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Reflective Practice or Down a Rabbit Hole!

Updated: May 4, 2022

Guest Blog from Susan Merrick, School Librarian.

Making notes in a book.

I’m not sure what reflective practice looks like for others but for me, it has evolved over the years, depending on what I have been teaching. As a French and drama teacher at secondary level, I would reflect at the end of each class. This might have just been just a quick post-mortem in my head...”oh my, that didn’t work very well!”; or something more detailed and in writing at the end of a unit: what worked, what didn’t, how could I have taught that better, what worked really well and could be used elsewhere, and so forth!

As a librarian, I continued these reflections but over the years they have become more formal. I nearly always write them in the notebook that I keep for planning lessons and units. Sometimes, they make it into my blog, when I feel that what I have learned may be of use to others. More recently, I have also been sharing these reflections verbally with one of our IT integrationists, with whom I am doing more and more teaching.

I have also taken to doing a pre-mortem when planning future projects. I first ran across the concept in a blog by Tom Barrett on avoiding disaster in project planning, the idea being that you imagine that the project has failed and analyse how you could avoid that from happening.

And yes, I have had my share of disasters, though perhaps that word is a little strong. Recently I was asked to deliver a series of lessons to our grade 9s (year 10) on research using Google. I am never happy when I am asked to present stand-alone lessons. Students are rarely invested and often forget within a short period of time what we covered because they can’t relate it to any need they have at that particular moment. Perhaps I went in with a negative attitude because of that and so didn’t do my usual pre-mortem. Whatever happened, I did end up having two disastrous lessons, which I could have foreseen to a certain extent, if I had.

My pre-mortem would have included anything that might have led to a failed lesson and it might have looked like this:

The wifi doesn’t work.

  1. The website I’m using is blocked by the school filter

  2. Students don’t have the devices or other resources needed for the class

  3. Students already know what I am trying to teach them

  4. Students aren’t ready for what I’m trying to teach them

  5. There’s a fire drill, photo session, or other activity scheduled at the same time

It was number 2 which tripped me up in my first class. I needed to present these lessons to 4 classes at the same time and to avoid another zoom class, so I had created a digital escape room, which required students to solve 2 puzzles. It was located in libwizard, which is part of libguides and as far as I was concerned students were always able to access this website. Not on this particular day. The school filter blocked libwizard and put an end to the lesson.

To avoid this happening again, I created the next lesson, on searching within a website using the Google site operator, as a Google form tutorial. However, I failed to take into account number 5, which I discovered when I analysed the results.

Now I am faced with the third lesson and determined not to crash and burn again! And if I do, I will have someone to share the blame. Since teaching those two lessons in December I have teamed up with our IT integrationist for several other classes and he is joining me on this one.

In the meanwhile I have reflected on the two initial lessons and come to the following conclusions:

  1. I made the cardinal error in teaching, of not checking on where my students were in relation to what I was trying to teach them. I had set up the escape room to teach students about effectively using search terms (keywords) but without the help of a teacher. I couldn’t be present and their teachers were unfamiliar with teaching the topic so I concluded that this was the best alternative. I was wrong and in a way, it was lucky that the filter blocked the website. When I went back recently to go through the escape room again, I discovered that even I had problems with coming up with keywords that would help me solve the puzzles.

  2. The second lesson was set up along similar lines but using Google forms. According to the teachers present, students seemed engaged but when we analysed the answers, it was obvious that many of them didn’t understand what they were doing and just filled in any old answer.

  3. The next lessons, which will take place in March, will hopefully focus on skills that most students lack, need and will be ready for. In order to identify those, it was decided that we would have discussions with teachers who have already assigned research projects. In particular, we are going to analyse their works cited list to see what kinds of online and print sources they used. Hopefully, that analysis will assist us in identifying needed knowledge and skills.

A bit of a postscript!

Having written the previous point, I have since realised (after a day of ruminating) that again I have forgotten something very basic. To quote Lewis Carroll, “Begin at the beginning!” And we haven’t! If my students don’t know the absolute basics of researching online, why am I starting them halfway in? I wouldn’t do it in physics or mathematics or any subject for that matter.

So here I go again, down the rabbit hole! I do at least have a starting point, thanks to the King!

Update 04/05/2022

Susan continued to reflect on her lessons and journey in her latest blog Reflective Practice: Grade 9 Research Skills Again!

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