My Academic English students have been doing weekly presentations (some have been outstanding!) and at the end of one recent class, we had about ten minutes remaining after the presentations had finished. I asked the students to spend the time reflecting on their performance and then write their own evaluation . I was genuinely impressed with their level of insight and honesty.
This has got me thinking about reflection. Reflection is a valuable practice that often gets shuffled to the periphery of our busy, gadget-filled lives. This is unfortunate because I believe it is a practice that can enormously benefit learners as well as teachers.
“Conspicuous action” vs reflection
In an attempt to make our classes as communicative as possible, many ESL teachers, myself included, try to incorporate many partner and group activities. Of course, this is an effective way to practise skills, engage students, etc. When I walk past a classroom in which students are busily working in groups and talking loudly, I usually think that a successful lesson is taking place. Maybe it was this bias that Underhill had in mind when he stated that “conspicuous action” seems to be more valued than allowing learners a chance to “pause unilaterally and stand back from, and reflect on, what they are doing” (1989, p.253).
What, then, is the value in having learners pause, turn inward and become their own critic? Why evaluate oneself from the point of view of an outsider? I’ll turn back to the example of my academic students and their presentations. Although I cannot know the running monologue that occurs in one’s head as one does a presentation, from personal experience, however, I imagine is goes something like: “Oh, they seem bored…maybe I should have thought of a more interesting introduction…they look confused right now – I should have anticipated that and prepared a simpler explanation for that point…I’m glad I made that graph because everyone seems to understand this complicated section…”
Sound familiar? Often, these thoughts disappear shortly after we say thank you and end the presentation. However, if we take the time to analyze and evaluate our performance and then write down our thoughts, I think it is far more likely we will take action to improve the weaknesses and feel a sense of accomplishment about the things we did well.
Teachers need to reflect too
When I was doing my DELTA modules, I fairly faithfully wrote a short reflection in a notebook after every lesson. What worked in the lesson and why? What would I change for next time and how? How far did I get in achieving the aims for the lesson? etc. It didn’t take much time, but it was enormously beneficial. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten out of this practice, but I am trying to return to it.
Ways to include reflection in the classroom
- Every Friday, give students time to think about what they’ve done that week and write this down. Some guiding questions might be helpful.
- Give students time to think before they speak. Tarvin and Al-Arishi (1991) point out that teachers should build more time for reflection into class activities. For example, do you ever pose a good discussion question and expect the students to start talking right away? I sure do. Without time to really think about the answer, they will talk about the first thing that comes to mind, the obvious response. However, if they had some time to think, they might come up with other ideas, which in turn could spur their partners into going beyond the obvious. So, go ahead and pose good discussion questions, but give students a moment to think before they speak.
In conclusion, I believe we need to give our students time to pause and think instead of “doing” tasks all the time. Maybe if we do this often enough, reflective thinking will become a reflexive response, which will help students become better learners. It can also make teachers better teachers.
Tarvin, W. & A. Al-Arishi. TESOL QUARTERLY, Rethinking Communicative Language-Teaching: Reflection and the EFL Classroom.Spring 1991. Vol. 25, 1, 9-27.