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Dlamini, B E & Mazibuko, E

 

      

STUDENT-TEACHERS REFLECT ON TEACHING PRACTICE: WAS THIS A WORTHWHILE EXPERIENCE?

BARAANG E.M. DLAMINI & EDMUND Z. MAZIBUKO

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study was to encourage student-teachers to reflect on their teaching, and their perceptions on this experience were also sought. This task was given to both full time and part-time PGCE students of the University of Swaziland during their teaching practice in January/February 1997. A daily journal was kept by each student during the four weeks teaching practice. A follow-up assignment was given when the student-teachers returned to regular classes. Students were asked to reflect on their most successful lesson and the least successful one. The perceptions of the students on the experience of reflecting were sought. Results indicate that, for students in this study, factors that contribute to the success or failure of a lesson may be supervisor-related, pupil related, and student-teacher related (self). Most students found that the experience of reflecting was helpful.

INTRODUCTION

"Proponents of reflective teaching suggest that experience alone is insufficient for professional growth, and that experience coupled with reflection is a much more powerful impetus for development."(Richards and Nunan,1990:201). The term `reflection' in teaching, refers to a teacher's ability to see his/her own actions in relation to the context in which his/her teaching takes place.

In an attempt to explain what reflective teaching is, Bartlett (in Richards & Nunan, 1990) points out that in reflective teaching there are cycles of activity in the process. These cycles may occur before, during and after the lessons in which reflective teaching was engaged in. He identifies five elements which he says could be contained by these elements. These are, mapping, informing, contesting, appraising and acting. Smyth (1989) calls these elements the "forms of action with respect to teaching."(p.2)

He identifies four and not five.They are represented in the following table:

Bartlett Smyth

a) Mapping Describing

b) Informing Informing

c) Contesting Confronting

d) Appraising Reconstructing

e) Acting -

While Bartlett (in Richards & Nunan, 1990) says these elements are neither linear nor sequential, Smyth says they are. A brief explanation of each element follows:

(a) Mapping/Describing.

The question that the teacher asks herself/himself is, "What do I do as a teacher?" The teacher observes and collects evidence about his own teaching. Some of writing is usually involved, for example a diary or a journal.

(b) Informing.

During this cycle the teacher asks herself/himself the following question: "What is the meaning of my teaching? What did I intend?" After the mapping/describing stage, teachers should strive to look for meaning behind what they do as teachers. Discussion with others may help.

İ Contesting/confronting.

"How did I come to be this way? How was it possible for my present view of teaching (with reason) to have emerged?" This cycle involves asking questions about ones own ideas and reasons teachers have for teaching in particular ways. Usually this understanding of "self" is achieved through sharing ideas with others.

d) Appraisal/Reconstruction.

This cycle leads to a search for an alternative way of, for example, teaching the same topic. Teachers should ask themselves the question, "How might I teach differently?"

(e) Acting.

Reflection should lead to action. The question that teachers should ask themselves at this cycle is, "What and how shall I now teach?" Porter, Goldstein, Leatherman, and Conrad (in Richards & Nunan, 1990) outlined the benefits of using journals. For example, that journals promote "autonomous learning," and also encourage "students to take responsibility for their own learning and to develop their own ideas." (p.235). The investigation of this study was modelled along these forms or cycles.

This study investigated the views of Post Graduate Certificate in Education students,' at the University of Swaziland, on what factors they considered in determining whether a lesson was successful or not, with a view to encouraging self-development and professional growth of the student teachers.

LITERATURE

The theme of this study is that of teacher as "self-observer" (Richards & Nunan, 1990:201) Bartlett (in Richards & Nunan, 1990) has outlined some suggestions for teachers who want to improve themselves through reflection. He suggests that in order for teachers to become critical of their own teaching, they should "... move away from the `how to' questions which have a limited utilitarian value, to the `what' and `why' questions which regard instructional and managerial techniques not as ends in themselves but as a part of broader educational purposes,"(p.205). Being able to ask `what' and `why' questions allows teachers to exercise control and also makes it possible for them to transform the everyday classroom life.

