Over the last couple of years, reflection has become common parlance in our department, especially for writing instructors. How do we teach reflection in the classroom? How can I incorporate good reflective assignments in my course? How do we get our students to become more “reflective”?
In order to assist with student reflection in the core writing sequence, a number of resources have been made available to instructors (i.e., workshops, the WSU 3010 Guide, other blog updates on WSU Teaching (Jared’s post re: 1020 and Derek’s post re: 3010). What, perhaps, has been less emphasized up until this point has been our own teacher-reflection that can help to create productive classroom environments, and, hopefully, more dynamic, engaged student learning (see: Wendy’s post, Jule’s post, and Nicole’s post for some really cool examples).
I want to further open up the conversation about the value of teacher reflection by including some activities that I have found useful to help you reflect on your classroom practices.
1. Keep a Teaching Journal:
Many of you might already do something to this effect, but looking back on my time as a GTA, I wish I had been more disciplined in keeping a journal (especially now that I am working with the teaching circles!). At the end of every class period, jot down a few notes about what went really well and what turned out to be a total flop! We spend so much time trying to craft engaging and thought-provoking classroom activities, why not make sure that we remember for next semester which ones worked and which ones made our class turn against us (I personally have a few journal entries that have “NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!!!!!” next to one of my ‘brilliant’ activity ideas). You might go back next semester as you are preparing your schedule to bring in some of those useful classroom activities or re-develop some of those not-so-flattering activities. Our own 1020 Lecturer, Adrienne Jankens, recommends revising assignments right after the class has ended so that you aren’t scrambling to revise assignments the week before the start of a new semester!
Also, these notes can be really helpful to colleagues in the department who have never taught the course before (see #3 for how they might be used in a teaching circle).
2. Complete some of the reflective assignments you give to your students:
Not only complete them, but bring them to class every once in a while and include yourself in the reflective discussions. You might be surprised about what you find out if you really give your own assignments an honest go.
One of the exercises that I did in preparation for this post was to think about my strengths and weaknesses as an instructor — the original reflection called for my students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as a “writer.” What do I do in the classroom that really works for me and my students? (one-on-one office hours and “therapy days” made the top of my list) and what do I do that tends to make me look like a complete instructor newbie? (thinking of funny, relevant examples and drawing discourse community sketches on the board, which I purposefully do every semester anyways ‘cus I enjoy it!). And maybe as a challenge question: What should I try out next semester that I would usually be too nervous to do in the classroom? (for me it was Jeff Pruchnic’s “Thunderdome” class activity… which I am sad to say, I was always to nervous to try out!).
Think about how this might help you plan your next semester’s schedule. Maybe I’ll practice my whiteboard sketching over winter break. Maybe I’ll prep a few extra examples ahead of time next class period.
3. Join a Teaching Circle:
OK, this might be a bit of a plug, but joining a Teaching Circle can be really helpful for your own teacher-reflection. Both ENG 1020 and ENG 3010 have active circles right now that are doing cool things.
In fact, teacher-reflection is a core feature of the 3010 teaching circle. Every couple weeks members post a reflection on the 3010 TC blog that discusses how a certain activity went or how instructors are feeling about student writing and/or student attitudes. These posts are often responded to very quickly by other members of the teaching circle so that instructors can adapt their class sessions mid-semester, instead of waiting until next to change things up.
KEEP IN MIND, The teaching circles are really fantastic for all instructors: experienced instructors who want to discuss some of their strategies with others; instructors who haven’t taught a certain course and want to get some good feedback; instructors who have taught the course for years, but want to try a new approach (perhaps WAW or WAC!). Because each dynamic will be different based on who participates, the teaching circles can really be a great place to engage with your own teaching practices over several semesters as well. As you grow as an instructor, so too will your experiences in these circles.
These suggestions are just a few among many that can help us reflect and think deeper about our own teaching practices. And equally important, beyond just thinking about our own teaching practices, teacher-reflection also helps us to think about who we are as instructors and how we continue to grow as the semesters quickly pass us by.
What I think would be really cool to see are comments that talk about your own strategies for teacher-reflection. Share some of your own journal entries (if you do them), or share your own strengths and weaknesses that come out of suggestion #2. You can always come and join a teaching circle, but maybe, just for now, we can start a conversation here as well.
Joe Paszek is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. His research interests include Gay and Lesbian studies, Queer theory, and Composition history. He has taught ENG 1020 in the department for several years and is currently teaching ENG 3010 and is serving as a member of the inaugural ENG 3010 Teaching Circle.