Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 15, No. 4, November 2011, 517–531
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article explores the challenges experienced by teacher educators promoting reflective practice in a large group setting, using reflective verbalisation as an organising framework.
This study undertaken in a university in the Republic of Ireland.
Motivated by the concern to embed reflective tendencies within student teachers’ broader approach towards teaching, the researcher with a colleague decided to bring together the core principles of two modules for which they were each solely responsible.
The module ran over two 12-week semesters for one hour each week (24 hours in total). Students were given an outline of the content of the module during the first lecture and were introduced to the concept of reflective practice.
Data were generated via a self-completion questionnaire.
The findings suggest a number of challenges with reference to using reflective verbalization as a framework to promote reflective practice in a large group setting.
One of the key elements working in large group settings and in using such a framework is building trust among the group, creating situations where learners are able to make their own meanings and respecting the boundaries in terms of the personal domains of learners.
The use of reflective verbalisation in this context achieved some of those objectives.
The findings reveal that the participants indicated that their experience of the module enabled them to use a reflective approach to new situations which arose in their classrooms.
In addition, the participants indicated that the module had facilitated their capacity to reflect on and develop their own ideas about teaching and curriculum.
However, participants were less happy with the use of the reflective practice sheets, where they were required to think about their own classroom contexts, and explain, justify and evaluate their own perspectives.
Participants did not feel that the module allowed them to explore with staff and fellow students specific curricular and/or classroom issues which they were experiencing in the practicum. While the purpose of using the framework was to give participants the opportunity to discuss their experiences in the classroom, participants did not feel that the teaching staff understood the difficulties that individual student teachers might be experiencing in the practicum.
Furthermore, the respondents were generally positive about the quality of the environment in which the module was delivered, though they rated it less highly than the reflective practice aspect of the module.
They liked the fact that student ideas and suggestions were encouraged during lectures; they felt part of a group of students and staff committed to learning and they developed the capacity to value perspectives other than their own.
The study highlighted additional challenges in relation to the promotion of reflective verbalisation, namely gender.
Males expressed less satisfaction with the reflective orientation of the module compared with females.
In relation to specific aspects of the educational environment, males indicated that they were less satisfied with the overall quality of the module.
However, no age differences emerged in the study in relation to the educational environment.
Teacher educators when designing such approaches should consider carefully the impact that the practicum has on student teacher thinking.
Equally, it is important for teacher educators to be aware of the fact that moving student teachers beyond simple think-aloud verbalisations to a more reflective analysis is challenging.
Furthermore, the issue of age in large lecture settings is a further area under-researched in the literature and an issue which raises questions with reference to the promotion of reflective practice within large lecture settings.
The author concludes that the findings of this study indicate clearly that the promotion of reflection within large group teaching settings is possible, given the existence of a number of variables.
An interactive teaching and learning environment which is student centred and built on a sense of trust were critical factors in the promotion of reflection within this particular study. They were also critical in counteracting the more negative factors, which students often associated with a large lecture setting.