PROBLEM

Our experience with working with student teachers is that during teaching practice, students always look to the supervisor to tell them whether a lesson was successful or not. Students do not critically examine where they went wrong or what they did to make their lessons successful. One of the concerns that emerge from the literature is that existing approaches to teacher education do not produce teachers who are able to improve themselves and their schools. The argument is that what is needed are approaches which would make the knowledge and skills taught in teacher education programmes thought-provoking. It is considered crucial that the associated processes be developed in student teachers not just while on campus, but also while engaged in practice teaching. The purpose of this study therefore, was to reduce the over-reliance of student-teachers on supervisors' opinions of their (student-teachers) lessons.

SIGNIFICANCE

Reflective teaching helps new or preservice teachers gain some understanding of the complex nature of the interactions that occur in the classroom (Killen, 1989). It teaches them not to take teaching for granted. The observations made by student teachers in this study about reflection, are consistent with the advantages expressed above.

QUESTIONS

This investigation attempted to answer the following questions:

(a) How do P.G.C.E. student teachers define a successful or unsuccessful lesson?

(b) Do student teachers in this study perceive reflection as a valuable experience?

METHODOLOGY

The sample for this study comprised Post Graduate Certificate in Education (P.G.C.E.) students who were on teaching practice for four weeks, during the period January to February, 1997.

In order for the investigation to find answers for the above questions, subjects in this study had been instructed to keep a detailed daily journal during their four weeks' teaching practice. When the students returned to regular classes after teaching practice, they were given an assignment based on their journals. Student teachers were to submit their journals with the assignment (See Appendix 1).

RESULTS

The results indicate that for student teachers in this study, factors influencing or inhibiting the success of a lesson may either be pupil-related, self(teacher)-related, supervisor-related or related to "other" causes. There are only about two supervisor-related entries. The majority are teacher(self) and pupil related. A few extracts from the students' responses follow:

(I) A successful lesson.

(a) Teacher(self)/pupil related

Subject:- Human and Social Biology- Form 5

"There are several reasons why this lesson was so successful. The topic for discussion was drug abuse. This is a very interesting topic to everyone especially teenagers.... The pupils wanted to have their say on the topic. The manner in which the lesson was conducted was quite fitting. Pupils had to discuss the set questions in groups. The teacher let them discuss the questions without any interruption.... The teacher's seemingly passive role during the first part, (group discussion) gave the pupils freedom to say their views without feeling intimidated."

Subject:- English-Form 1

"The topic of that lesson was 'The future of English.' So, what made me to be really pleased with the lesson was that the students were very much involved in it. And also that they were able to answer questions satisfactorily. They seemed to be very much at ease. Another thing was that the lesson was not teacher-centred but rather there was communication which was interpersonal."

Subject:- Geography-Form- not stated.

"One lesson I think I was really pleased with is the one on the nine planets. This lesson was good because the pupils were finding it easy to learn the nine planets. The teacher used the pupils to teach the planets. Nine pupils were asked to come forward and stand in a line. The class arranged the pupils in order of 'smallest' to represent the smallest planet and `biggest' to represent the biggest planet. This also added some fun to the lesson and pupils were happy to contribute. The teacher asked them questions like `what's your name? How many moons do you have?'etc. By the end of the lesson, all pupils knew the order of the nine planets,... together with the number of moons each planet has. In conclusion one may say pupils learnt better because they were actively involved and there was a sense of humour in the lesson. The leadership was taken by pupils and thus they internalised the lesson. It was theirs rather than the teacher's."

(ii) An unsuccessful lesson.

Teacher(self)/Pupil-related.

Subject:- not disclosed.

"Teacher abandoned lesson. It was unsuccessful because lesson objectives not achieved, enemity between teacher and pupils may develop because of lack of respect between teacher and students. Students did not have manner of approach when asking not to have notes dictated and teacher was not considerate in that she did not take into consideration the time of day."

Subject:- Physics. Form- not indicated.

