How practical is reflective practice?

One of the challenges of writing about reflective practice and attempting to clarify terms, like I did in yesterday’s post, is that it can make reflective practice seem to be all about ideas and terms and thinking and more thinking. (In fact while writing this post I came across a paper (see link below) that described reflective practice as having a “fundamentally contemplative focus.”) Actually though, for me, reflective practice is extremely practical – it’s not simply thinking for the sake of thinking. It’s a method of mindfully making changes in the classroom.

What’s more practical than keeping a teaching journal? Notebooks and journals and new pens all make me happy. One of my favourite places is a well-stocked stationery store. So I would love to recommend that everyone buy a nice notebook and keep a detailed teaching journal. But, not everyone likes the smell of new paper or is inspired by the sight of a blank page. I don’t quite understand it, but I suppose that it’s fine. Actually some of the most reflective teachers I’ve known do not keep a regular teaching journal.

I still remember a conversation I had with a colleague who was getting ready to hop on his bicycle and leave quite soon after his classes were finished. My judgmental assumption that he couldn’t wait to leave school was blown away when he started talking about a teaching puzzle that he was thinking about from that morning’s lesson. He said that he would be thinking about it on the trip to his next lessons and my definition of “reflective teacher” expanded. Just as each student’s journey to language proficiency is unique, so each teacher has a different method of working on her teaching practice.

Practical reflection ideas

These activities can be completed in a number of different ways

  • Simply think through the questions & make changes in your next lesson.
  • Jot quick notes on a 3 x 5 index card or in a similarly sized notebook.
  • Write short notes in the margins of your lesson plans.
  • Make copious notes in your carefully selected journal.


1. Examining past practice – Busting out of ruts

Part 1

Go through the files on your computer or activities and think/write about…

What activities from five or ten years ago do you still use now?

Are there activities that you’ve always used? Why? What’s useful about them?

Part 2

Choose one of those activities.

What do they do or accomplish that another activity can’t? What if you could never use it again?

Part 3

Make a plan to not use this activity the next time you would have. What can you do instead? How could you accomplish the same results in a different way?


2. Examining current practice – Build on what you already know and do

Make a list of…

  • Your top five indispensable items in class.


  • Your top five emergency activities.

Why are they important for you?

How long have you been doing/using them?

What would happen if you didn’t have them?


I hope that these ideas struck a balance between contemplative and practical. Examining or looking with fresh eyes on what we are doing in the classroom is a method of recharging our teaching practice that will have long-lasting effects.



I discovered quite an interesting paper by Dick Allwright called “Three Major Processes of Teacher Development and the Appropriate Design Criteria for Developing and Using Them” published in 1999. (It can be downloaded from the Lancaster University website here  ) In the paper Allwright compares Reflective Practice, Action Research, and Exploratory Practice.

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