This winter, I set out to ascertain to what degree my teaching practices match my values. I like to think that I create rapport in my classroom, but I wanted to take a closer look. A study on the relative merits of various reflective observation tools (Fatemipour, 2013) ranked diaries as the most effective, followed be peer observation. I decided to keep a journal throughout the term and to ask a few colleagues (Larry Javorsky, Sandy Riverman, and Amy Nickerson) to observe me.
Before the term began, I decided on the format and content of the journal. Not all journal entries yield equally useful information; in years past, I might just have made notes of activities that happened and whether or not I subjectively deemed them successful, or I might have commented on procedural issues—timing, instructions, etc. This time, I wanted a bit of a deeper focus, going beyond what Insuasty and Zambrano Castillo (2010) label “how-to” questions. I brainstormed several values statements related to rapport, relationships, and participation. To keep the project doable and measurable, I limited myself to 10 yes/no statements, four based on students’ observed behavior and six on my own behavior. After class, I ticked “Yes” or “No” and wrote a few (usually brief) follow-up comments. The prompts were:
|Students should know each other’s names.|
|Students should feel comfortable working with anyone in class.|
|Students should listen to each other’s ideas.|
|Students should have an opportunity to respond to each other’s answers and ideas.|
|Teacher should give all students a chance to participate.|
|Teacher should praise meaningful discussions or responses.|
|Teacher should be diplomatic about corrections.|
|Teacher should provide adequate time for students to respond.|
|Teacher should balance display and referential questions.|
|Teacher should not show frustration.|
At the end of the term, I came away with insights not only into my own teaching, but also into effective journal keeping. Among my findings on the process of keeping a journal are the following:
- Set a realistic goal—keeping a journal every day at 5:00pm wouldn’t have been realistic; 2 per week at 10:00am was, and I successfully stuck to my schedule.
- Write in the journal immediately after class, when thoughts and ideas are fresh. Only once during the term did I decide to go back and add an addendum.
- Decide in advance which days to journal, so as not to write only on the good days or skip writing on the bad days. Have the journal open and ready to go before class. I kept my journal on a google doc, and on my scheduled journaling days, I opened the document before class so that it would be the first thing that I saw when I returned to my desk.
- Choose measureable prompts. This was easier said than done. One of my prompts was, “Students should know each other’s names”—although this is tremendously important to me and I feel as though I have failed if in week 10 students don’t know who they have been working with for 10 weeks, it was hard to document, especially early on. An observer also commented that it was hard to measure this statement.
- Choose prompts of personal importance. I was primarily concerned with rapport and relationships, but during my research I read about the importance of using different question types (Farrell & Mom, 2015). While this concept made sense to me, it was not a personal priority, so my responses to the “Teacher should balance display and referential questions” prompt were generally “Yes?” “I think so…” or left blank.
- Have a backup method to account for bias. I was constantly worried about being either too harsh or too kind in my own journal entries—hence the peer observations. Fatemipour (2013) also listed student feedback and class recordings (audio or video) as viable methods.
Unfortunately, the prompt that got the most “no” responses was “Students should feel comfortable working with anyone in class.” I was not surprised by this result, having seen a few students’ tendency only to want to work with one or two other students. One pleasant surprise came when an observer noted that a student who I had noticed didn’t always participate in groups was especially engaged that day. Another observer, however, noticed that two students who typically sat near each other but didn’t interact were not interacting despite having been assigned to each other as partners, confirming my own observations. The data indicate that future projects could focus on different methods of group participation.
Farrell, T., & Mom, V. (2015). Exploring teacher questions through reflective practice. Reflective Practice, 1-18.
Fatemipour, H. (2013). The Efficiency of the Tools Used for Reflective Teaching in ESL Contexts. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 1398-1403.
Insuasty, E., & Zambrano Castillo, L. (2010). Exploring Reflective Teaching through Informed Journal Keeping and Blog Group Discussion in the Teaching Practicum Exploración de la enseñanza reflexiva en la práctica docente a través de la escritura informada de diarios y de discusiones grupales mediante blogs. Profile Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 12(2), 87-105.