There are two sides to every coin, as an English idiom goes, and in my language we say the same thing about a medal (I am smiling as I am typing these words because it seems to be a nice topic for another blog post about these linguistic similarities and differences) I am still in my ‘reflective mode’ and eager to write and share ideas about using the Experiential Learning Cycle, or the ELC, when looking back on our teaching and training experiences. You can read more in my previous post.
My most recent post has questions and answers about using the reflective cycle, and this time I will continue the Q & A idea but will be looking at potential pros and cons, or advantages and disadvantages, or… both sides of the coins and medals.
What are the pros and cons of written reflection (as opposed to reflection in conversation?)
+ Writing, especially handwriting, calms strong feelings down and puts one’s thoughts in order (very true about me) It also gives extra time to basically select a moment to reflect in more depth, which is especially important right after the experience. You can also re-visit what you wrote later and perhaps have other (better!) ideas
? Might feel more time-consuming, and even boring, depending on a personal style
What are the pros and cons of private versus public/shared reflection?
+ I think it is probably more honest (you don’t have to worry about what the listeners will say or think about your ideas or feelings), and therefore, might go deeper.
? On the other hand, having someone simply listen to the description of what happened and adding a couple of questions to help you verbalize the experience can be tremendously helpful. Talking to someone who had observed the lesson you are talking about adds a bonus of hearing their perspective and their thoughts in the Analysis/Generalization parts of the ELC.
What are the pros and cons of immediate reflection over delayed reflection? (aka ‘ hot’ and ‘cold’)
+ If you are reflecting right after the lesson you remember many little details clearly and objectively* (*This word can hardly be used in the reflective process at all as our feelings ‘filter’ everything anyway). Reflecting later in time means forgetting more and more detail and even adding what you think happened.
? Having at least several hours or one night after the lesson was over gives a ‘fresh’ perspective on what was done and helps you see the lesson objectives achieved (or not) more clearly. This sometimes means selecting new moments to reflect on.
What are the pros and cons of reflecting on one’s own experience versus observing someone else and then taking it through the ELC?
+ This experience is yours, and you are learning by doing and then reflecting. ‘Involve me, and I will remember’ works equally well for language learners and their teachers, I think.
? Sometimes, when a teacher is starting to apply the ELC, it is easier to practice objective description on the lesson that is not yours; to detach, or divorce yourself from the feelings and emotions; to realize that the object of the reflection is not your personality but the lesson taught
What are the pros and cons of taking the same moment and looking at it through several lenses, for example, student interaction, use of materials, aim of this lesson stage, student engagement, level of challenge, etc.?
+ Using ‘more with less’ idea is helpful to deepen the reflective process and can be surprisingly rich and informative. Works especially well if the lesson was observed by peers, for example, and they can contribute.
? The other moments of a lesson are left without attention.
What are the pros and cons of reflecting on positive, or successful moments of a lesson taught?
+ Learning by doing can sometimes mean ‘fixing’ mistakes and improving what needs improvement. Doing something well might be taken for granted and … forgotten. Something we often talk about with teachers on a course is making sure that the fantastic ideas are nurtured, and repeated, and developed further. This makes us teachers unique,boosts our confidence, helps to like the job we are doing (which might be a challenge on some days!)
? As with any other extreme, focusing only on what works well can make us ‘blind’ to what does not work so well.
What are the pros and cons of reflecting on shared experience as opposed to completely new context? To make this question a little more clear: do we always need a group of people who know our context, the group of students we are working with, their language levels, background, etc. to be able to benefit from the reflection process?
+ Even observers who watched the lesson taught didn’t experience it in the same way as the teacher, so it is still an exchange of different points of view. Being present in the room (or watching a recording, which is somewhat different) also means connecting several moments of this lesson (sometimes what happened at the beginning of a class could impact a student later) and seeing a perspective.
? Having others to observe you means that selecting a moment to reflect might be influenced by the peer pressure (even if you trust the people who observe the lesson)
What are the pros and cons of reflecting on an experience that the others have not been a part of? As you see in our RP Descriptive Challenge the writers often gave a little bit more information about the subject of description, or if not, the readers asked questions to actually imagine what was happening.
+ Adds extra weight on the description part of the cycle and makes this experience more distant, and more objective. It is even more interesting to reflect with someone who is not working in ELT, for example, and whose questions and insights might be amazingly helpful.
? One challenge would be how to explain what your context is, who the students are, what the lesson objective is, etc. This perhaps makes the description a little more subjective than it already is.
What are the pros and cons of asking questions about reflecting?
This part is over to you! (as well as more comments and thoughts about the pros and cons above)
Looking forward to tossing those coins together!