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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Reflective Teacher

What is reflection?

Before considering the concept ‘reflective teacher’ and the process of preparation of the ‘reflective teacher’, let us look at a preliminary definition of the term ‘reflection’ in its educational context. Reflection as a concept in the educational milieu has its origin in the philosophy of John Dewey, a highly influential twentieth century educationist who made a distinction between a ‘routine’ action driven by tradition, habit, and authority and ‘reflective’ action which ‘involves a willingness to engage in constant self-appraisal and development’ (Pollard &Tann,1987 p.4). According to Dewey(1933) as cited by (Grant & Zeichner, 1984, p.4) reflection is that ‘behaviour which involves active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or practice in light of the grounds that support it and further consequences to which it leads’. The term ‘reflection’ as used in this context carries a special connotation and should not be taken as a typical dictionary word which means simple thinking or deliberation. It is a specific ‘behaviour’, ‘frame of mind’ and ‘attitude’ of an individual or an organisation which requires ‘the development of several attitudes and abilities, such as introspection, open-mindedness, and willingness to accept responsibility for their (the reflective practitioners’) decisions and action’ (Ross, D.D.1989, p.22).

Levels of reflection:
Reflection has been described at various levels. Van Manen (1977) has put forward three levels of reflection: technical, interpretive and critical (Munby& Russell 1993). El-Dib,M (2007), elaborating on the original concept of Van Manen(1977), says that at the technical level teachers using reflection are “primarily concerned with applying knowledge in order to achieve predetermined educational objectives”p.3. This means at the ‘technical’ level reflection is concerned with the teaching method and the way the teaching-learning process is carried out. Further reflection at the ‘technical’ level does not take into consideration the evaluation of educational objectives. In the words of Manen (1977) “On this level the practical refers to the technical application of educational knowledge and of basic curriculum principles for the purpose of attaining a given end” p.226
The second level of reflection i.e. interpretive reflection goes beyond the scrutiny of the application of means and examines the efficacy of means towards the achievement of goals and ends. As Manen says “At this level of the practical the focus is on an interpretive understanding both of the nature and quality of educational experience and of making practical choices” (ibid, pp 226-7). The third level of reflection also termed as critical reflection, besides considering the first two concerns takes into account the moral, ethical and political criteria and examines practices for justice, equity and morality (Hatton & Smith 1994, Gore & Zeichner, 1991; Adler, 1991). According to El-Dib, M (2007), at this highest level of reflection “the teacher is not simply concerned with the goals, activities and assumptions behind them but he is rather reflecting upon the larger context where all education exists. He is incorporating moral and ethical questions into his line of thinking” p.26. Manen (1977) associating the highest level of reflection with a concern for the ‘worth’ of educational goals and experiences says, “ On this level the practical addresses itself reflectively to the question of the worth of knowledge and to the nature of the social conditions necessary for raising the question of worthwhileness in the first place”p.227. Reflection at the critical level or ‘critical reflection’ is ‘a process of becoming aware of one’s context, of the influence of societal and ideological constraints on previously taken-for-granted practices, and gaining control over the direction of these influences.’ (Calderhead, 1989 p.44). Zeichner (1987) building on Van Manen’s ideas, associates terms such as teacher as a ‘technician’ when his primary concern is accomplishment of ends decided by others, as ‘craftsperson’ when he associates classroom actions with educational goals and as ‘moral craftsperson’ who is able to show concern for moral and ethical implications of the educational process.

