Reflection in Teacher Education (with Ben Beaumont)

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By Ross Thorburn and TEFL Training Institute. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Reflection in Teacher Education (with Ben Beaumont) - Transcript

Ross Thorburn: Hi, everyone. This week our guest is Ben Beaumont, TESOL qualifications manager at Trinity College, London. If you've done a qualification before, like the Trinity CertTESOL or the Trinity Diploma in TESOL, those qualifications are managed by Ben.

Ben in the past has also worked as a CELTA trainer and he's currently studying his doctorate into the effect of English medium of instruction on lecturers in higher education.

I spoke with Ben when he was in Shanghai recently, and we talked about teacher qualifications and reflection, reflective practice, reflexive practice, and how trainers can encourage those skills in their trainees.

Ross: I thought I could start off by asking about teacher qualifications, because...

Ben Beaumont: What I do think?

Ross: Yeah. What's been your personal experience with doing teacher qualifications?

Ben: They've helped me a lot. My undergraduate degree was in English Language and Linguistics, so I learned about phonetics and phonology, and that led me to having an interest in teaching.

I went out to Japan for two years. I was an unqualified teacher working as an assistant English language teacher at a senior high school in Japan.

I didn't have any qualifications, but I did have subject knowledge, and I noticed I was lacking in a skill. Then, when I went back to the UK and did my CertTESOL, I learned what I was missing.

There were skills that a teacher has that someone who isn't a teacher doesn't have. The course enabled me to learn those skills. I then thought I was a good teacher. I had some skills, and I had some subject knowledge.

I taught for a couple of years. I then went on to do my Delta. I thought I was a good teacher. That showed me that I wasn't actually a good teacher.

By doing the qualification, I learned more about what I should be doing. I know "should" is a difficult word, but it enabled me to analyze mine and others' teaching, which had a cyclical effect of just making me better and better and better as a teacher.

It was a case of "You're teaching like this. Think about it. How does it work with the class you're teaching?" It made me be quite evaluative and reflective on my teaching, which then in turn made me better.

Ross: Do you want to talk a bit more about those skills to reflect? What are they, and how does a trainer help a teacher getting those skills? Because it does seem to be almost more like a personality characteristic, isn't it?

You're a reflective person, rather than maybe a specific skill that you might think people can learn.

Ben: Some might say if you're more introverted or extroverted, as to whether or not you think more about yourself or other people, and so on. Some people have more of a natural aptitude at it than others, but I think it is something that can be learnt, because I wasn't very good at it. Now I am, I would like to think, fairly good at it.

There's definitely a piece about self-awareness, and I think there's a piece about maturity there as well. The more self-aware you are in relation to your context and your fellow human beings, I think that helps.

There are of course loads of different models that you can follow to be reflective. Kolb's reflective cycle. It's a very concrete experience. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Change it for next time. Gibbs, he talks about adding in an emotional element.

There's Brookfield's four lenses, where you look at yourself from your own point of view, from a colleague's point of view, from your students' point of view, and from a theoretical literature point of view. Think, "If my colleague was watching this lesson, what would they think?"

Or, "If I was that student, student X, how would they look at my lesson?" Or, "If I was Bruner or Vygotsky watching this, how would they look at my lesson through a constructivist lens?" Doing those activities, it helps you become more aware of how different people will see doing different things.

I think raises that self-awareness which makes you think, "Actually, I thought that was a really good lesson, but then X student probably thought it was a rubbish lesson. Then somebody else probably thought it was an even better lesson and the best lesson they ever saw."

It's all very subjective, and you start to appreciate the subjectivity. I think yes, some people are like that naturally, but it can be encouraged through using different models of reflection or simply by Socratic method. Just by asking questions.

At a CertTESOL CELTA level, that's what happens on the reflection form at the end of a teaching session. What went wrong? What went well? What didn't go well? What do you plan to do next time? Those questions. Those questions are mirroring the Kolb or Gibbs level of reflection.

The TESOL delta level, hopefully you're going through something a bit more, bringing in emotional elements. You're bringing in theoretical elements. It's up to the trainer very much to guide the trainee, the course participant.

Just as you can't expect anyone to know something they haven't been taught, it's imperative and inherent in the role of the trainer to be able to ask the types of questions which follow the kind of models of Brookfield or whoever to guide the course participant, the teacher to make that reflection.

Ross: Is that kind of Vygotsky type thing, where the trainees can't quite get there themselves, but the trainer is asking these questions and pushing the person a bit beyond that.

Ben: Absolutely. You've mentioned Vygotsky, you got the ZPD, the Zone of Proximal Development, and where the teacher is, or the learner, whoever it is, and you need to help them move on. Or you might, you're on this scaffolding.

What questions do we ask to scaffold that learning, to make it move to this, where you are now, plus one? If you ask a question which is too high, then of course, let's say a plus two type question, intelligence plus two, then whoever it is -- the teacher, the learner -- isn't going to get there.

Ross: You're moving them beyond the zone of proximal [inaudible 6:38]. It's too far.

Ben: Exactly, and it's a really important skill for a trainer to be able to develop. You said in another conversation we had earlier, if you could have one sentence about teaching, it would be...actually, tell me what it was.

Ross: [laughs] I think it was like ascertain where the learner is and teach them accordingly, something like that.

Ben: Exactly, and it's the same thing for the trainer. Find out where the teacher is, and train them accordingly. For some, they'll be at a basic level of Kolb or Gibbs reflective cycle, and some might be at a much deeper level and able to understand reflexive practice instead of reflective practice, and that's why you can push them that far.

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Ross: Did you want to talk about that, and a bit about going through that reflection, how does that then impact maybe the teachers' thought processes when they're in the class?

