Not as simple as it sounds!
Teaching is the ultimate multi-tasking context: you need to check your plan/coursebook/ worksheet, keep an eye on multiple students at the same time, check your watch, monitor your voice and your language, problem-solve on the spot… I could go on, but we’ve all been there and there’s no need!
In that light, the idea that teachers should observe themselves and monitor their performance while they are teaching can look like an unreasonable expectation. Yet, being able to reflect on what you did in class is a consistent assessment criterion on teacher training courses, like the CELTA, which requires you to teach and observe others teaching, as well as give feedback to other teachers and get feedback from both your peers and your tutors. Unsurprisingly, some trainees feel that there is no point in evaluating themselves as well and can even be annoyed that they are required to do that on top of everything else.
But let us try and address some common points raised on courses regarding reflection and self-evaluation.
Why should I do this if my tutor is going to give me feedback after my lesson anyway?
The feedback you get from your tutor will be kind, constructive and detailed but its impact will be limited if you remain blissfully unaware of what happened, what worked and what did not work in class. Becoming aware of your own actions and decisions, and the students’ reactions to them, provides an opportunity for growth and development which you should not deny yourself! In other words, this is where actual learning takes place for you. For example, if you believed that explaining grammar in great detail to a class who already knew what you were talking about was a strength of your lesson, that says a lot about what you need to still learn and develop in your teaching.
How can I do this when I’m so engrossed in my teaching that I hardly remember what exactly I said or did afterwards?
Composing a self-evaluation report is not about training you in holding the minutes in a meeting, but rather about honing your teaching instincts (more about that in a minute). For a minute-by-minute analysis of your lesson, if you really need one, it makes more sense to turn to your tutor and colleagues, who were observing you and had the time to take detailed notes. What you are really working on when doing your self-reflection after the lesson is putting into words your own feelings about the lesson, the learner reactions that you perceived and your impression of the overall effectiveness of your teaching. You can do this after the lesson, at different times. What works best for a lot of teachers is making a couple of brief notes immediately after the lesson, recording feelings and first impressions while still fresh; then, revisiting these notes later, when several hours have passed, and re-examine initial ideas as well as decide what the main strengths and weaknesses were. At that point, it helps to try and remember concrete examples from the lesson to support your impressions.
But I cannot do this, no matter how hard I try! I feel I have nothing to say really.
This is more common than one might imagine. Although offering trainees the opportunity to realise how they are progressing on a course is a fundamental principle of most teacher development courses, the ability to do so is by no means an innate talent: it is a skill that needs to be practised and learnt, like most things about teaching. In order to do that, you need to:
- be aware of the learner reactions and contributions during the lesson.
- realise which tasks worked and which didn’t
- be able to distance yourself from the actual process and observe it objectively
Concentrating on these three points, you should be able to make some headway in your reflection process. (If you would like more about how to compose a reflection report, we’d be happy to take that up in another post.)
TIP: Record yourself teaching once or twice – please do not cringe – and see what happens. You’ll be amazed by what you can learn by observing yourself teaching. I still find it fascinating after decades of experience; there are so many things I hadn’t noticed I was doing!!! And seeing something for yourself beats the tutor trying to draw your attention to it every time.
It is very disheartening to have one picture in your head about your lesson, and then, during feedback, be proven wrong in key points.
Although not all self-reflections are proven wrong like this, it does happen often, and it can be disappointing. Needless to say, the reflection process itself is not to blame for that, but it does draw attention to our own misconceptions or even shortcomings. And as much as this can be quite unpleasant to feel, it is an essential part of the growing and developing process.
Imagine we held training courses only for perfect teachers, who are never wrong! That would go well! First, we would not have any trainees, and second, even if we did, they would not have much to take from the course, thus defeating the whole point of taking one.
Accept making mistakes as the best thing that can happen to you on a learning course.
I have to prepare and teach a lesson, observe my peers teaching and offer them feedback, and then I have to reflect on my own lesson, all within a few hours. Can’t I just skip it?
It is true that a teaching practice day can be quite heavy, especially if you are doing an intensive course. And it is also true that many trainees “switch off” after their own teaching spell takes place. This may be because they are genuinely tired, or because they find the whole feedback/reflection process quite boring, feeling that all they need is be given a grade for their lesson and go home. Or it can be both! This is what usually happens in those cases:
- Trainees use vague formulaic expressions both in their own self evaluations and in their feedback to their peers, e.g., good elicitation, used CCQs, great rapport, etc. They even repeat the same points lesson after lesson, but they are unable to offer ONE concrete example of these points when asked.
- The whole group spends 3 or more hours teaching, observing and giving feedback and all this time is not really taken advantage of.
- The tutor remains the main source of feedback, which is neither fun nor as constructive as it could be.
- Trainees may leave the session without a clear idea of what they should or should not do in their own lesson, or, even more importantly, no idea of WHY they should or should not do X or Y.
The whole reflection – feedback – re-evaluation process breaks down and a core part of the course does not really function.
If you take one thing:
Please regard self-reflection as important as planning your lesson: if you do not do it, it is like throwing your lesson plan out of the window. You will not know whether the plan worked or not, why, which parts need changing, etc. Train yourself to reflect on what you did and use the conclusions as the basis for your next step.