The reflective teacher

The discussion so far gives us some idea of the reflective teacher as someone who constantly thinks and experiments on both the means and ends of educational process. A reflective teacher is one who exhibits qualities of strategic thinking, one who can look through things and events in proper perspective. Such an individual is one who is open to new ideas and multiple possibilities, sometimes even contradictory to his own long-held beliefs and values and will welcome truth no matter how bitter the taste might be to him as an individual or as part of an organisational, social or political group. Not just that the reflective practitioner (teacher in this case) accepts full responsibility for the ‘what and how’ of his actions. This responsibility, however, does not come without its reward in the form of ‘liberty’ and ‘autonomy’ to the teacher as an active, productive and responsible citizen. A reflective and hence ‘liberated’ teacher is someone who is ‘free from unwarranted control of unjustified beliefs, unsupportable attitudes, and the paucity of abilities which can prevent that person from completely taking charge of his or her life’ Siegel(1980,p.16, quoted by Zeichner &Liston, 1987,pp.23,24). In fact such a teacher has the ability to make independent decisions, to provide leadership both in terms of curriculum development and implementation besides being actively involved in the process of the social, moral and political evolution of a society. A reflective teacher is thus not a mere passive disseminator of ‘factual knowledge’ and curriculum handed over by the policy makers and bureaucrats but one who actually creates knowledge. He does not take knowledge as written in textbooks and other policy documents for granted but questions and searches for its social, moral and political relevance and adjusts the aims and means of curriculum according to the changing circumstances and the demands of particular educational environment.

What are the characteristics of a reflective teaching process?

Pollard &Tann drawing on the original notion of reflective action as enunciated by Dewey (1933) have identified the following as the four essential characteristics of the reflective teaching process:
1. Reflective teaching implies an active concern with aims and consequences, as well as with means and technical efficiency.
2. Reflective teaching combines enquiry and implementation skills with attitudes of open-mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness.
3. Reflective teaching is applied in a cyclical or spiralling process, in which teachers continually monitor, evaluate and revise their own practice.
4. Reflective teaching is based on teacher judgement, informed partly by self-reflection and partly by insights from educational disciplines (Pollard &Tann, 1987, pp.4, 5)

Preparation of the reflective teacher:

Teacher preparation programmes have traditionally been based on technicism i.e. preparation of teachers as ‘technicians’ by providing them ‘practices’ and ‘drills’ in certain ‘ready-made’ techniques of teaching. During the 1980s, however in Europe, Australia and in the USA a new approach to teacher education emerged, as a result of the growing concern about the utility of the old traditional system based on the positivist-behaviourist paradigm of professional training.This approach is characterised by the concept called reflective teaching methods. As a result teacher preparation got frequently associated with reflective practices such as action research by the student teachers, journal writing, seminars, reflective dialogues and discussions and other inquiry oriented teaching techniques. This means greater independence on the part of the student teacher and lesser routine and controlled approaches to teacher preparation programmes. The outcome was “a shift from a general theory about good teaching towards more appreciation for the individuality of each teacher.” Korthagen & Russell (1995)

Preparation of reflective or ‘thoughtful’ teachers as opposed to ‘thoughtless’ teachers: teachers driven by tradition and authority has since been promoted as a most important goal of the teacher education programmes. Cruickshank (1987), Schon(1983,1987,1989).

The Pakistani context:

In Pakistan like many developing countries the concepts of reflective teaching and reflective teacher education are not very well established where still the traditional models of ‘technical rationality’ and ‘teacher-as-a technician’ are in vogue. As a result teacher education programmes are highly centralized and apprenticeship oriented. Consequently ‘many practicing teachers are still not aware of ‘reflection’ or ‘reflective practice’ (Ashraf&Rarieya, 2008, p.269). The traditional ‘transmission’ model of teaching where student teachers are reduced to the status of passive learners who are there to receive packages of ‘facts’ and ‘techniques’ are still in vogue in most teacher education programmes in Pakistan. Most of the student teachers find these training courses out of context and unrelated to the demands of practical teaching once they join formal teaching in schools. Such programmes usually fail to prepare teachers capable of critical thinking, independent inquiry, and reflective context-based decision making. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect teachers prepared in this way to inculcate such values (the ultimate aim of education) in their students if they themselves lack on them. It, therefore, is highly in order that there should be a shift in our teacher education programmes from the ‘technical-rational’ paradigm based on worn out traditional models to the ‘reflective’ paradigm based on critical thinking, independent inquiry, context-oriented learning and continuous testing of educational theories and practices as far as means and goals of education and the teaching-learning processes are concerned. An outcome of such a shift would be teachers who will be able to actively, persistently and carefully consider beliefs and practices ‘in light of the grounds that support it and further consequences to which it leads’. Keeping in view the present level of ideological lunacy due to long term indoctrination, such teachers are needed more than ever before.

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