Ben: I think teachers know, when they're teaching, and I think you were alluding a bit to Schon, I guess, reflection in action and reflection on action. When you're in a class and you know that something is going well or not going well and you have that horrible feeling inside when a class or an activity isn't going well, and you just want it to stop.

Or you just want to change it, but you don't know how to change it. If you can change it and make an intervention, brilliant, why we call it reflection in action. You think, "OK, this has gone wrong. I'm going to do it now and change it."

Whereas after the class, it might take a bit of time to think about it, discuss it, under a Socratic dialogue model, talk about it with a colleague, with a peer, with a knowing other. Then reflect on what happened and think about, "Well, next time, how can I change that?"

Ross: How do those two interact? Is it a case of you ideally want people to be the reflecting in action, where they're able to solve the problems in real time, and the reflection on action is, "Well, how did I not manage to make that happen?" Or is it more complex than that?

Ben: It's probably more complex. I know that the thinking about Schon's reflection in action and on action, there's some debate about exactly what is "in action," and what is "on action."

It's perhaps saying that in action is when it happens, and on action is afterwards, is perhaps a little simplistic. For the purposes of discussion, I think it's OK to talk about it like that.

Yes, we do want teachers to be able to reflect in action, but there are some times there's just not the cognitive processing ability of the teacher to be able to do that.

To give an example, when a student asks you a tricky question and says, "Teacher, why do we say X, Y, Z?" First thing you say as a teacher is, "Good question."

Ross: [laughs] Ask me after class.

Ben: "Ask me after class." One technique. The other one is, "Good question," and you pause. "Let's just get some examples on the board." You say good question. Why do you say good question? Why do you say let's get some examples on the board?

You turn to the board, and you start to write some examples. The students give you examples, you write them on the board. When I'm at the board, I'm no longer looking at the students. I no longer have 10 pairs of eyes staring at me, waiting for an answer.

I'm at the board and I'm just writing. Whereas my mind is furiously processing something and coming up with the answer to answer the student's question. I just need that time to think. When you're in a classroom, sometimes you don't have that time to think.

You're standing in front of a group of 10, 20, 30 people. They're all looking at you wanting an answer, and you're trying to arrange a class, arrange your activities, think about what's next, think about what happened, how to respond. There isn't that cognitive ability to process it all.

Sometimes we need to make the cognitive space. Cognitive breathing room, we might say, in order to reflect in action. Sometimes it's just not possible. Where it's not possible, then we might do it afterwards. It might be reflection on action, when you have that space to think about it.

Ross: In terms of getting teachers to reflect in action, I've sometimes heard about trainers doing things in the class, while the teacher is teaching, to prompt the teacher maybe to do something.

You're echoing, or look at the student in the back row, their clothes are on fire, or whatever it is. What do you think about that? Is that something in action? Is that something that trainers can prompt teachers to do, or is it...?

Ben: I think that depends very much on what the trainer believes is an effective training method. Some trainers like to have a fourth wall, to borrow from the theater stage expression, where you go to the theater, action takes place on the stage, you pretend the audiences isn't there.

Similar kind of thing. In a classroom, you're teaching the class, but then behind, off the stage, you've got the trainer watching. You pretend they're not there, but actually they are there, so this pretend situation. Is it a pretend situation that the observer, the assessor, whatever, is at the back, not interacting, or do they...How much do they lend a hand?

I've heard of classes where a trainer will get up, tell the teacher to re-instruct, in a live class. There are problems with that. I have big issues with that, because I think that removes the autonomy, the power of the teacher. But it depends on the needs of the teacher or the trainee.

I've had a situation where a trainee has just frozen in front of a class and I've had to take over for them while they recover and just get their stuff back together, and then they can carry on.

Except in those serious situations, I'd probably say try not to be overly interventionalist. You've got to respect the teacher's role in front of the class. You don't want them to lose the trust of the students. However, saying that, you also don't want them to do rubbish stuff. It's a balancing act.

Ross: You have two sets of learners, don't you? There's the students. You don't want them to have an awful experience, which means that you want the teaching to be good. But also, the teacher's a learner. You don't want to impact on their learning experience.

Ben: Indeed. Just as we might say with a student, if there's some kind of discussion and the student makes an error, do you stop them straightaway mid-discussion and say, "You've made an error. Fix this." Or, "You've made the error, what's the right thing?" You've interrupted that natural flow of dialogue.

Then, they start again. You say, "Oh no, you've made another error. You've made another error." Slowly, what you're doing is preventing that learner from being fluent. They stop and they hesitate, and they look at you, "Am I doing it right? Am I not doing it right?" They lose the fluency, the confidence in being able to speak.

I believe that's very much the same way for the teacher. You keep interrupting the teacher and saying that, "You've done it wrong, do it this way. You've done it wrong, do it this way." The teacher is always going to be trying to second-guess the trainer at the back of the room. They're going to lose their fluency of teaching. They're not going to have that confidence.

Teaching, like speaking, requires a great deal of confidence to carry it through and help the students. Of course, it does depend on the role of that person, that trainer or assessor at the back of the room. Is the person there for evaluation? Are they there for guidance or support?

The role of the trainer at the back of the room will very much depend on the type of interventions they have with the teacher, if any.

If there is going to be some intervention, that should be made absolutely clear with the teacher, beforehand, so the teacher knows, "OK, this trainer is going to interrupt if they think there's something bad." Then they know it's not going to be a problem.

Ross: Once again, that was Ben Beaumont, TESOL qualifications manager at Trinity College, London. Hope you enjoyed the show, and see you again next time.

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