It has been a long while since I posted here… strange how days,weeks, and months quickly disappear…but I continue to think about the issue of reflective practice.  When I last posted, I was writing about ways to make reflection in action more explicit and obvious.  I am still thinking on that, not having come to a firm conclusion or resolution.  However, in the mean time, another idea has arisen.

Recently, I have been reading some things by R. Keith Sawyer about collaboration and improvisation.  At first glance, one assumes that improvisation is an open-ended, ill-structured situation.  Sawyers argues that there is a structure and form within domains of improvisation.  In Improv theatre, the actors share common understandings of themes and things like a narrative arc that become mediating tools that support their collaborative act.  Therefore, improvisation is not a free-for-all, letting each individual diverge down an independent path.  The form or structure arises from the shared knowledge of the participants. More important here is that the improvisation is a responsive activity in which participants must perceive, acknowledge, and act in response to the on-going storyline and the other actors.  This sounds in some form similar to my thinking about reflection in action.

However, as I think back on the premise of improvisation being based on shared knowledge and understanding, I wonder whether my relationship to reflection in action holds.  Or rather, whether it holds for novices.  Clearly an expert has knowledge and understanding that make reflection in action somewhat synonymous with improvisation.  But, novices do not always enter contexts with that level of knowledge.  Yet, I would maintain that they act in the context, in response to the feedback from the participants in that context.  Thus, the question is, can a novice improvise?  Furthermore, is it warranted to improvise based on limited knowledge?

Another issue that I am trying to resolve in correlating Improvisation and Reflection is the analogical reasoning that I used in prior posts.  That idea about reflection and refraction, based on scientific ideas and explanations, was productive in thinking about the activity.  However, with improvisation there is not a predictable outcome.  Physical science typically relies on the belief that causal reasoning is effective for explaining most phenomena in the world.  However, this notion of improvisation begins to crack open that analogy to reveal its limitations.  I guess this gives me more to consider.


The last few weeks I have been thinking about the distinction I made in my opening post about the difference between reflection ‘in action’ and ‘on action’.    One issue I keep thinking about is how to scaffold and support novice’s development of reflection ‘in action’.  Another, issue involves conceptualizing and operationalizing what it might be like to engage in Reflection In Action.   In a short essay like this it is challenging to fully develop these ideas.  However, I am going to start thinking about them here.

…an image to consider…
This week I had an experience teaching that became an object lesson in my thinking.  I am currently collaborating with a colleague on teaching a class.  Her section and mine have different content foci, but are both focused on pedagogy for future elementary teachers.  We decided to develop an integrated curriculum for our respective sections.  However, at times we combine both sections to enable interdisciplinary discussion of common issues.

This week an interesting thing happened.  My colleague was unable to attend class one day, but was available.  So we used a web-based videoconferencing tool to allow her to participate in and co-lead discussions, without being physically present.  The interesting thing related to this is that she could hear and speak to the students; while at the same time she and I could ‘talk’ via a text feature in a private conversation.  The outcome was that I engaged in thinking about my practice more explicitly, but also using semi-public speech (more on this below).  As a result, I was both talking with my colleague, an experienced other, about the learning experience and leading the learning experience for my students.  More important, my discussions with my colleague change my actions.

The next day, my colleague returned and we were again in the large group.  At one point in the class, we began verbally having these same kinds of reflection in action discussions while students worked in their presence.  It felt a little awkward.  The students surely heard our thoughts and words.  I began to wonder about what impact that had on the context and the experiences for all.

Given that little episode, I am again considering my ideas about reflection in action.  There are a couple of aspects of this instance that jump out to me as important.  First, one aspect relates to the notion of inner speech and how ‘reflection in action’ represents a sort of inner speech, but also potentially more.  The second aspect relates to the ways that when speaking with others, including experienced others, peers, and even less experienced others, we engage in a kind of dialogic activity that changes our understanding of ideas and events.  Hopefully, this leads to action.

Most people think of Vygotsky when we talk about the notion of inner speech.   The concept of inner speech is that we think through ideas and experiences using unspoken words, but engaging in a personal internal dialogue. This represents a kind of deeper or more sophisticated way of thinking about one’s experiences.  From the perspective of ‘reflection in action’ inner speech would seem to be a prerequisite to thinking about situations and acting in the instance based on our analysis.  After all, we are thinking about professional activity, not reflexive responses.  If I think about my instance of teaching with my colleague, my inner speech became the on-line chatting that she and I did concurrent with the learning experience.  However, that action of discussing the situation (via text) with her changed the speech to something different.

