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Developing a reflective teaching practice

Our university is built on a commitment to using the power of discovery, creativity, and analytical thinking to solve challenges, including those we encounter in the process of teaching. While consulting the scholarship of teaching and learning is a good way to identify effective teaching strategies, the most important dimension of an effective teaching practice is reflection.

What is “reflective” teaching?

The American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey, considered reflection crucial to learning. As Dewey scholar, Carol Rodgers, notes, Dewey framed reflection as “a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking” that led to intellectual growth.

Because our students are so diverse and there’s so much variety in instructional contexts, good teaching requires instructors to observe, reflect upon, and adapt their teaching practice. In addition to identifying areas for improvement in your teaching, reflection is also core to an inclusive teaching practice.

Reflective practices

There are lots of ways to be thoughtful about your teaching, but here are a few for each point in the quarter.

Before the beginning of the quarter:

  • Reflect on your course goals. What do you want students to be able to do by the time they leave your course?
  • Reflect on your own mix of identities. How has privilege or oppression shaped your perspectives?
  • Reflect on how your discipline creates knowledge and decides what knowledge is valuable. How has this constrained what and how you teach?

During the quarter:

  • Keep a journal to briefly jot down your observations of student interactions and experiences in the classroom. Note things that are working and things you might want to change.
  • Get an outside perspective. Ask a colleague to come observe a class and your interactions with students and/or course materials.
  • Conduct a mid-quarter evaluation to gather information on how the course is going. Ask yourself what you can do to relieve the pain points that students identified in the evaluation.

At the end of the quarter:

  • Reflect on your course data. What do your gradebook and course evaluations indicate about what worked well and what didn’t work so well? What can you do to improve students’ performance?
  • Connect with a consultant to brainstorm ways to redesign assignments or improve your teaching practice.
  • Dig into the scholarship of teaching and learning to find ideas for how others have improved their teaching practice in a certain area.

Reflecting on your identities and position

Your teaching emerges from your educational background and training, as well as from your personal history and experience. Reflecting on how who you are and what you have experienced shapes your teaching can help you identify ways to better connect with your students.

Positionality and intersectionality

Positionality refers to the social, cultural, and political contexts – including systems of power and oppression – that shape our identities. Our positionalities influence how we approach course design, choose content, teach, and assess student work. Recognizing how your own positionality impacts your teaching can help you create a more inclusive classroom.

On one level, intersectionality refers to the ways that the multiple dimensions of our identity intersect to shape our experience. Black feminist scholars have stressed how social systems based on things such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability combine to create an interlocking system that privileges some and oppresses others.

Reflecting on your own positionality and the intersectional nature of your identity can help you think more intentionally about your content choices, the materials you assign to your students, and even how the different aspects of your students’ identities may affect their experience in your class.

Empowering students

The relationships that define learning environments are, unavoidably, imbued with power. As an instructor, you hold a position of authority, and a level of implicit institutional power – you determine the content of your course, create assignments, and grade those assignments. But when students have agency in their courses, they are more likely to be engaged and invested in their own learning. Reflecting on the power structures that define your classrooms may help you find ways to recalibrate or redistribute power so that students become more active agents in the creation of disciplinary knowledge, as well as in their own learning.

As you reflect, you might consider adopting one or more of following strategies for empowering your students:

  • Take on the role of a guide. Rather than aspiring to transmit information through lecture, consider ways to make students active participants and contributors in their learning. Develop student-driven activities and discussions that create constructive, cooperative learning environments that encourage students to learn together.
  • Consider flipping your classroom. Devote the time you spend with students to interaction and collaboration. Create videos focused on your lecture material that students can watch (and rewatch) as a homework activity.
  • Work with students to articulate community values and expectations. Consider building community agreements with students. Openly discuss how you will assess students’ work and allow students to ask questions and offer their own ideas for grading. A great way to get students involved in thinking about their own assessment is to co-create assessment rubrics.
  • Encourage students to share their own knowledge and expertise. Ask students to think about what they already know about a course topic and how your course can help them build upon that knowledge. Challenge students to think critically about why and how course material is relevant to their own lives.
  • Practice inclusive course design. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles can help make your teaching more inclusive and offer students more opportunities to engage and express their knowledge.