Last week I wrote about reflection. It’s come out of an excellent article I’ve been reading on the subject provided to me by Dr. Wade Gilbert from Fresno State University. The article is a real boon in the area of reflection research. I’d seen it referenced many times in recent work on reflection that I’ve read. And now I’ve got myself a copy. It’s titled The Reflective Journal: A Window to Preservice Teachers’ Practical Knowledge by Dawn Francis who at the time of writing was at James Cook University of North Queensland in Australia.
I’ve been getting the players I’m coaching to try and engage in reflection but it’s not an easy process. Just saying to them buy a journal and then get writing isn’t enough. Reflection is a skill to be learned and many people have not had much or any practice at it as noted by the comment of this particular student teacher from Francis’ article:
“I find it difficult to write my personal thoughts. We have been trained not to do this. It took me a long time to learn to write as an academic and now I see no purpose in doing this (personal writing). If it is not for evaluation, why do it?”
Most of us were put through a system of education where there was one right answer to every question posed. It seems the same still holds true today. Therefore, what’s the sense of reflecting? You either know the right answer or your don’t. In fact, reflection in such a monolithic environment like school can actually lead to real (but also laughable) confusion as noted here by the comment of another student teacher from Francis’ article:
“I have so many questions and I know so little. I wish you would just tell me what to do so that when I’m in the school I can do the right thing. The more I write, the more questions come out and I still don’t have the right answer.”
I find that hilarious. Just tell me the right answer! I find such behaviour to be the prime affliction of 20th century education and its still bleeding its way into our current century. The notion of leaving an environment that is dedicated to learning feeling confused and lacking closure is not acceptable in they eyes of most learners. It seems to mean that you, the teacher or coach, have not done your job. You’re supposed to answer their questions, not give them more questions to think about.
And many teachers and coaches over the years have obliged as this student teacher from Francis’ article notes but also shows a real growth in appreciation of the power of reflection:
“I feel I’m really understanding when I am forced to write in my own words. We never get time to do this in the rest of the week. We’re always pressured to remember some theory that fits the lecturer’s view even when they say they are promoting critical thinking.”
I believe critical reflection is necessary to developing the skill of critical thinking. It’s hard to feel safe to express yourself and your thoughts when you’re wondering if what you might think is the right or wrong answer. And I believe that coaches can help develop that comfort in expression by taking on the more modern role of critical friend. Finding your own voice and using that for reflection is one thing. Hearing another’s and using that perspective for your own reflection is completely something else.
Yet the role of critical friend is much more than providing feedback. A student teacher from Francis’ article sums the role up beautifully:
“My first perception was that as a critical friend your job was to provide solutions. Instead, the critical friend should extend your thoughts so that you can reach your own solutions. Questioning and understanding your partner’s beliefs is vital to being a critical friend. The type of language you use is vital, especially in forming mediating questions directed at engaging thinking.”
I think it’s brilliant. We’re all so used to the coach creating the boundaries of truth but real meaningful learning comes from the coach blurring – even breaking – those boundaries forcing the learner to look deeper. Farther. To strain more. To question more. To think about what he/she knows and believes and in doing so, to learn.
Giving them the answer is the easy thing. It’s what many learners have been conditioned to ask for, look for or simply just wait for. Giving them the answer doesn’t prepare them for a real journey into understanding though.
The key to unlock the door to this journey? As the quote above states, it’s a meaningful question. Great coaches ask great questions. Their athletes can’t help but think and therefore engage actively in the process of exploration of the topic through that powerful question.
Now if only somebody could give me the “right answer” to asking great questions I’d be all set.
Next post Saturday, October 10th.