As part of my ongoing professional development, I am enrolled in a post-graduate certificate program. The focus right now is on the role of reflection in teaching. As part of that focus I am reading about The Reflective Thinking Pyramid. In their book “Promoting Reflective Thinking in Teachers: 50 Action Strategies”, Taggart & Wilson discuss the three levels of reflective thinking.
Referred to as technical rationality (Taggart & Wilson, 2005) this first level of reflective thinking involves working with methods and theory to achieve a certain goal. At this level there is very little to connect the dots, as a teacher and an employee, so it is basically data gathering. Working with challenges involves getting through the technical details of the base. Lesson planning, instructional approach are some focus points (short-term measures) when applying reflective practice. Keeping the goal successful lesson delivery is of prime concern. Constant observation and monitoring is key to head towards solutions. Peer observations (either by coach or Principals) are designed to provide a major source of feedback at this level. Experimenting with solutions and clarity in student context is of ongoing importance.
In my initial years of teaching I think most of my default modes were set to technical. Without the needed experience (yet) of working out a wide range of problems, I functioned at the base mode by simply collecting data and reflecting purely on that small set of routine events. Classroom observations would involve getting feedback from heads/Principals on logistics of the lesson. Classroom management was highly reliant on the range and impact of activities. While I got plenty of useful feedback I still needed to dilute it in a way that made reflection work for me at the personal level.
This in some ways is an extension because it pushes technical reflection into areas of further knowledge. Focus is given to “underlying assumptions and predispositions of classroom practice” (Taggart & Wilson, 2005). Careful examination is conducted on the results of different teaching strategies implemented. The bridge between the theoretical and the practical starts to emerge at this level. While the technical level was mostly on the personal front (for the teacher), contextual level starts pushing the teacher into areas of personal beliefs and bias as the skill sets and experiences start to increase. The teacher starts to contextualizing things by going beyond mere data gathering to form opinions. This has shown to improve teaching practice. Working at this level helps teachers choose best practices for their own context. Coaches and heads should work with teachers in supporting their queries which are a direct result of their extended experiences.
The more I taught Computer Science the more I realized how the same thing – despite being rooted in factual data – can mean different things to different people. Working with my students, we slowly started to develop a dialog of technical knowledge which we used to analyze and confirm theories in CS. Constant interactions with my mentor was critical at this stage since I got lot of useful feedback which could be directly applied in the classroom. Relationships with students started playing a key role as we established strong norms for a developer community. We created some very unique solutions together in those years! Successful models started emerging each year, which I would then replenish with fresh perspectives to give a new batch more information to work with. IB Computer Science wasn’t the most resource-heavy course back then (I am talking of the 2000-2005 era) so lot of the knowledge bases came directly from our classrooms. I put together a strong and functioning virtual classroom environment which became a main portal of communication for our practices.
The highest level of reflection, the dialectical layer involves critical reflectivity (Taggart & Wilson, 2005). The zone here is focused on questioning the moral and ethical aspects of teaching practice. Teachers reflect deeply on lessons at this stage, weighing the political and ethical elements that it may present. Topics like equality, justice, emancipation etc. are carefully evaluated in planning curriculum. Devoid of personal bias, the teacher trains efforts on worth of knowledge for the student. Having open-ended discussions and the ability to view a discussion from a neutral point becomes a default. Classrooms should be extended to the society around while critically assessing the purpose and pragmatic nature of content being covered. The role of a mentor/coach/head becomes crucial at this stage as they assess the “worthiness of actions” and help in analyzing elements of the curriculum. Student benefit and teacher empowerment are the end goals for this level of reflective thinking.
The years I worked on building a tech curriculum for grades 9 and 10 (pre-DP), would be the time I would classify as dialectical. The focus was firmly on scope and sequence as me (and my department) put together the necessary critical pieces for kids to enter the diploma years completely prepared. Our meetings at the time ranged from evaluation of trends and alignment of pedagogy to address the big concerns from previous years. It was during this time too that we embarked upon introducing coding/programming as a bridge to get more students into the IB Computer Science program. The theory speaks of empowerment and student benefit, and our collective aims were going beyond the idea that technology was an external entity. Our philosophy to empower all users (students and teachers) was to view IT as a critical tool, a means, and not the outcome in itself. This enabled us to cover a vast range of software applications, hardware and mobile technologies. We incorporated ISTE standards into the curriculum (for students, teachers and admin) to further solidify our beliefs of how and what technology can do inside and outside the classroom. This level of reflective thinking laid the ground for all future innovation.