Anne Guarnera recently received her PhD in Spanish at the University of Virginia. You can find her discussing teaching and learning on Twitter as @aguarnera and learn more about her work on her website.
If you’ve ever taken an education seminar or attended a workshop on improving your pedagogical skills, you’ve likely heard the term “reflective teaching.”
In case that term is new to you, however, allow me to provide a brief definition. Simply put, reflective teaching is the practice of setting aside time to analyze your own teaching effectiveness, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and make plans for improving your performance in the classroom.
With the spring semester wrapping up, now is a natural point at which to pause and reflect on this year's successes and failures in the classroom. What teaching methodologies worked well this semester? Were there any lessons that truly flopped? What personal productivity habits helped facilitate your success in the classroom? What technology helped/hindered your work with students? Are you comfortable with your teaching persona, or do you want to change how you relate to those that you teach? How was the class dynamic in your sections this semester, and what might you need to do (or refrain from doing) to improve it in the future? All of these are great questions to ask yourself—and record the answers to—as you wrap up the semester and look to the future.
"But HOW!?” you ask. I hear you, GradHackers. Deluged by seminar papers to be written, student exams to be graded, and summer plans to be made, most graduate students would find it difficult to retreat to a coffeehouse for an afternoon of leisurely journaling. So “How?” is a legitimate question.
As an answer, I’d like to suggest three (relatively) low-commitment ways that you can implement reflective teaching practices—right now, at the end of the semester, and in the future. With these streamlined methods, you can ease into reflective practice and begin reaping the benefits of this important pedagogical habit.
1. Start a reflective teaching #BuJo. The bullet journal—popularly known as the #bujo—is one of today’s most fashionable personal productivity tools. Thousands of Pinterest pins and Instagram pics exist to inspire your journal design and teach you to organize your life through color-coded lists and cutesy icons. Although the cult following of these glorified to-do lists is a little too much for me, I admit that the #bujo has the potential to be a great tool for succinct reflections on teaching. One page could be devoted to recording your most successful classroom moments, another could be a list of resources that you want to incorporate into your future classes, and yet another could be a place to file reminders about what not to do next semester.
2. Use the DayGram app (or something like it) for daily reflections. With an app like this, you can quickly record the day’s highs and lows in a single sentence. By simply answering these two questions—"What went well in your class?” and "What should be improved for next time?”—you will be well on your way to the kind of reflection that actually improves your teaching skills.
3. Synthesize student evaluations into an end-of-semester summary. Student evaluations are not the ultimate tool for measuring your teaching effectiveness, but they can provide helpful feedback that you can use to shape your pedagogy. You can maximize that feedback by synthesizing it: take note of any suggestions from students that are repeated across evaluations, compare your performance to others in your department (if that data is available), and write out any take-aways that you want to apply to future courses.
Do you have any other suggestions for incorporating reflective teaching practices into a busy schedule? Share in the comments!
[Image courtesy of Flickr user Pain Chaud and used under a Creative Commons license]