"An unsuccessful lesson was the physics lesson on the measurement of length using a micrometer screw gauge and a verkier calipers. This lesson was not a success because students were indiscipline. They acted as if they owned the school. The disorder stemed from the teacher first explaining that the equipment to be used was not available because another group was using it at the same time. It took me a long time before I could bring order to the class and redirect the students to what we were doing. Although the students seemed quiet and attentive after this, they could not answer the questions used to evaluate their understanding of the questions (subject matter). They could not even do correctly the exercise given as classwork. They could not ask any questions. I was very much discouraged."

Supervisor related

The students pointed out that sometimes they can tell that a lesson is a success or failure from the reaction of the supervisor before the lesson, during the lesson and then during our meeting at the end of the lesson.

A successful lesson

"He was pleased with the way I had prepared for the lesson. He told me that the lesson plan was well prepared and had all the necessary details. He was pleased with the resources I had prepared. The lesson was child-centered. They were engaged throughout the history lesson. He was pleased. By the time we went to class I was already sure that if I do everything according to my plan, I will win him. I gained confidence from the way he related to me."

A less successful lesson.

"Everything I had done in preparation for the lesson was wrong. I did not know what to do in class. Instead there were instances where there was silence in class, because I did not know what to do next. He kept on writing and never showed that he was interested in what was going on. He left the report and left before the end of the lesson. He is the type that come to identify mistakes and never praise one for good effort. I knew that the lesson was a flop.

 Other related causes.

Subject:- Human and Social biology-Form 5

"This lesson was a complete flop. The topic was,`The structure of the neurone.'The teacher had made all the necessary arrangements for the lesson the previous day. At assembly on the day in question the headmaster make terrible accusations about a colleague who had been forced to leave the school. The teacher was very upset.She tried talking in class but could not. The eyes filled with tears out of anger and frustration. Instead of presenting the prepared lesson she wrote questions on the topic which required the students to do some research. The questions written all came from the head." 

Subject and class not disclosed.

"This was the most unsuccessful and disappointing lesson or attempt at lesson giving. This was a 35 minutes lesson. This lesson was not successful due to two mainreasons. One, shortage of time. The lesson had been planned for 35 minutes when the assembly took ten minutes of the time. Two, the teacher himself spent most of the time talking in a way of introducing the lesson. Before the teacher became aware, time was over."

(iii) Reflection.

All student-teachers reported that they found the experience of reflecting on their teaching very useful for different reasons. Some are highlighted here:-

(1) It enabled the teacher to realise whether he has taught effectively or not.

(2) It enabled the teacher to think of a new way of teaching the lesson to get his desired objectives in case the previous lesson was a success.

(3) The experience of reflecting acted as a morale booster to a teacher who was convinced he had presented an effective lesson.

(4) It helped me understand better how students think and interprete things. I learnt that students can see through any pretense and they respect sincere teachers.

(5) It provided moments of carefully looking back into my lessons to see if my purpose was fulfilled.

DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, CONCLUSION.

The findings indicate that the reasons given for the success of a lesson were on the whole rational and mostly based on lesson preparation, the delivery of the lesson and the general classroom atmosphere. A few examples follow:-

"Pupils were actively involved."

"The teacher's seemingly passive role during the first part gave pupils freedom to say their views without feeling intimidated."

"The objective of the discussion had been made known to the students."

Most unsuccessful lessons were a result of poor or lack of thorough preparation. Nonetheless, very few student-teachers recognised and acknowledged this factor as such. One student wrote,

"When I went into the classroom with the foreknowledge that students in general like and do well in this chapter, I quickly read and discussed the examples in the book. Then I instructed students to do the work and told them that the work was easy in an attempt to both get them working and to justify the poor lesson treatment... As the teacher moved around the class checking and marking the work, he realised that only a few could cope with the quick explanation given in the beginning of the lesson, contrary to the impressions given about students' performance on the chapter"

The student concludes by making the admission,"In the final analysis, no work was done in the classroom mainly due to the teacher's overestimation of students' ability. This led to poor lesson preparation."

