Reflective Writing for Language Teachers shows language teachers how they can use writing as a way to subject their beliefs and practices to critical reflection and offers them a means of using this type of reflective practice for professional development purposes.
When language teachers write about various facets of their work over a period of time, and then read over their entries looking for patterns, that is, seeing their own thoughts, they may uncover aspects of their practice that they had not realized before beginning to write reflectively. Reflective writing develops language teachers’ understanding of their practice and also leads to a clarification of the values and assumptions that underlie those practices.
Reflective Writing for Language Teachers explores the impact of regular writing as a reflective tool for teachers of English as a second language, other language teachers, and classroom English or language arts teachers. The book begins with a discussion on professional development and then outlines what reflective practice involves. It also addresses such issues as self-reflection, self-discovery through narrative reflective writing, the reflective journal, reflecting on the first and the later years of teaching, reflecting with the aid of teacher development groups, and reflecting for action.
Review from Modern English Teacher 22(3)
This is the latest book from the prolific pen of Thomas Farrell, who has written wisely and published widely on many aspects of English Language Teaching, most notably on reflective practice. Interestingly the series in which this book is published, Frameworks for Writing , is not primarily addressed to language specialists, but to mainstream teachers, their educators and indeed the general public. It may be felt that too much useful knowledge about teaching is contained within the narrow confines of ELT, so it is very good that Farrell’s expertise can thus reach a wider audience.
The book contains seven chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of reflective practice, and writing about it; not surprisingly, every chapter contains boxed suggestions and questions to stimulate the readers to reflect as they proceed. The insights and practical advice that Farrell offers throughout the book are based upon his extensive personal and professional experience in a wide range of teaching and learning contexts. His own writing style is also very personal; for example, the first chapter begins: “OK! So you picked up this book and you have now opened it to the chapter on professional development” (p.6).
In the same page, Farrell sums up the importance of reflective writing, for oneself and/or for others, by quoting the novelist E.M. Forster: How do I know what I think until I see what I say? In the next few pages of the chapter on Professional Development, he addresses the following questions by drawing on his own early experiences as a teacher: Teaching: Job or Profession? Develop as a Teacher: Who? Me? Professional Development: Top down or Bottom-up? He then points to the importance of career-long professional development, and explains five expanding stages of reflection that can help teachers to sustain their professional growth: reflecting on one’s own, with one’s students, then with colleagues, and the institution, and finally with the wider professional community.
The preamble to Chapter Two, Reflective Practice, provides a vignette of Farrell’s experience of teaching English in Korea thirty years ago. The students were working in groups, but it suddenly struck him that he did not really know if they were actually improving their English or merely practising their mistakes. This led him, for the first time, to begin seriously to reflect on his teaching. The chapter continues by making the case for reflective practice, and the various forms it can take: action research, teaching journals, concept mapping, teacher development groups, and classroom observations. The rest of the chapter deals with a range of useful conceptions of teaching such as metaphors, maxims, beliefs, theories, and values. As noted above, this chapter – like all the others – is punctuated by many opportunities for the readers to reflect on what has been suggested.
In Chapter Three, Farrell expands upon the issue introduced in the first chapter – Writing as Reflective Practice. He illuminates the difficulties novice writers face by tracing his own journey as a writer from unwilling and avowedly incompetent schoolboy writer to the author of a PhD thesis. This consistent recounting of his personal history may seem self-centred, perhaps even self-indulgent, but it serves an extremely important purpose. As well as being intrinsically interesting, he uses his experiences and feelings to draw out those of his readers. An example of just one of his reflective tasks shows this quite clearly.
He then addresses the question What is Writing? and briefly explains the difference between product and process approaches. The chapter concludes with suggestions about some useful ways of developing writing skills: learning to write, getting words on paper, revising, and retrospective writing.
Chapter Four focuses on The Reflective Teaching Journal and covers the nature of diaries and journals, forms of journal writing, the relationship between journal writing and reflection, and teacher journals in particular. These points are then exemplified in summaries of, and extracts from, three teachers’ journals and the facilitator’s reflections taken from a case study (Farrell, 1996) of a teacher development group in Korea. The final section in this chapter outlines how teaching journals can be effectively used, and Farrell concludes that “reflection is seen as a learned activity in which writing can facilitate the reflection process; teachers can write about their teaching practices and then review and reflect on observed patterns that may emerge from their writing” (pp. 96-97).
The next chapter deals with a specific form of writing – Narrative Reflective Writing. Farrell points out that story- telling, whether oral or written, is a universal means of transferring information from one generation to the next, and that “telling our story to ourselves and others can be instructional because we are able to learn more about ourselves as we reflect on the meaning of our stories to explain who we are and who we want to become” (p.100). He then discusses writing and analyses three sorts of stories: teacher narratives, critical incidents – both classroom and career – and case studies. Such narratives offer not only the possibility of self- exploration, but more importantly they open up the professional world of teaching and learning to others, such as student teachers, methodologists and researchers.
Chapter Six takes up the issue of sustained professional development by Reflecting in the First Year(s) and Beyond. Readers are invited to reflect on their own early experiences from student to teacher, whether they sank or swam in the transition period from novice to professional, the extent to which they were mentored, and the impact of their teaching education programme. Moving beyond the first years of teaching, Farrell gives an example of a case study of the reflections of a group of six midcareer English language teachers in Singapore, and the extent to which their beliefs about the teaching of reading converged with their actual classroom practices. The chapter concludes by outlining Huberman’s (1993) model of a teacher's career life cycle: career entry stage, stabilisation, experimentation, and diversification – and discussing the extent to which these might reflect the experiences or expectations of the readers.
The title of Chapter Seven is Reflecting for Action. Initially, I thought that he would discuss (as he does in Farrell, 2004, pp.28-31, and elsewhere) the useful distinction between reflecting in, on and for action in classroom contexts, especially since the intended readership of this book might not be familiar with these terms. Instead, he focuses on the importance of writing up reflective practice as a threshold to cross before taking action – in the form of teacher research. He points out that too often teachers have been recipients of other people’s theories and research, and it is now necessary for them to be acknowledged as researchers and knowledge-makers in their own right. He then proceeds to tabulate a few of the very many examples of published language teacher research in Europe (Borg 2006) and the rest of the world, in the hope that “the reader will look into topics from these studies that interest him or her and even replicate some of the studies within his/her own context” (p.152).
The book concludes with a very short epilogue – The last Word on Reflection? – in which he repeats his central point that he wants to encourage (language) teachers to engage in reflective writing so that they can become more aware of their beliefs and teaching practices. Although he does not say so, the question mark is important because, by its ongoing nature, there can be no last word on reflection.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for all (language) teachers and their educators. Apart from the wise and extremely practical advice that Farrell gives about why, how and when to engage in reflective practice and writing, the autobiographical details illustrate a career trajectory which many language teachers can aspire to."
Borg, S. (2006) Language teacher research in Europe . Alexandria, Va: TESOL
Farrell, T.S.C. (1996) A qualitative study of a group of English as a foreign language teachers in Korea as they reflect on their work . Dissertation abstracts International 57: 3005A (UMI No. 9636926)
Farrell, T.S.C. (2004) Reflective practice in action: 80 reflection breaks for busy teachers . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
Huberman, M.A. (1993) The lives of teachers. New York, NY: Teachers College Press