Almost a half-century ago, in a seminal study on reading instruction in first grade, Bond and Dykstra (1967) reported that the future in research in reading education needed to focus on the “teacher and learning situation characteristics rather than method and materials” (p.123). They also stated that because of the variety of students in any classroom, “ it is necessary to train better teachers of reading rather than to expect a panacea in the form of materials” (p. 123). This would indicate a need for a focus on the decision making and reflective process of teachers in context not just the implementation of a program or curriculum. As Wold observed, “Deep-level literacy implementation requires strategic decision making and action. The process of becoming an exemplary literacy practitioner requires deliberate, long-term attention to and reflection on practice” (2002, p. 91). Even with a mandated or scripted curriculum, teachers are constantly making decisions about what content to teach, how to structure the lesson, which materials to use, and how to respond to students. Reading workshop teachers make these decisions also, but since one of the advantages of using a reading workshop framework is individualization of curriculum, it also means that teachers are making instructional decisions constantly for each child, each small group, and each day – without a teacher's manual for direction.
“Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull over and evaluate it. It is this working with experience that is important in learning” (Boud, Keogh & Walker, 1985, p. 43). Grounded in the work of Dewey (1933), Schön (1983) ties action and reflection together in his reflective practice model. Knowing-in-action is the tacit professional knowledge which produces reflex-like actions in a situation. Experienced teachers often act on this intuitive level with their students. When a situation occurs that can't be immediately, reflexively responded to, then reflection-in-action occurs and a conscious, but not necessarily articulated decision about action is made. After the situation, reflection-on-action may occur, which is deliberate, articulated and possibly recorded in some form. Reflecting-on-action provides an opportunity to examine underlying philosophies, understandings or theories evident in the action and analysis these assumptions in order to plan for similar situations in the future. For a workshop approach to flow smoothly, teachers need to cultivate all three practices – with 20+ students in a classroom, some routines and actions need to be automatic and some need thought, but teachers need to know the difference between the two.
Reflection and reflective practice are considered a cornerstone of teacher education and professional development because “the main objective of reflective practice is to ensure a more accurate and relevant understanding of a situation such that professionally designed action in that situation is more likely to produce effective, relevant action which will facilitate the occurrence of more desired and effective outcomes” (Bright, 1993, p. 177). In short, teacher action influences student learning (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden, 2005; Levine & Lezotte, 1990; Snow, Griffin & Burns, 2005). Therefore, more effective teaching may result from continued reflective practice.
Reflection is not necessarily a solo endeavor; “Reflective practice, while often confused with reflection, is neither a solitary nor a relaxed meditative process. To the contrary, reflective practice is a challenging, demanding, and often trying process that is most successful as a collaborative effort” (Karen, Osterman & Kott, 1993, p.19). Again, drawing on Vygotskian (1978) social development theory, reflective practice is more often a social, collaborative practice – whether informal (a chat in the teacher's lounge) or formal (literacy coaching model). Besides providing a sounding board for ideas, a reflective partner can provide a different perspective and possible challenge the teacher's ideas which leads to greater depth of reflection (Bright, 1996).
Based on the work of Rogers (2002), Woodcock, Lassonde, and Rutten (2004) provide a model for collaborative reflection, which is rooted in building trusting relationships with the partner or group (Figure 1). In this reflective cycle the practitioner describes the experience and analyzes the experience, but through the conversation with others, the practitioner becomes more aware of her beliefs and theories (meta-awareness of self) which leads to informed action. Baird contends, “Better teaching requires that teachers reflect on themselves and their practice, that this reflection should be set within a process of systematic enquiry, and that both reflection and enquiry should proceed by collaboration among members of a group” (1992, pp. 32-33).