Reflective Practice and CPD (Old Version)

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Reflective Practice as a Slogan

This model has been described as a “slogan” (Calderhead 1989) for many contemporary teacher trainers. Part of its popularity stems from its lack of definition and it’s supposed opposition to tecnicist approaches, such as the Competency Model of Learning to Teach. Furlong and Mayhew (1995) claim that the term’s power lies in its ability to “serve as a rallying cry for those determined to preserve some role for ‘theory’ in initial teacher training. However Schön’s Model, as can be seen below, has also been used as a justification for the removal of “theory” from teacher training, which further widens the appeal of the model.

Furlong and Mayhew argue further that part of the ability of the model to draw support from such a wide range of teacher educators is due to confusion caused by two different approaches that the term often covers, namely the approaches of Dewey (1910 and 1933) and Schon (1983, 1987).

Dewey’s Reflective Practice – Routine Action-v- Reflective Action

Dewey’s model is based on the fundamental difference that he sees between routine action – guided primarily by “tradition, instruction and imitation” (quoted in Furlong and Maynard: 31) which actions amount to “prejudices that is, prejudgements, not judgements proper that rest upon a survey of evidence”. (Dewey 1910: 4-5), and Reflective action. Reflective Action is instead based on “active, persistent and careful” consideration (1910:6), based on the need to solve a problem. For Dewey, it is in problem solving that we find “the steadying and guiding factor in the entire process of reflection” and without which “the course of suggestions flows on at random”.(1910:11)

Furlong and Maynard point out how the followers of Dewey have emphasised a moral dimension or quality to his reflective practice. For instance they point out how Zeichner and Liston (1987) categorise three types of teacher:

  • technician – whose focus is the successful completion of ends by others
  • craftsperson – who considers education justifications for his or her actions
  • moral craftsperson – who considers the moral and ethical implications of the institutional arrangements in which he or she is teaching.

Zeichner and Liston fear that without consciously reflecting on these matters, student teachers will not be equipped to recognise or deal with them in their practice and in this reflect the idea of liberation of the critical theorist Habermas, which has it that a person is not free until he or she is able to embrace or resist the beliefs, attitudes or ideas of others by rational enquiry or criticism. Being a reflective practitioner is therefore in some cases an emancipation.

Dewey believes that achieving this liberation requires special characteristics, skills and experiences, which Furlong and Maynard summarise as (italics added):

  • open-mindedness, responsibility, wholeheartedness (Dewey 1933);
  • a store of experiences from which suggestions can flow;
  • promptness, flexibility and fertility of suggestion (suggestions should come easily, in different situations but should still be realistic and practical); and
  • orderliness, consecutiveness and appropriateness in what is suggested.

Criticism of Dewey’s Model of Reflective Action

Furlong and Maynard object to the picture of the unreflective teacher as a caricature. For them teaching is “multifaceted, unpredictable and complex; and it is never merely technical; it alswas involves educational and moral assumptions as well, whether or no the teacher is aware of them. ” (1995:45) They also argue that there is no necessary reason to prioritize the moral aspect as the highest level of reflection, pointing out that how children learn might be an equally important aspect to prioritize. Furlong and Maynard also pick up McIntyre’s criticism of Dewey’s model that reflective practice in this model will have very little relevence to beginning teachers, based as it is on reflection on experience, that beginning teachers lack.

Schön’s Model of Learning to Teach

Schön views the actions of many teachers in a more positive light than Dewey, rejecting Dewey’s divide between unreflective and reflective practitioners and of the traditional view of reflectve teaching as the application of expertise to real world situations. Instead Schön sets out a model of what actually happens in classrooms, which he calls “professional artistry”.


Professional Artistry

This concept involves the creation by teachers, in response to “unique, uncertain and conflicted situations of practice”, of a frame of reference. This frame is not an application of knowledge or expertise to fix a known situation. Rather experience and expertise is used as a metaphor or exemplar in the construction of a frame that the teacher uses to try to understand the “conflicted” situation in which they find themselves. This process of framing is iterative, in that the frame constructed by the teacher, and use by them in order to carry our intervention in the situation, necessarily changes the situation in the mind of the teacher and, when the intervention is carried out, in reality also. Thus the frame is constantly changing in response to its own construction and the action it illicits from the teacher.


Types of Reflection

Schön sets out three types reflection that are used by the teacher in the construction of these frames.

  • Intuitive Reflection. For Schön this is “revealed in spontaneous, skillfull execution of the performance: and we are characteristically unable to make it verbally explicit”. (Schön 1987:25). Intuitive Reflection is thus similar to, but distinguished from Dewey’s “routine action”, in that although the reflection is not “active, persistent and careful” consideration (Dewey 1910:6), it is none the less “skillfull”. Our inability to verbalize the reflection seems to equate it to freudian subconcious, or post-modern ideological processes, which affect our judgements without us necessarily being able to list the factors that have been brought to bear upon the decision. These similarities are deepend by the emancipatory effects of Schön’s “Reflection on Action”, whereby (for Furlong and Maynard at least) techers “progressively gain control of their own teaching” (Furlong and Maynard 1996:49)
  • Reflection in Action. This is where the practitioner, facing an unknown situation, “is able to bring certain aspects of their work to the level of conciousness and to reflect on it and reshape it without interrupting the flow” (Furlong and Maynard 1995:48) This is a process we can go through without necessarily being easily able to set out our decision making in words.
  • Reflection on Action. Can be simply described as talking about what we have done after it has been done. This type of reflection is never easy to do accurately, because “whatever language we use, our descriptions of professional practice are always constructions. […].” (Furlong and Maynard 1995:48). This reflection is always going to involve a distortion of what actually happened, in that words are static whereas for Schön “knowing in action” is dynamic.

Increasing ability to reflect and put into words their practice should be encouraged for Schön because it is through this that “they can begin to gain control of their developing ‘artistry’.


Criticisms of Schön’s Model

We have already seen that some practitioners have criticised the reflective practitioner model


Implications of the Reflective Pracitioner Model for Mentor Practice


Calderhead (1989)

Furlong and Mayhew (1995)

Dewey (1910 and 1933)

Schon (1983, 1987)

Zeichner and Liston (1987)

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