilize it. If it is being started and maintained as a location to house materials for award applications or job interviews, then the content within it will be considerably different from a teaching portfolio to support professional growth and development. A few things are constant in a teaching portfolio regardless of the purpose:
a personal philosophy of teaching (your beliefs about teaching & learning, how those beliefs temper what you do in the classroom and your course design…)
documentation of teaching (syllabi, assignments/activities of note…)
reflections on your teaching practice (specific and general)
artifacts that illustrate strengths and weaknesses with reflective comments
The most common place to begin this process is by writing out a personal philosophy of teaching that outlines your core beliefs about teaching. From this, you will start to examine how these core beliefs shape your approach to working with students and the methods that you use to engage your students. We have prepared a handout to help you get started with the process of writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement.
Some good resources to help get started can be found here:
PortfolioGen - Online Portfolio Creation Tool
McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning http://mi.mcmaster.ca/sitehttps:/mi.mcmaster.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Preparing-a-Teaching-Portfolio-Guide_10_2015.pdf