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?

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One thought on “Reflective Practise

  1. Reflectively – we need to recognize teacher cognition for what it is; and I truly support Dan’s argument. He looked from the outside in; this made me look inside out!

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