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The Value of Reflective Practice in Language Education

Nowadays, the terms critical reflection as well as reflective practitioner seem to be the current trend in Language Education. Nevertheless, these notions were put forward in Education initially by Jhon Dewey in 1933, then revisited by Donald Schön 50 years later (1983, 1987) and brought to English Language Teaching (ELT) by Michael Wallace in 1991. 

Initially, it had been largely suggested that the majority of language teachers, if not all, ‘looked back’ on their teaching and from their reflections made changes or drew implications for their classes. This prevailing ‘simplistic’ assumption proposed a linear and almost natural teacher engagement in critical reflection leading to immediate and permanent teaching improvements. However, research has proven Reflective Practice to be more complex, that is to say, it is one thing to reflect on your practice and simply move on to the next teaching event, known as fake reflection or weak reflection (Farrell, 2008); as opposed to critically reflect on your teaching in order to gain awareness and understanding –the reasoning behind teaching– and take action in line with those critical thoughts (Godínez, J.M., 2018).

In order to move away from this ‘positivist’ view of reflection to a more critical, cognitive and metacognitive process, a practitioner should first find a purpose or reason for deep thinking; in other words, find a personal need to develop their practice. Once a meaningful purpose is present, a practitioner can then decide to reflect on this perceived need by means of a reflective tool. The tools available are many: journals, video recorded classroom observations, collegial discussions, email exchange, and so on. However, the ways and modes of reflection should be the practitioner’s personal choice as the tool should genuinely enable critical thought in the most natural and consistent way. 

Moreover, the practitioner may choose to engage in the process individually, yet more often than not, the support of a colleague who listens, shares ideas, and provides other forms of critical thought, can enhance the reflections and understandings of practice, which the individual practitioner might not have come to realise on its own. It is important to state that Teacher collegiality as well as Teacher Collaboration include openly sharing failures and mistakes, constructively analysing, and criticizing practices and procedures, as well as contradicting stances and beliefs in a respectful mannerHowever, if practitioners do not possess a certain ‘readiness’, in other words, if they do not possess reflective practitioner qualities –disposition, flexibility and openness to collegiality– (Wallace 1991), teacher collegiality and collaboration will not take place.

The outcomes of engaging on Reflective Practice may vary according to each individual and their personal needs and reasons for development. However, it is important to take action in line with these critical reflections. Reflective Action should be conducted contemplating the awareness gained in favour of any part of our practice. The more reflective actions are taken, the better the outcomes for teaching, as this impacts not only the approaches to teaching, but most importantly, students’ learning and even our professional community when collaboration is favoured.

The value of any reflective process is found in every step of the process, as has been previously described, as opposed to an end-result. 

Jovanna Matilde Godínez Martínez, PhD.

General Director ELT Services & Consulting

Bibliography References

  • Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston, MA: Houghton Miflin.
  • Farrell, T.S.C. (2008). Reflective Practice in the Professional Development of teachers of Adult English Language Learners. CAELA NETWORK p. 1-3.
  • Godínez, J.M. (2018). How effective is collaborative Reflective Practice in enabling cognitive transformation in English language teachers? Reflective Practice Journal. Taylor and Francis online. Volume 19 (4) p.427-246.
  • Schön, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  • Schön, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching and learning in the profession. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Wallace, M. J. 1991. Training foreign language teachers: A reflective approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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