Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Reflection

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

I’m a reflective guy.

Seriously.

I journal. I blog. I seek peer advice. I seek learner advice. I even took a job teaching at a school where reflection is one of the core values.

If I were any more reflective, people would wear me whilst biking at night.

When I looked at my last few assignments for this first grad school class, and saw they were all about reflections, I was, in a word, giddy.

Then, I read the assignment descriptions.

For the assignment titled “Course Reflection,” here’s what was asked for:

The purpose of the Course Reflection is to give you the opportunity to reflect on what you have learned in a specific instructional block and how this knowledge relates to the core propositions. The reflection is written in narrative form with all the conventions of English language. It is a personal document you are willing to share with others.

The reflection summary has distinct sections in which you provide different information. The first section is a reflection on how you applied the most important topic/issues presented in the instructional block.

The second part is a reflection on your personal growth. The emphasis should be on application of knowledge you have experienced as a result of what you have learned in a particular block. This is the most personal part of the reflection. You might discuss application of knowledge to your classroom or a change in your philosophy.

The “core propositions” referred to in the first graf are the props set forth by the National Board. They drive our program. I kept waiting in the course for the chance to discuss and debate the propositions. If it’s what we’re working toward as the goal, we should, perhaps, think about them rather than accept them as though handed to us from the mount on stone tablets.

(No offense meant to the National Board. BTW, nice mount.)

As a reflective assignment, not bad. Really.

I mean, it was due a week before the end of the course, but I’m sure they didn’t really want us to reflect on the whole course.

The rubric was a little odd:

The course reflection exhibits clear, concise, thoughtful, and substantive evidence of the learner’s professional growth, with superior and insightful articulation of expectations or evidence of improved teaching and learning in the classroom.

Sounds good at the face value. My learning, though, wasn’t due to the content of the course or the teaching. The bulk of my learning took place in my thinking about the structure, delivery and pedagogy of the course itself. I’m a better teacher because I looked at the course as a case study.

Because of the tone set within the course, though, I couldn’t say as much. I said what they wanted to hear.
I’ve received no authentic sign that Educational Specialist was worried about my learning or teaching. Assigning work that asks questions about my learning and teaching, yes. Actually curious as to how to improve my practice, no.

You’d think one reflective assignment would be enough. Silly.

The last assignment of the course was a reflection on the learning surrounding the inquiry-based project we’ve been working on throughout the module.

A little sidenote on the project for those of you playing at home. The project is designed for the course when it’s taught during a school year and the learners in the course are, you know, teaching. For the summer session, we pretended. Not quite the same.

In the “Helpful Hints” doc we were given, ES stated:

Using the Reflective Self-Assessment section for each lesson plan, analyze more completely what might be successful and what might not, if and how you might accomplish your goals and objectives, and if you think your implementation plan will help you resolve your problem statement.

Some mental gymnastics there, no?

The guiding questions were a little silly as well:

  1. How were my goals and objectives met?
  2. What were my “aha!” moments and/or successes?
  3. What did not go well and/or was not as successful as I had hoped?
  4. What needs improvement?
  5. What would I do differently next time?
  6. What will I do again?
  7. What were the key concepts I learned?
  8. What did others see that I did not or could not and how will I use that
  9. intelligence to continue to refine and improve my teaching?
  10. What did I learn about my own teaching?

Number 5 was certainly the easiest: Next time, I would probably put all of this into practice rather than teaching it hypothetically.

Again, that’s not what I wrote. I wrote what they wanted to see.

One more thing about what they wanted to see.

In the second half of this second course reflection, we were asked for more references:

  • Include a complete reference list of all the resources you used for the entire inquiry project.
  • Follow the guidelines found in the most current edition of the American Psychological Association (APA) format and style manual.  Please put the original 15 sources at the beginning of this section then add the additional sources after the 15 original sources.
  • MINIMUM 22 sources.  15 sources from Assignment # 1 and 7 new sources. The 7 new sources should be 5 from our class material and 2 OTHER.

I don’t know why.

The part that positively made my head explode happened in the final bullet point. Seven more sources? I mean, I like prime numbers as much as anyone, but, why? For the final assignment of the course – a reflective piece – we’re to manifest 7 new references for work that was already done? What’s the reasoning for the 5-2 split? And adhere to APA style, but post the most recent sources at the bottom?

I’m not given to conjecture often, but my guess would be that this new ordering process is so ES can count sources. I mean, I’ll do it, but, why?

Reflective work from learners can provide some intensely rich feedback for the teaching of a course and any corrections that might need be made. We’ve actually read quite a bit about this as part of our studies in the course.

This isn’t effective reflection. Absent a safe and open learning environment, reflection has become another version of, “What does the teacher want to hear?”

