While most teacher educators and researchers agree that preservice and inservice teachers need to be reflective in their practice, simply providing opportunities for these teachers to reflect has been shown to be insufficient because the reflection is often not productive (Davis, 2006). It is also unclear as to what these “reflective opportunities” look like. This practitioner inquiry study provided early childhood student teachers with reflection opportunities and then analyzed the outcomes of these opportunities in relation to the student teachers’ development and growth as reflective practitioners.
The analysis of the data revealed that the majority of the participants’ written and oral reflections were descriptive; they primarily provided a narration of what occurred in a teaching experience. As descriptions, they generally did not include critical, or even basic, questioning of what they did or why they were doing it. While description was the primary type of reflection in this study, at times the student teachers began to move beyond basic descriptions. These reflections primarily occurred when the student teachers were in the presence of each other and me in the pedagogical teacher discussion group meetings. As the group became more cohesive and active, this led to slightly deeper reflections. But, it also produced an environment where the student teachers sometimes supported each other in inappropriate or immature thinking about both their teaching and the children in their classrooms. While the student teachers did use the meetings to talk, listen and support each other, the dialogues also revealed that they tended to feed off each other’s assumptions rather than challenge them. They listened to each other and engaged in conversation, but were unable to change each other’s opinions about certain aspects of teaching and the children.
It was also revealed that the student teachers’ sharing and integration of documentations and artifacts in their conversations in the group meetings offers further evidence of social conversation providing an opportunity for more extended reflection. Looking across all of the discussions that involved documentations and artifacts, I discovered that the use of them deepened the dialogue.
In my analysis of my role as a facilitator in the pedagogical teacher discussion group meetings, I discovered that, for the most part, I typically acted as cheerleader for the student teachers by recognizing their work in their student teaching classrooms. I also acted as the person in the group meetings who tried to keep the conversation going, though I discovered that there were many moments where I fell short of this role. I worked to ask clarifying questions that were mostly fact based, and only occasionally asked a question that required deeper thought and analysis from the student teachers. Sometimes my talk caused the student teachers to provide more detail, or provide another level of their reflection (emotional feelings for example) that was not present in their original reflection. There were other times, though, where it did not cause their reflection to expand in any way. I should have asked more questions, or at least talked more to see if there was a possibility of the reflection becoming more detailed or thoughtful. My role could have been more questioning and demanding. While at times I think it was important for me to be silent and let the student teachers question and talk with each other, I do think that if I was more active in my own talk, I could have produced more group talk, and extended reflection from the student teachers.
Based on this research study, I have created a framework for student teacher reflective practice that describes the types of reflective practice that should be implemented, when and how often they should be implemented, and the specific constructs that are important to emphasize and encourage for each one. The framework then describes the roles of an active facilitator in the student teachers’ reflective practices.