Reflective Practise

We had our annual Teaching & Learning Conference here at Bangor, with the Honourable Steve Wheeler as our keynote, and had a great time. However, I gained new insight into the meaning of reflective practise during the event.

I led a workshop on curriculum planning in the 21st century. My plan was to introduce what we know about lecturers, how the world has changed, and then what we should be doing about it in the classroom – never really unfolded like I was hoping.

As I introduced what we know about lecturers, I talked about teacher cognition, and our current curriculum planning techniques. The easy one is current curriculum planning – we plan our curriculum based on the way we were taught. After all, the evidence for the quality of the programme is incontrovertible – it is me!

Teacher cognition is somewhat related, and is succinctly summarised by a former student Dan, in one of his blog posts from the past.

  • teachers’ cognitions can be powerfully influenced by their own experiences as learners;
  • these cognitions influence what and how teachers learn during teacher education;
  • they act as a filter through which teachers interpret new information and experience;
  • they may outweigh the effects of teacher education in influencing what teachers do in the classroom;
  • they can be deep-rooted and resistant to change;
  • they can exert a persistent long-term influence on teachers’ instructional practices;
  • they are, at the same time, not always reflected in what teachers do in the classroom.
  • they interact bi-directionally with experience (i.e. beliefs influence practices but practices can also lead to changes in beliefs).

In other words, by the time you get to be a lecturer, you already know what a good teacher, and that view of teaching is almost impossible to change.

As the discussion began, teacher cognition became the primary philosophy. I know what I am doing, and I’m good at it, and I can see no reason to change… was the prevailing theme of the discussion. In spite of the overwhelming evidence as to the ineffectiveness of lectures as a method of learning, lecturers were idealised and worshipped by some of the participants. Lectures are to inspire (future post) and uplift students (Chris’s comment here says it all …I have enjoyed learning, and been inspired to learn more but this hasn’t happened in the lecture. I don’t think I have ever really been inspired by a lecture), not simply convey information.

I had a couple of students present during the session, and one of them said that he had really thought that teacher cognition was a theoretical construct that had little bearing on how things were really done, but now realises how real it is.

This exchange with practitioners who are engaged enough in teaching to spend a day at our conference made me realise that I had misunderstood what was meant by reflective practise. I now realise that reflective practise is largely about reflecting anything away from themselves that might suggest that what they are doing isn’t ideal. Reflective practise is about defensiveness. Reflective practise is about teaching practise – it has nothing to do with learning at all.

Teaching and learning are completely divorced in HE with teaching focused almost entirely on the teacher. Laurie Taylor’s (Accustomed as I am) take on lecturers would be a whole lot funnier if it didn’t strike so close to home.

How have we made something as exhilarating as learning, as oppressive as education?


One Size Fits All

We are all a product of our education – the endless pursuit of the right answer means that we want a right answer to educational challenges.

Michael Gove is (and the millions who support him are) a product of our system, and is the same as too many of the rest of us – looking to find the right answer to education.

Learning is a complicated endeavour with just a few of the following differences in individuals

  • Developmental stages
  • Interests
  • Abilities
  • Subjects
  •        Levels within a subject
  • Understanding needs – how well do I NEED to know this?

Different approaches to learning address different problems that we might need to work through. A behaviourist approach, like mastery learning, should be used when there is information that a student simply has to know. There are techniques that have been developed within this area (e.g. precision teaching) that are good if you just need to exactly memorise things like multiplication tables. Using a cognitive approach with  findings from cognitive psychology (e.g. the testing effect) is useful for memorising information that doesn’t need to be learned exactly, but is necessary as a foundation to build on. These approaches are useful because all of us need to have basic material readily available as a foundation upon which to develop a deeper understanding.

Using a connectivist approach is great to develop higher level thinking skills such as creativity, critical analysis, flexible thinking and metacognition. However, having final year psychology students engage in writing blogs and commenting on each other’s work (a highly effective method I use in one of my classes) would be less than useless for a group of nine year olds trying to learn multiplication tables.

HE lecturers and departments are too often one trick ponies, with only one approach to teaching when multiple approaches might be necessary, eg: flipped, mastery learning for a skill based class like statistics in psychology.

Recognising this means putting learning before teaching, and planning a curriculum that is a learning programme rather than a teaching programme – something not often done well in HE. Using appropriate approaches and philosophies for different learning needs would go a long way to reforming education.

There is no single right answer to fixing education.

How have we made something as exhilarating as learning, as oppressive as education?

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein)

Good question – is grading an aspect of education that needs revision or rejection?

Science of Education

In this module we have been involved in student-centred learning, becoming independent learners by actively choosing topics of interest for our blogs. My central focus has been on evaluating the grading process.  Grading is an integral part of the education system, yet its use is often questionable.

My initial blogs focused on the issues with grading, with the belief that with certain adjustments, the grading process could be improved. For example, there is a disparity between the subjective process of grading, and the ‘objective’ assessment produced (Kohn, 1994). Markers aren’t machines, and are subjected to a number of influences in the grading process (York, Bridges & Woolf, 2000). Therefore educators must decide whether to follow strict guidelines (or use automated marking) to obtain objectivity and reliability, or accept the subjectivity of grading, allowing students to surpass the mark scheme through novel creativity.

As I gained…

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