In case it hasn’t already become apparent I am doing a Tinkering course hosted on Coursera and run by the Exploratorium. A big part of the course (particularly if you want to be certified at the end) is to keep a ‘Tinkering Journal’. This isn’t just a journal listing the tinkering done but is an opportunity to reflect on the activities, progress made and what I think about tinkering. I’m mainly keeping my thoughts on this blog, but also considered keeping a notebook handy for thoughts while I’m in my garage actually doing the tinkering and playing with the making of circuit blocks etc… I didn’t have a clean notebook and so I created my own by folding some blank A4 paper and sewing it together. Looks quite plain at the moment but we’ll see how things go…
The week 2 Google Hangout was really interesting to think about how to record a journal and I loved the idea of making your own book to then use. In a classroom it would be awesome – to give pupils ownership of their work and reflections would be a very powerful tool. I imagine it would help to keep them engaged and they would be able to clearly see their progress over a period of time. I think it would be a great and different thing to do for any lesson, I think back to my teacher training and imagine how the kids would have reacted to making a book/journal of their own to keep their own record of what they are doing. Not so much to write facts (unless they wanted to – that’s what science books are for, right?) I imagine at first they would have thought it was a daft idea – I don’t think they’d have come across it before, but once they got into it I think they would have really got into it – I also really liked the idea of having a journal as a shared thing to do as a class or in a group. Getting kids to reflect without just repeating what they think you want to hear can be quite challenging!
A big part of my PGCE was on being a reflective practitioner. There was a whole module on being a reflective practitioner and throughout the course (at uni and on placement) we had to keep a learning journal where we write our thoughts and reflections. Mine was in columns – date, content, and then a final column I could use to highlight questions I had raised or targets I had set myself. That way I could easily pick them out when looking back. To begin with my ‘reflecting’ was a bit rubbish. It was a list of things that had happened with the odd comment on what I thought about something. Not very deep really (not that everything has to be). On placements we had to reflect on and assess at least one lesson we had done each week. I often found this very difficult, it is hard to see sometimes where you have gone wrong or why a particular thing worked. Sometimes it is more obvious. I hated it at first – I found it very time consuming to begin with and I can be incredibly self critical when reflecting and too often overlook the good things in favour of trying to fix the bad. Even if the ‘bad’ was something very minor. This is a habit that has taken me a long time to get out of and a big part is thanks to an excellent mentor I had when I re-did my final teaching placement. In the end I did find reflecting on what I was doing a very useful thing and it did improve my teaching practise and gave me the opportunity to analyse my thoughts and spend time thinking about things I wouldn’t have normally considered. It gave me the opportunity to critique different pedagogies and come up with my own thoughts about the sort of attitude I wanted to have and how I might develop that. Keeping a learning journal also meant I had somewhere I could easily look up ideas I’d had or activities or websites that needed further investigation. Looking back at this I wasn’t keen to begin with but I can now see the value in it. If I look back at some of the entries I made during a particularly bad time I had it can also remind me of how strong I am to have overcome it and I can now see lots of the good things I missed during that time because of one bad experience clouding my view of things. At the time I don’t think there would have been much I could do to see that but as time has passes it has become easier for me to see things more objectively.
Reflecting on a lesson I think is both similar and different to reflecting on tinkering. Reflecting on lessons may lead to me questioning: Was the content interesting and enjoyable? Did it have a good ‘hook’? What was behaviour like during the lesson? How well did I deliver the lesson? Pace? Tone of voice? Resources used? Did the pupils understand what it was I was trying to teach them? Did they engage? Did they enjoy it? Why? Was the learning objective obvious? Was it fulfilled? Why? Were the success criteria accurate? Why? Why is a very important question I think in reflecting and one that is hard to answer therefore often avoided. While many of those questions could apply to tinkering I think that having learning objectives and success criteria might be pretty tricky for something that is open ended and the potential to grow and develop in many ways.
