Reflective Practice in teaching: one Brock professor’s view


Dr. Thomas S. C. Farrell, a professor in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Brock University, has made a contribution to the professional TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) discussion in recent weeks. During the past 15 months, Dr. Farrell has been writing two new books and one edited edition, as well as speaking at several conferences. Both books and the edition he work on published only two weeks ago, all within a few days of each other.

Dr. Farrell has spent more than 35 years researching reflective practice in language teaching. His work and dedication to the topic were recognized last year when he was awarded the Ian Gordon Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship awarded to one leading scholar in the field of linguistics each year.

Each of Farrell’s three recent books relate in some way to the topic of reflective practice. The first, Research on Reflective Practice in TESOL, “outlines a comprehensive and detailed analysis of recent research on encouraging reflective practices in TESOL, and outlines how this practice has been embraced within TESOL and how it continues to impact the field.” The second book is entitled Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching. It looks at the roles of linguistic factors of an individual such as multilingualism and gender bias and how these relationships between language, individuals and society affect language teaching. The final book, edited by Farrell, is called, “Preservice Teacher Education.”

Preservice Teacher Education  provides insight on the disparity between theory-focused courses and actual classroom practice in TESOL and how language teacher educators responded through inclusion reflective practice in diverse contexts worldwide,” said Dr. Farrell.

Dr. Farrell believes reflective practice is important for a teacher in any classroom.

“Gaining teaching experience as a language teacher is not enough to provide automatic professional development, for we do not learn from experience as much as we learn from reflecting on that experience,” Farrell explains. Farrell describes reflective practice as critical analysis of teaching methods in order for teachers to become more aware of how they teach and the teaching practices they employ.

Although Farrell has studied the topic for nearly 40 years, he still engages in reflective practice in his own teaching. He focuses on ‘reflection-for-action,’ ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action.’ The first part of reflection involves thinking about his goals for the upcoming lecture: “. . . before I enter the class each day [I ask] myself what I want to achieve with this particular class today.” The reflection is focused and goal-oriented, and it is critical for the second and third parts of reflection. Farrell also uses ‘Reflection-in-action’:

“. . . while I am lecturing I try to monitor what is happening during the class so that I can adjust if necessary.” Having those specific goals from ‘reflection-for-action’ is integral for this step of reflection. Being able to adjust teaching methods according to class needs in order for the students to learn the material well is a vital skill for any teacher.

“All my lectures are interactive in that I try to involve the students regardless of the topic,” Farrell explains. Interaction from the students helps their teacher get a read on how the class is going and what they are or aren’t understanding. Finally, Farrell describes ‘reflection-on-action’: “After the class/lecture I always try to understand what just happened so that I can prepare for the next class.” This type of reflection is important for creating a sense of coherence across lectures, as well as for continually learning and adapting a teaching style to a particular class.

As a teacher of prospective ESL teachers, Farrell hopes to leave his students with at least a taste of reflective practice – both why it is important and how it can be implemented. Farrell is insistent on the relational, human aspect of teaching and it’s importance above being able to read a textbook.

“I think the most important lesson for my students (but for any future teachers of any subject matter) would be to remember that they are teaching students first and material second,” said Dr. Farrell. “Sometimes teachers are overly concerned with getting ‘through’ material without remembering that there are humans there trying to understand it.”

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