My number one goal of today was to begin a critical analysis of a journal article for my Advanced Pedagogy course which is part of my Masters of Education at Macquarie University. I have been enjoying this subject very much because it is closely related to my role on the Innovative Learning Team at Oakhill College. In fact, in my professional life these are the two aspects that have me fired up, excited about what I do as a teacher. The university readings have helped give academic evidence to what the ILT is suggesting and preparing for the future direction of the school in terms of technology and teaching practices. My real life experiences as a classroom practitioner and the discussions and research in which I’ve been participating with the ILT have been feeding the online exchanges I have with fellow students and the course convenor. Further to this, the ILT has been accepted to present a paper at the Twenty-First International Conference of Learning in New York, July 2014, so I’m looking to use research I do as part of the Advanced Pedagogy course to contribute to the preparation for the New York Conference.
But now, let’s look at the article I chose for the critical review and the impact it had on me. One of the many recommendations the ILT is making for the school is that all teachers create and regularly contribute to online reflective journals about their teaching and learning experiences to develop their meta-cognitive processes and therefore improve their teaching. The paper we’re presenting in New York is called Pulling No Punches: The Metamorphic Process of Turning Teachers into Professionals with Pedagogical Practices of the Modern Era so obviously we envisage reflective journals to be part of this process. The article I found, on a list supplied by the Advanced Pedagogy convenor, is called Promoting teacher reflection: what is said to be done (Marcos, Sanchez, Tillema 2011). The article scares me. To explain, I’ll start with an anecdote.
A science teacher friend and I were chatting about our approaches to studying our different Masters of Education and found we had almost opposing attitudes to reading journal articles. I generally skip over the scientific research components where the method and statistical analysis were conducted and go straight to the findings and conclusion. I like to know what the research found but am rarely interested in how it is found out. My friend says that’s the part he likes, checking the research for scientific and statistical authenticity. We both agreed though that case studies of just a few teachers, often in the same school, were just hopeless as proper research. However, since I had to conduct a critical analysis on this article about teacher reflection, in this case I did read the bits I would normally skip.
The abstract of the article intrigued me when it mentioned investigating “possible differences between what is evidenced in research and what is promoted in practice” (Marcos, Sanchez, Tillema 2011, p.21). When I promote a course of action in my school I want to have it right and implement it effectively. This was the article for me.
The introduction listed the ways teacher reflection had been promoted, including (p.21):
- “to scaffold critical thinking”
- for “knowledge construction”
- to “promote self-regulation”
- because teaching is “a process that lies open to scrutiny and deliberation”
- as part of “professional development”
- to improve “metacognitive ability” of teachers
I thought this was good list and a reasonable explanation of why teachers should maintain a reflective journal. However, the introduction then went on to outline critiques of reflective journals, such as trying to meet too many aims and neglecting to acknowledge underlying assumptions about why teachers should use them (p.22). My summary of this paragraph was that reflective journals had lost their way.
The authors then summarised quite nicely what has been said about reflection (pp.22-23):
- it’s a cyclical and recursive process
- includes “problem solving”, “awareness-raising” and “professional knowledge”
- teachers need to “build on experiential knowledge” (preferably using “action research” eg “observe and analyse classrooms”), “be critical” and “work collaboratively”
- “requires personal involvement”
The authors appear concerned that awareness-raising is promoted more than problem solving as the primary reason for conducting a reflection process and that few “studies provide information on its applicability and implementation in the classroom” (p.23).
Now to my favourite part (not), the method. A total of 122 articles were examined from two Spanish journals, involving 168 authors (p.24). Each article was broken into paragraphs (units) and then all units were divided into 1509 “propositions” which were grouped into 117 “themes” (p.24). These themes were then further split into nine “content-specific categories” (p.25). Is it any wonder I don’t like reading this section? From all this the findings were boiled down to (p.25):
- What was said about reflection: What was said was what had already been said in the article too and the concern about the lack of problem solving as an aim was made more clear at this point. The authors were quite repetitive at this point.
- The reasons for reflection and the evidence behind these reasons for reflection: This was the scary part. The authors found that there was little real evidence backing statements made about the reasons for teachers undertaking reflection. What empirical evidence they found was based on “specific and iconic research projects…rather than specific data” (p.26). I find this scary because much of the reading I do is based on anecdotes from my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and various teacher blogs. My convictions about pedagogy and teacher professionalism are based on these readings and personal experience, not academic or scientific research of my own, until now. A table summarising statements made and the evidence provided (or not) ran for five pages and it wasn’t pretty with numerous crosses in the evidence column.
- The persuasive techniques used: The authors actually worded this section as “mode of convincing” (p.32). This was another section where I felt damned. The language used was broken into three methods:
- Implicative – involving an expression of “interesting thoughts and new ways of thinking (i.e.[sic], ‘we believe’)”
- Descriptive – statements as facts “(e.g., ‘reflection has’)”
- Prescriptive – “the article directs or hints at a preferable action (e.g., ‘we must’)”
This is how I write. When I write blog posts, or even for the ILT report into the implications of ICT for the future of the school, I do so based on my convictions from experience, observations, discussion with colleagues and what I read haphazardly online. Although some of this was intentional primary research it isn’t enough.
A few weeks ago all the contributors to the report met and went through the recommendations thoroughly. It was at this point I realised that everything we wrote in that report had to be supported by evidence or it would have no weight. Yet, reading this article today still came as a shock. I think the message is finally hitting home.
The article concluded with a discussion about the biases they had discovered. The two most important were (1) how the literature stressed what reflective journals were about without enough attention to how to go about it and (2) how convictions rather than real research were behind promotions for reflective practice (pp.32-33). I liked how the authors said their intent wasn’t to be overly critical but to reveal “certain blind spots” (p.33) and they suggested teachers should be provided with “more evidence-based or research validated information on what works in reflective practice” and that reflections should be scaffolded for them (p.34).
I definitely intend to provide a scaffold for the teachers at my school when we begin implementing reflections as part of our PD process next year. I’ll leave it to my colleague to back up what we do with the research since he prides himself as being the academic one on the ILT. He’s also taken on the writing of the paper we’re going to present in New York, dissing my proposal because I’d written ‘the metamorphosis process’ instead of ‘the metamorphic process’ (note that the proposal was accepted anyway).
This whole investigation into pedagogy at uni and school is a load of fun and I’m learning heaps about the way I act, learn and think, perhaps even more than I am learning about the way I teach.
Marcos, Juanjo Mena; Sanchez, Emilio; Tillema, Harm H. “Promoting teacher reflection: What is said to be done” Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, 37:1 , 2011 , 21-36