This moves me to think about Bahktin’s ideas about dialogism.  When we think through ideas and make them public, or in the instance described her semi-public, the act of taking inner speech and articulating it, challenges us to transform random thoughts into a discussion that is shared.  We articulate ideas in ways that we intend to communicate a meaning to the audience.  Furthermore, as dialogism suggests, that audience can respond and engage in a dialogue that can affect our thinking.    I identify this as semi-public, because in this case the dialogism occurred peripherally to the main dialogue (in the instance above, the class session).  This makes me think that reflection in action may be benefitted by semi-inner speech.

To close, I want to revisit a question that may have become implicit, how is reflection in action refraction?  How is that different than reflection?  I think back to my analogy with physical science.  A reflection attempts to re-present reality as close as possible.  However, refractions cause changes and as a result change outcomes.  In the instance I describe there are changes taking place through that discourse.  I would argue these are important, meaningful and substantive changes that positively affect action.  Thus, I am beginning to like this notion of refraction as it implies much for action as a result of reflection.

Next… I still need to think about how to make it happen for novices…

Reflecting and Refracting light

Reflecting and Refracting light

Reflections and Refractions: My first thoughts

What does it mean to reflect? What does it mean to refract? I took this picture  at Eno River State Park on January 1,2009. Often a day of reflection and projection for many people. But the picture attempts to capture both reflections and also refractions; an idea I hope to explore in this blog.

The terms mean different things, depending on the individual context in which the term is used. A good starting point is to think about the terms from the perspective of physical science. In the physical world, specifically when talking about light, the terms describe the behavior of light traveling through different media. But in other domains, especially those that consider professionalism, there is an alternate use of reflection. In teacher education, reflection has become a practice and an artifact that intends to develop reflective practitioners.

Reflection and Refraction – A brief physical science lesson.

With reflected light, we commonly think about mirrors which create virtual images of objects – most often our faces. A simple explanation is that reflects all that light and absorbs none (the absorbed light results in the colors that we see). In refraction, the light is bent when traveling through a medium. The common experience with this is a rainbow. Light traveling through droplets of water is refracted. The colors of white light (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet) travel at different speeds and are bent differently when refracted.

For more thorough explanations, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflection_(physics) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refraction.

Reflective Practice

I juxtapose the physical science ideas with the social science notion of reflective practice to consider what about the concept, actions, and products of reflective practice afford in terms of learning to teach. The concept arises from Schön’s ideas described in , Educating the Reflective Practitioner. I will not review all of Schön’s ideas, I assume most readers are familiar with the concept. I would like to consider some points. Schön talks about being able to “reflect on action” and “reflect in action”.  “Reflection on action” refers to thinking about actions and events after the fact.  While “reflection on action” is important, it should not be our final goal in preparing reflective practitioners. “Reflection in action” Schön  implicitly argues is a distinguishing feature of  professionals. It involves the ability to “reflect in action” and as a result reshape the outcomes of ongoing activities. What is done and how to novices learn to engage in “reflection on action”? The common response in teacher education is to have preservice teacher write ‘reflections’. Such written reflections are ultimately “reflections on action” and as products often fall short in my mind .

Using Reflection and Refraction to inform Reflective Practice

To explore this a bit further, let me think about the analogy between physical science and social science perspectives. Written reflections often attempt to produce mirror images of what happened in a situation. This has two problems. First, reflection of this sort fails to explore what happened in the context or situation that resulted in the image described. From the perspective of behavior of light, the reflection (the image of my face) is as much a result of reflected light as it is of the light absorbed by my face. In the context of describing the teaching experiences in a reflection, preservice teachers need to consider what is absorbed in the context and as a result, not included in the images that they portray in their reflections.  From the analogy of  mirrors and light, reflections are as much a product of the events that transpired and the factors that led to those events as the final outcome or description of the event.  Second, focusing on the notion of refraction, the majesty and beauty of a rainbow is a result of bent light. Light interacts with water particles in the air and is affected by the water.  I would argue that in teaching, similar events occur.  Examinations of teaching should consider the event of refraction to reveal the shades, colors, and hues of the context, actions, and participants.  These products are absent in the written reflection because the format and form of reflection creates linear re-presentations (like this post) of ideas and thoughts. An additional problem with reflections relates to Schön’s construct, “reflection in action” .  It is difficult to record and represent this kind of reflection in a written reflection. Written reflections reflect static instances, after the fact, failing to reveal a decision in action.  If we agree that this later kind of reflection is a hallmark of professionalism, it seems that teacher educators should learn more about about to develop and scaffold prospective teachers’ “reflection on action”.

note to the reader:

I can’t claim that this thinking is a result of my own insightful provocation. I was most moved by Lynn Fendler’s Educational Researcher article on Reflection. I highly recommend it and will list the full citation on the resources.