EDS 111

Reflection and Metacognition for Effective Teaching

ejournal 7 / module 3d

Critical reflection and metacognition puts teachers in a position to make pivotal changes to their practices to ensure improvement over time, rather than stagnation. When a teacher takes accountability for her instruction styles, though process, and application, she constructs experiential knowledge that not only improves her effectiveness in the classroom, but also her professionalism.

After reading the ‘level 1’ routine reflection example from Harrison’s work, I was inspired to give critical reflection a try. I imagine this critical reflection would appear in my own teaching journal to be used for personal reference or even, as Harrison notes, as part of a professional portfolio used to indicate my competence to future employers. Most people reportedly chose to record negative critical moments, so I attempted to write about a positive incident.

A few weeks ago, my class of kindergarteners (age 4) was ready to write their first sentence. We had previously learned the 42 basic phonic sounds, how to form letters, some sight words, and discussed basic grammar (capital letters start sentences, period or other punctuation marks end them).   In the past, I have noticed some students struggle to pull together the individual pieces of information they know (about phonics, grammar, letter formation) to see the bigger picture of it all – that this knowledge they have is all they need to write their own sentences about anything they can imagine.

Anticipating that some of the weaker students would struggle, I wanted to build student confidence before we started any writing. As a group, we discussed the picture prompt (a hen sitting on a nest). I asked students to tell me what they could see in the picture. I called on students to share their thoughts, such as ‘I see a hen.’ I elicited further information, asking what the hen was doing, how she felt, and whom she was with. Many students raised their hands and were eager to speak. Some students only listened, and I should have asked them if they wanted to add anything to what was already said. Sometimes in the midst of teaching, I focus too much on the general flow and vibe of the class, but I don’t want to leave the quieter, more introverted students without a voice in our discussion. I have been thinking about compiling a can of Popsicle sticks with each student’s name. To ensure fairness in participation and attention, as well as to keep students engaged, I would pull out a name stick, call on that student, and then return the stick to the can before shaking it up again.

As the students shared thoughts about the picture, I wrote down key words on the whiteboard (such as egg, nest, chick, happy). I asked students to help me sound out the words. We decided on a topic sentence verbally, and then transferred it to writing on the board. I asked students to guide me on how to start. Students told me that I needed a capital letter to start, but did not mention anything about spaces between words or punctuation marks. I wanted to demonstrate why we make spaces and punctuation marks, so I wrote the sentence as the student instructed, with a capital letter but no spaces or punctuation: ‘Thehensitsonhernest’. The students realized this wasn’t the correct way to write, and thought it was terribly funny that I had done it this way. I asked them to read the sentence but they struggled to decipher where one word ended and another began. I explained that this confusion is exactly what is avoided by making a space between words. I asked students to practice making one finger space between the end of one word and the start of another. I rewrote the sentence on the board with proper spacing and punctuation. However, this is another teaching moment that I feel would have been improved if I had called the students to the board to write the sentence one word at a time. Students could have further discussed and practiced letter formation, spacing, and spelling simultaneously. I felt pressed for time and wanted to move on to the bookwork, so I forwent the activity. Sometimes I feel more compelled to meet my own schedule than take advantage of classroom opportunities. But so what if spent 10 extra minutes writing together? Those ten minutes writing as a group could have been very helpful for some students.

Finally, I asked the students to open their books and do their best to copy the sentence from the board, keeping spaces between words in mind. In circling the room, I saw that some students’ letters were hovering above the guideline rather than resting on it. I explained that we don’t want balloon letters that are floating up above the line, but letters that sit like birds on a telephone wire. The children seemed to appreciate the novelty of the similes and made corrections to their work as needed. In general, I feel the students are more eager and motivated when the class atmosphere is jovial and playful. I want students to feel that yes, this task requires effort and concentration, but it’s quite fun when we’re all working together. We wrote two more sentences together, working collaboratively from the board then copying the work to their books.

Upon completing the writing, most students seemed content and I was outright proud. I think the students felt accomplished and happy to hear me say how proud I was of their hard work and focus. I wanted the kids to feel they had achieved a great feat, because they did! This writing task was longer than anything else my students had done, and they met the challenge in earnest and without complaint. My co-teacher and I were able to quickly identify those students that needed additional support and students who felt uncertain about how to proceed raised their hands for guidance. For the next writing lesson, I think some students will be ready to write more on their own.

After writing this reflection, I can imagine how sharing it with a mentor would be powerful starting point for a meaningful conversation about the under workings of what was going on in the classroom. Some of my concerns and weaknesses in the lesson (such as not calling the children to the board to write) would have universal application to other lessons in which I might similarly sacrifice a quality activity for the sake of timeliness. Discussing these issues with a mentor would help me weigh the benefits and consequences and identify a goal for improvement (e.g. grasp on to teachable moments, even if that means you are a little rushed in tomorrow’s lessons. Students witnessing your engagement and creativity in a lesson will react more to your presence than getting the task completed). Furthermore, while I feel my teaching experience was positive overall, there are numerous other ways in which the lesson could have been conducted successfully. A more experienced colleague or mentor could help me explore new approaches to improve my teaching.

Harrison, J. (2012). Professional learning and the reflective practitioner (Chapter 1). In Dymoke, S. (ed) Reflective Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School (2nd ed.). London: SAGE, 6-43.  PDF retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/49808_02_Dymoke_Ch_01.pdf

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