Tinkering on this course and keeping a journal is something I will find interesting. More about keeping a diary of my processes – thoughts and tinkering and being able to explore new ideas. I liked the idea on the hangout of keeping a journal with pages ‘what I thought then/what I think now’. It has a nice way of seeing how ideas and learning develops and the what I think now could just keep on evolving (as ideas do). It’s also a good place to store ideas to come back to them later (I often have too many) and a place to record my successes and failures (and quirks) and ponder on them. These ideas being about my personal tinkering activities and also approaches to the facilitation of activities for groups and the environment to do this. Lots to consider! When it comes to reflecting on the tinkering MOOC I think I find this sort of reflection a little easier, thinking about what I’m doing, how I’m feeling and why. It’s personal to me (at the moment at least) rather than me trying to gauge the reactions of a whole class and work out why things might have happened the way they did. I think it is the scale of being in a formal classroom setting that makes it harder, though I can’t quite put into words why. Perhaps that is a reflection for another day.
Recently we had evening training at work and were encouraged to reflect on what we do including our presenting in the Science Theatre. Again I’m going to find this a challenging. It is now something I do without thinking. I haven’t been keeping a journal of Science Explaining (though I think there could be some pretty funny stuff in there, and some very awesome stuff too) but now we have all been given notepads to use if we wish to reflect on our performances in the Theatre. What worked well, what didn’t and WHY??! Amongst other things of course. I think that this is going to be pretty hard to do for performances (like the teaching reflection) as it is hard to think about things you have done. It is hard to see things sometimes until someone points them out – for example I used to sway and rock backwards and forwards a lot when on stage. Distracting I’m sure and made me look less confident but I never realised I was doing it as I’d returned from maternity leave where I’d spent a lot of time trying to rock my baby to sleep or comfort it – as you do. Once pointed out I then noticed when I did it and made a conscious effort to stop. I still find myself doing this sometimes but it is much more rare.
My thoughts – reflecting isn’t easy, but it is certainly useful to be able to do to develop yourself what ever your role in life (or Life in my case). Reflecting is easier if you have someone else to discuss things with such as a mentor, a forum in the case of the course, or an observer who can chat to you about things. Having those things is not always possible though so taking a little time to think about things is worthwhile even if it is much of a challenge. I’m currently challenging myself to consider my tone of voice and the way I play with and interact with the audience while on stage. Assessing this can be tricky when I can’t actually see them for most of the show but having a bit of back and forth is very useful in gauging their feeling. Looking out to see how many people are playing on their phones is pretty useful too…
One of the hardest things I have found is people asking something along the lines of ‘what do you want to improve?’ or ‘how would you like to develop?’ Tricky because, with teaching in particular, it is hard to say you want to develop something if you don’t know about it. For example, my first teaching placement. Setting targets – what do you want to work on during this placement? At the start of the course that is a very big question to ask. At the time I didn’t know how many things I was ignorant of. I think I said something about reading with the kids. A better answer would have been to develop behaviour management strategies, differentiation, or how to structure a lesson but I didn’t think about this because it was the beginning of the course and I didn’t know about these things. Of course I quickly learnt of them but you don’t know what you don’t know about.
I’ve come up with some advice for myself, assembled from my reflections on the reflections I’ve made during teaching, the course so far and Life and life in general. Hopefully I will remember better if I write it down…
Reflecting is there to help work things out and make things better. Don’t let it get you down in the process. Discuss things with people where possible, give them the freedom to speak but stick up for yourself too. Listen, pay attention, be constructive between you. Negatives should always be followed by a goal and an idea for achievement of this. Saying you want to be better is not the same as saying how you could be better and how to put it into action. Reflection can happen in the moment, later, and much later still. Sometimes it takes time to see the really key points of something. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you start looking into something. Sometimes time consuming but always worthwhile.
Pondering over for now. Reflecting on the reflecting I have done in the past has been surprisingly therapeutic and hopefully makes sense to more people than just me. 🙂