There were other reasons given for "unsuccessful" lessons. These were, to a large extent, irrational. For example, a student wrote the following comment, "Students were indiscipline. They acted as if they owned the school". The real problem during this Physics lesson was the lack of learning/teaching aids. The lesson topic was, "The measurement of length using a micrometer screw gauge and a vertical calipers," but the teacher

had not brought any of these to class. Another example of an irrational reason given was that, during a Geography lesson "pupils could not imagine the moon taking 28 days to make a complete rotation and also taking 28 days to complete a revolution."

A student who was not pleased with an English lesson on "Creative Writing Skills, made the following entry,

"I had introduced this lesson to students by giving (telling) them a number of compositions that one could write e.g. narrative or description. I went further to explain to them in depth what was expected in the different types of compositions. However, when I finally gave them different topics from which to choose and write a composition, things turned out differently. Students failed to write interesting compositions; they made a lot of grammatical mistakes; they failed to communicate clearly their message which I believe was a result of limited vocabulary".

Although the teacher is the one who didn't prepare the students effectively for writing a composition, she doesn't seem to realize that, and totally blames the students. No reteaching was done even though the teacher acknowledged that the lesson was unsuccessful.

Reasons for an unsuccessful lesson on "chemical weathering" were given as follows:-

"In their Junior Certificate, students are only taught the action of carbonic acid as the only chemical process of weathering. As a result, when their high school teacher started adding more processes of chemical erosion in his explanation they were surprised. The idea of water forming acids as a result of its reaction with minerals rocks contained in water was too abstract for students to comprehend."

Basically, the teacher blames students' lack of previous knowledge and fails to look at how he taught the lesson-which might have been ineffective.

The implication of these findings is that while student-teachers in this study were objective when reflecting on "successful" lessons, they tended to be irrational while reflecting on the "unsuccessful" lessons. Student-teachers must be encouraged to be more objective when reviewing their own lessons. They should look at their own performance and not always shift the blame for unsuccessful lessons to other factors.

In conclusion, this study out that factors related to a successful or unsuccessful lesson may be related to pupils, teacher(self), supervisor or other elements. It has also been found that while student-teachers were objective in identifying factors related to a successful lesson, they sometimes lacked that objectivity when identifying factors that resulted in a particular lesson being "unsuccessful."

 

REFERENCES

Bartlett, Leo (1990). Teacher development through reflective teaching. In Jack C.

Richards and David Nunan (eds.) Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Gore, Jennifer M.(1987). Reflecting on Reflective Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education. 38,(2) 33-39.

Killen, Lindsay Roy (1989). Reflecting on Reflective Teaching: A response. Journal of Teacher Education. 40 (2) 49-52.

Richards, Jack and Nunan, David (1990). Self-observation in Teacher Development. In Jack C. Richards and David Nunan (eds.) Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Roth, Robert A. (1989). Preparing the Reflective Practitioner: Transforming the Apprentice through the Dialectic. Journal of Teacher Education. 40 (2) 31-35.

Schon, D.A.(1983). The Reflective Practitioner. Basic Books, New York.

Smyth, John (1989). Developing and Sustaining Critical reflection in Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education. 40 (2) 2-8.

Weinstein, Carol S. (1989). Teacher Education Students' Preconceptions ofTeaching. Journal of Teacher Education. 40 (2) 53-60.

 

APPENDIX 1

THE ASSIGNMENT

University of Swaziland

Department of Curriculum and Teaching

EDC 100: Teaching: Principles and Practice

PGCE Full-time/Part-time

ASSIGNMENT 2:

INSTRUCTIONS: (i) Respond to all the parts of the assignment

(ii) Submit the Journal you were asked to keep during your teaching practice for assessment.

a) Why did you decide to become a teacher? (This question students were asked to answer before they went for teaching practice.

b) Select one lesson you think you were really pleased with. Describe what made this lesson good or better than the others.

c) Identify a lesson you think was not a success. What made this lesson less successful? What did you do to improve this lesson in your follow up lessons?

d) Was the experience of reflecting after your teaching helpful? Explain how it was helpful.

e) During your teaching practice, you made a number of observations in your journal about students, teachers, the headteacher, the school, and teaching.

i) What was the purpose of these observation?

ii) In what ways were these observations helpful in your teaching practice?

iii) Do you still want to be a teacher after our final teaching practice? Comment.

 

 

        

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