Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Reflective Teaching Practice

by Marilyn Lewis

Some years ago at a conference for language teachers in Hong Kong, the joke went round that they would be installing mirrors in all the rooms because the word “reflection” appeared in so many of the sessions. The huge wave of “reflective” articles and presentations may have subsided but the thinking behind the word is still worth, sorry, reflecting on.

Tom Farrell[1] opens his engaging book on this topic with the example of a woman who cooked her roast beef in a particular way because that’s what her mother had always done. She overlooked the fact that with the larger pots now available, there was no reason to be trimming the roast any more. I have used that example with teachers in different places and found that the example speaks to them. If you’re not a cook, try substituting the image of yourself doing carpentry or knitting or anything where you imitate your grandparents.

Which of our classroom practices are we following just because, long ago, we saw someone teaching that way? If you literally had a mirror at the back of your classroom, what aspects of the image you saw would worry or please you? Here are a few questions to consider, some deeper than others.

  1. First, where do you stand when you are teaching? Hands up those whose default position is still the front of the classroom. Why? Is it so that your students have something to look at apart from the board or the Power Point presentation? Is it because some of your students are hard of hearing and need to lip read your words? Is it because there’s no room at the back?  Is it because that’s the only spot from which you can spot any misdemeanor? Reflect.
  2. Next question. What do you typically say to start your lessons? Early in my career a student put up his hand as I walked into the room. “Miss. I know what you’re going to say now.” To my shock he gave me the exact words I would say next, even imitating my accent.
  3. How about your preferred order of teaching? Which do you do: give a rule and then illustrate it or give an example from which the students work out the “rule?” For every great way of doing things there are students in the room who not only prefer, but actually learn better from the opposite.

How, in the absence of mirrors, can we reflect on our teaching? Help is at hand. Occasionally give material to a student the night before and ask him/her to present that point tomorrow. Then sit at the back and watch. Ask yourself how many of the student’s words and actions imitate yours. If that is too drastic, try calling in a colleague. Choose someone you like, or you’ll never take any notice. Ask that person to act as a mirror. What looks good? What is due for an overhaul? We can also reflect as we read books about teaching and about relationships and even about life.

Finally let’s look at the big picture. Imagine you are an eavesdropper at a reunion of your class in many decades’ time. How would you like them to be remembering you?

That was the teacher who…

  • remembered little things about us.
  • made the classes fun.
  • took a lot of trouble preparing the lessons.
  • imitated the Best Teacher we have ever heard about.

And so on. Reflect on the list you would like.


[1] Thomas S. C. Farrell (2007), Reflective Language Teaching: From Research to Practice, Continuum.

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

  • What teaching reflection questions have you asked yourself recently?  What changes did they lead to in your teaching?
  • What do you hope students will say about you at their class reunion?
  • What do you think the Master Teacher might say to us about reflective teaching?  About reflective living?

Post Author

After retiring from her position as Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, Marilyn Lewis has continued using her gifts for glory.  She has trained teachers in various locations throughout Asia including Vietnam, India, and China.  She continues to add to a long list of publications by sharing her expertise with various co-authors around the globe. And she fulfills the role of auntie extraordinaire with young relatives.


Photo Credit: torbakhopper HE DEAD via Compfight cc

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This entry was posted on November 26, 2014 by in building blocks of teaching, Marilyn Lewis, professional development, reflective teaching.

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