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

8 thoughts on “Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Reflection

  1. I admire you for pursuing a master's degree, but at the same time I feel sorry that's you're not finding it more useful. As I talk to more people and hear about experiences like yours, I'm convinced that the only place where master's degree programs are easily compared is how they're rewarded on the typical teacher's salary schedule.Your reflections for class might be an exercise in hoop-jumping, but I enjoy seeing them here. Good luck with the rest of the program and finding your 22 sources. (Anyone else thinking about “pieces of flair” from Office Space?)

    • Pieces of flair is exactly the right parallel to invoke here!I'm not certain I'm with you on the idea of master's comparison finding a common denominator in salary schedule. While the only people I've had comment on here have been those who worked their way through a similar experience, I've got to believe many people out there truly appreciated their experiences, but aren't commenting because that's the nature of commenting.I also need to believe numerous positive experiences exist because I can't believe we're doing it wrong everywhere. At this point, I wish we weren't doing it wrong in quite so many places either.Thanks for your comment!

      • Maybe there isn't a spectrum of master's ed programs, but I do think of them as two groups. The first is the hoop-jumping, usually less engaging and rigorous program that you seem to have been describing. This seems more common with online programs and I've worked with teachers who completed such programs to move up the salary schedule, sometimes secretly dividing up the work amongst several teachers but submitting it as if they were working independently. Even though they were afraid of getting caught, they never were and they didn't seem to mind the lack of quality in their program.Thankfully, I spent the last year in what I felt to be a wonderful master's program at CU-Boulder. The professors were top notch, readings were relevant, the discussions were engaging, and the assignments were, for the most part, useful reflections of our perspectives and understandings. Perhaps best of all, most of my classmates felt the same way and our engagements with each other were some of the best parts of the experience. I had the luxury of not teaching, so I took enough courses to be able to finish in four semesters. A number of my classmates were just taking a class at a time (with several crammed into each summer) so they could finish in 3 or 4 years. Did the program take more than 14 months? Was it expensive? Was it time-consuming? Was class attendance and participation mandatory? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.Occasionally there were mismatches. Just as I think you would have felt more at home in my classes, I had a few classmates who would occasionally mention, “I can't wait for this to be over so I can get my raise and not be so busy.” My comment about the salary schedule was a recognition that two teachers in the same school, one in the best master's program and the other in the worst, will be equally rewarded by the salary schedule. I don't know if there's a cause or solution to be found, but that does seem to be a disincentive for teachers to opt for more rigorous (and sometimes more expensive) programs. Of course, geographic proximity and enrollment caps are also barriers keeping teachers out of the programs that might fit them best.

  2. Pingback: Stop talking about classrooms that don’t work

  3. I do wear you when I bike at night. Oh, wait, that's creepy. I have been a part of designing reflections at the end of courses for online professional development and I believe that only a few have really actually asked participants to reflect.While I do not believe that this entire exercise was futile, but it begs the question for me: What are teachers doing who are not reflective all of the time?What are you doing if you aren't constantly asking yourself about whether or not what you are learning is making you a better teacher?What are you doing if you aren't constantly trying to figure out how to improve?What are you doing if you aren't constantly developing new “aha moments” out of ones that you have previously had.To me, doing it wrong means assuming the wrong things. They assume you don't know how to learn in this activity or at least that you need an immense amount of help with citing how much you learned. They assume you don't blog or journal or do any of the other sustaining activities that are almost required of a modern teacher. Here is what I believe a reflective assignment could (and should) be for such an online class: Prove what you learned by show and tell. Show me the reflections you have already done. Tell me about the conversations you have already had. Point to the space in the community that you created out of what we learned in this course.

  4. I do wear you when I bike at night. Oh, wait, that's creepy. I have been a part of designing reflections at the end of courses for online professional development and I believe that only a few have really actually asked participants to reflect.While I do not believe that this entire exercise was futile, but it begs the question for me: What are teachers doing who are not reflective all of the time?What are you doing if you aren't constantly asking yourself about whether or not what you are learning is making you a better teacher?What are you doing if you aren't constantly trying to figure out how to improve?What are you doing if you aren't constantly developing new “aha moments” out of ones that you have previously had.To me, doing it wrong means assuming the wrong things. They assume you don't know how to learn in this activity or at least that you need an immense amount of help with citing how much you learned. They assume you don't blog or journal or do any of the other sustaining activities that are almost required of a modern teacher. Here is what I believe a reflective assignment could (and should) be for such an online class: Prove what you learned by show and tell. Show me the reflections you have already done. Tell me about the conversations you have already had. Point to the space in the community that you created out of what we learned in this course.

  5. Pingback: Leading From The Heart » Blog Archive » Looking Back: Stop talking about classrooms that don’t work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *