by Ludwig Weber, Graduate Assistant in Reinert Center, Graduate Student in English
Continuous critical reflection is one of the most essential processes effective teachers employ. By constantly reflecting on the choices, successes, and failures experienced in the classroom, we learn to grow as pedagogues, and the impactfulness of our instruction grows with us. While this most likely is hardly news to faithful readers of The Notebook, I would like to use this space to share a specific reflective tool I myself employ: the teaching journal.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the benefits of journaling on the students’ side. While the discussions that I try to promote each class foreground the exchange and creation of knowledge, as well as the group dynamic of language, I also believe that individual reflective writing exercises are essential to the success of my students. In my classes, at the beginning of most class periods, I ask the class to take a few minutes to write in a journal. Sometimes, I do not give them a prompt, and merely ask them to jot down what they find interesting about the reading, what they would like to talk about, etc., putting them in control of part of the agenda for the day. Other times, I will ask them to write on a specific idea or question.
This assignment serves multiple purposes. First off, it is a chance for the students to gather their thoughts regarding that day’s subject matter. By encouraging the individual voice to emerge as often as possible, I am simultaneously contributing to the richness of discussions that will follow in the classroom. Secondly, it is way for me to see that they are getting the most out of this course, as I can verify their progress in the class. Lastly, writing is a craft, and practice makes perfect as we all know.
The same benefits of reflection and deeper critical engagement through short pieces of writing in a journal also apply to us as instructors. I have made it a habit of taking five minutes right after each class, or as close to the end as reasonably possible, and jotting down my observations regarding that particular class period, while they are still fresh in my mind.
Before employing a journal, I often found myself not remembering important things I had learned about certain elements of my teaching, be it the reception of a certain text, my way of introducing specific subject matter, etc., when it counts (i.e., during the preparation of the next class period, next thematic block, or the next semester). Having my reflective notes with me when planning future classes allows me to have a record of the reception of my approaches and materials with me during class planning, and therefore, allows me to make more informed pedagogical choices. Just as I am teaching my students that their writing is a process instead of a product, my teaching as well is an ongoing process subject to constant revision and improvement, and my teaching journal assists me in making accurate and targeted revisions.
For those interested in a larger discussion of various reflective practices and the assumptions that underlie them, I recommend Stephen D. Brookfield’s book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (Jossey-Bass, 1995). Seeing the primary purpose of reflection as the hunting of assumptions (p. 2), Brookfield introduces us to several pedagogical scenarios, and encourages us to critically reflect on what we know works in the classroom, and what we only assume does.
If you would like to schedule a consultation to talk about impactful reflective practices in your teaching, please contact the Reinert Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also feel free to share your take on reflective practices in the comment section below.
Brookfield, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Print.