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Self Reflection: The Path to Improvement

instructions participation professional development reflection stt ttt wait time Oct 18, 2021

We put so much time and effort into preparing for our lessons but we can sometimes forget about an equally important part of teaching – reflection. But what is it? Self-reflection is the process of evaluating a lesson you just taught. When you practice self-reflection after a lesson, you think about everything that went into that class and everything that happened during it. As teachers, we often focus on our students’ behaviour and we say things like “he doesn’t talk as much as I would like”, “she usually makes the same mistakes”, “my students never follow my instructions”, etc. Through self-reflection though, we focus on our own actions as teachers and ask “What can I do to encourage him to talk more in class?”, “How can I guide my student to correct her own mistakes?” or “How can I make sure that my teaching is clear so that my students make fewer mistakes?”, and “What am I doing that confuses my students when I give instructions?”. Self-reflection gives us an opportunity to think about how we may be causing confusion in the classroom, choosing materials that are too advanced for our students, speaking too much, or dominating the classroom. After your next class, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions and write detailed answers for each.

Questions to ask yourself when you reflect on a lesson:

1. Was the target language level appropriate for my students? (Think: Did they struggle throughout the lesson? Did the lesson go faster than expected?). We can expect that when we present new language in class, it will take students a bit of time to really grasp it and use it. We’re looking for some mistakes along the way (that’s just the reality of learning) but not a level of difficulty that persists throughout the lesson so much that our students finish the class frustrated or demotivated. We also don’t want our students to breeze through everything we present. This is a classic sign that we haven’t actually introduced any new vocabulary but instead reviewed language our students already know and have mastered.

2. Was there enough (or too much) new information presented in the lesson? (Think: Did the lesson take much longer or shorter than I expected?). If you planned to teach a 60-minute class and you were only able to get through half (or even less than half) of the material in that time, it’s likely safe to say that you bit off more than you (and your students) could chew. Conversely, if you planned a 60-minute lesson and your students were finished after 30 or 40 minutes, it could be a sign that there wasn’t enough material to cover, the material was too easy, or that they weren’t given enough practice.

3. How much did my students participate? Could I have done more to involve them? (Think: Did my students look engaged or were they aloof during class?). An important thing to consider when it comes to participation is that many students need (or want) to hear their name when a question is posed. Asking questions to the class without selecting a specific student to respond leaves everyone’s lips zipped. This creates an environment for chatty students to always be the ones to respond while your more reserved students fade into the background. Remember to call on specific students to answer questions, being sure to give everyone a chance throughout class to take a stab at your questions. A big smile from the teacher doesn’t hurt either!

4. How successful were my activities and instructions? What could be changed for next time? (Think: Were my students confused by any of the activities? Did they complete the activities successfully? Did I have to intervene or reiterate instructions part-way through an activity?). If students struggle during an activity, it’s never their fault. As teachers, we carry the responsibility of setting up our students for success at every step of their learning. If students struggle during an activity, it indicates that either we didn’t teach the material leading up to the activity very well, we didn’t provide clear instructions, or we chose activities that were too complex for the stage of the lesson we attempted the activity. Next time, be sure that your students have understood the material you’ve presented (use those concept checking questions generously!) and take your time when you give instructions and use instruction checking questions to be sure your students have understood the task.

5. Did I allow my students enough time and silence to share their comments and questions? What’s the evidence? How can this be improved if necessary? (Think: How much did I hear my students speak? How often did I answer a question for my students because they didn’t?). Many new teachers struggle to refrain from filling in moments of silence during class or to provide enough wait time for students. If your voice was the dominating one in the lesson, that’s no good! While it could be argued that your voice gives your students extra English exposure, that exposure means nothing if they can’t understand your words. The classroom, to your students, is a safe space to practice speaking English. English class is often their only opportunity to really practice and feel safe in making mistakes so please, give them the time and space to speak and practice. If you need help with your instinct to fill the silence, count slowly, and silently, to 4 (one potato, two potato, three potato, four potato) after you’ve asked your student/s a question before you say something more. Smiling while you wait for your students to answer is also a really helpful way to help your students feel comfortable in taking their time to respond. Remember, to respond to your questions, students need to first understand your words, then search their minds for the answer, then recall the English word(s) and finally have the courage to speak up. All of that takes some time.

6. How did I feel during the lesson? (Think: Was I focused? Calm? Anxious?). Way back when I started teaching, I was nervous all the time! I’d click those whiteboard marker caps on and off just to direct my extra energy somewhere. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to video record one of my lessons that I realized how distracting my fidgeting was! If this is you and you’re feeling nervous before a lesson, take a few slow deep breaths before your lesson and sit down on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Give yourself time before class to review your lesson plan and be sure to prepare alternate examples/explanations/images to define your target language in case there are some tricky ones. You might also choose to do a practice run-through of your lesson before the big day so that you can have a chance to build up some confidence. During class, remind yourself to BREATHE and take your time. Smile, and remember that rushing just makes learning (and teaching) more complicated and stressful. The goal in class is to feel confident, engaged, and attentive while also feeling calm.

7. Were there moments of confusion? What happened? What did I do to cause the confusion? How could I do better next time? (Think: Did it take longer than expected for my students to grasp a concept? Was there confusion surrounding an activity?). It’s important to look back at those moments and really reflect on your (the teacher’s) actions leading up to and during the moment of confusion. How did the confusion arise? Did I rush through things? Did I check to make sure my students demonstrated their understanding before moving on? Did I give complicated instructions? Really pinpoint the things you did to cause the confusion and brainstorm some ways to avoid or remedy these situations in the future.

8. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being “my best lesson ever!”), how successful was that lesson? How do I know? What areas can I improve? (Think: Did my students meet the lesson objectives? Was I impressed or happy with my students’ performance in class? Do I feel positive? Discouraged?). Alright, let’s be real, if your lesson was a success, you should have a long list of positive moments (or proof of success) from your lesson. You should be able to say things like “My students did so well with correcting their own or each other’s errors!”, “They spoke so much today and didn’t want class to end!”, “My students looked really happy, took notes, and really did such a great job with those activities!”, “I feel so good about that lesson and I know they are ready to learn more next time”, etc., etc. It’s okay if your lesson wasn’t a perfect 10, that’s not what we’re going for when we reflect on our lessons. We’re looking for honesty in our areas for improvement and as long as we teachers can do that after every lesson, we’ll get that perfect 10 type of class feeling before long.

After you reflect on your class, try to identify ONE area for improvement to focus on during your next lesson. This process isn’t about fixing everything at once, take it step by step, just like your students do each time they come to class. Conduct the same evaluation process and keep at it! You’ll notice that those areas for improvement, over time, have changed from your weaknesses to your most valuable skills as a teacher. Use the reflection worksheet to record your thoughts and plan for improvement.

Time to reflect: What’s your self-reflection practice like after class? Which of these questions will be most helpful for you moving forward?