Thursday, May 31

Critical Reflection

In his book Becoming a Critical Reflective Teacher Stephen Brookfield discusses what it means to be critically reflective as a teacher. He defines reflection as hunting down and examining the assumptions we have. This is a definition that makes sense and provides a concrete model to follow. His examples though seem extreme and unrealistic. He sets up a serious of "common sense" examples that he then disproves. For instance, "It's common sense that teaching is essentially mysterious, so if we try to dissect it or understand its essence, we will kill it." Does anyone really believe that let alone think it is "common sense"?

Obviously not all reflection is critical, so what makes reflection critical? According to Brookfield, two things. First is to "understand how consideration of power undergrid, frame and distort" the processes and interactions. The second component is to "question assumption and practices that seem to make our teaching lives easier but actually work against our own best long term interest."

Brookfield refers to our classrooms as "contested spaces" and discuss all the power struggles that occur in all classrooms whether they are acknowledge or not. These power struggles are a huge part of the reason we chose to homeschool. These power struggles are not only between student and teacher but among the students. It is a battle with assumptions and social norms. My first teaching assignment was in a very homogeneous school system where maybe 2% of the population was not "redneck". This is the system where I listened to one of my students (an 8th grader) tell me that there were no Jews in Virginia so telling jokes about them wasn't offensive. I knew I could not allow a child of mine to go to school system that bred such close-minded opinions.

One good point that Brookfield makes is "critically reflective teachers will make sure that they find some way of regularly seeing what they do through their students eyes." I think in some ways this is easier for us as homeschoolers and in other ways harder. As parents we know and understand our children better than a public school teacher could ever hope to so getting their perspective is easier. At the same time that closeness also makes it much much easier to "assume" we know how they see things. We need to not assume but ask.

Brookfield repeatedly instructs teachers to get inside the heads of their students as a check on how the methods are working . Sure! Great! That is an important and wonderful idea but it is not likely to happen for a public school teacher. That requires a build of trust and understanding that takes more time than a teacher with a 120 students has in 9mths. This is yet another reason to homeschool.

Apparently, critical reflection is also the"recognition of hegemonic assumptions." Hegemonic assumptions are those that seem "natural, preordained and working for their own good" but which are really bad and serve a "powerful minority interest." I certainly would want to analyze and identify these assumptions. Unfortunately, no indication is made as to how to identify these and distinguish them from ideas which are indeed natural and working well.

One of the reasons many parents homeschool is that, unlike a classroom teacher, they can cater to their child's preferred learning style and help them learn. Brookfield condemns such practices stating that "letting people stick with what comes easily to them is a form of cognitive imprisonment." The truth lies somewhere in the middle. We must challenge our children and help them stretch their minds but we should also present information to them in a way that makes sense for them.

"Critically reflective teachers ... know methods and practices imported from the outside rarely fit snugly into the contours of their classrooms." It is the rare experienced homeschooling parent that has not modified a store-bought curriculum or pulled together several different philosophies to create a personal plan for the year. It appears that more homeschooling parents are critically reflective than classroom teachers. Which came first? Do we choose to homeschool because we are critical reflective people by nature and this shows us the importance or does homeschooling lead one to be critically reflective out of necessity? I believe it is the former and this may be an interesting problem to research.

Brookfield criticizes what he calls "the 'meeting needs' rationale" Used in a public school setting it can be a justification for lowering standards or set up an impossible standard. Yet it is important and a common motivation for homeschooling. The parent with unlimited time and more varied resources can meet the different needs of their children, however many that may be. For the homeschooling parent "meeting needs" is not an impossible standard but a daily fact of life.

In closing this particular section, Brookfield lists several reasons why critical reflection is important. My reaction upon reading them was "Duh!" His wording is different than how I might say it but to me these are all obvious. I think again that is because we are already critical reflective thinkers.
  1. It helps us to take informed action
  2. It helps us develop a rationale for practice
  3. It helps us avoid self-laceration
  4. It grounds us emotionally
  5. It enlivens our classroom
  6. It increases trust

Wednesday, May 30

Assimilation and Accomodation

Why does a toddler call all four legged animals dogs? Assimilation. Understanding the process of assimilation and accommodation as described by Piaget was like a light bulb going off for me. Suddenly I understood what was happening in the Froggy's head. As an educator, we are repeatedly told that we need to "link to prior knowledge" so that whatever we are teaching makes sense to the student. Why is that important? Accommodation.

Back to our example of the toddler just learning the world. Toddler repeated comes in contact with furry four legged beast which is given the label "Dog" Through the part of language development / learning designated assimilation, the toddler is able to make the a connection between the label and the item presented. The toddler then uses that label for anything else that meets that general description. It takes accommodation to allow the child to see that a cat is different than a dog or a horse is different than a cow or that not all women are momma. Accommodation is much harder as they need to learn what the distinctions are while still making the connections.

Eventually as we grow, more of our learning becomes accommodation style and assimilation falls by the wayside. We "link to prior knowledge" and understand.

Tuesday, May 29

Guided Reflection Protocol

What implications does the GRP have for your practice and your continuing development as reflective educators?

A step by step protocol for reflection is extremely helpful. A concrete guideline is useful for linear thinkers. The group dynamic makes the process tricky for me. Many of the problems I encounter and reflective moments are not times I am looking for external analysis. For those times when one wants or needs external analysis, the protocol is an effective method of ensuring that an action plan is created and that the reflection leads somewhere rather than being an opportunity to vent. It is not clear how the step 4 of Part One (What are the implications for my practice) is supposed to differ from Part Two (Possible Future Action).

Although the protocol is designed to be used in a group setting, it is possible to use it as a solitary individual and accomplish the same objective. It offers a framework and a guideline which can be useful. Instead of getting lost in the problem and spinning in circles , the framework provides a mechanism to document the problem and move forward.

The key to reflection is to make it useful. The possible future action section of the protocol ensures that a dedicated user of the protocol, be it group or individual makes the reflection useful.

Reflection

This will be the new home for a journal I am required to keep for the class I am taking. I chose to place it here because I feel it melds nicely with the original purpose of the journal which is our journey in homeschooling and the class journal is a reflection on teaching styles and methods and what learning about those. All the new journal entries will have the tag of journal.

Unexpected Lessons

I suddenly find myself needing to teach a lesson I am not prepared to teach. I need to explain death to my toddler. Our 8 year old puppy has been in the hospital since Thursday. Froggy does not even understand where she is currently. How can she possible understand that she is never coming home. Simple answer she can't. Still I need to try. She needs this opportunity to form a basis. I can not damage the trust we built in our relationship by lying to her. Children learn by building associations and each exposure lets them make connections to prior learning. She has no prior learning to connect this to so it won't make sense but it will give her something to build on the next time there is a parting of any kind in her life.

Tonight, we will go to visit Tatiana to say goodbye. Froggy will come in and visit then her Daddy will take her out and I will stay with Tatiana while she goes to sleep. When I come out I will need to explain to Froggy why Mommy is so sad. Froggy understands emotions and these emotions and seeing the emotions of loss may let her make those connections that provide understanding and learning.

Wish me luck