As teachers, we learn how to improve at our jobs every day by being with students in the classroom. We learn from our mistakes and our successes, our bad days and our good ones. Bit by bit, year by year, we become experts. Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan Lytle (Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research in the Next Generation, 2009) call this work—of the actively involved, inquiring teacher—“theory building.” Through theory building we develop informed and well-articulated “theories” or knowledge about one’s classroom. The practice of reflection and inquiry into our methods and the realities of our students’ lives and learning require time and work, as we all know too well. I have found that digital tools support this work by making reflection smoother and more accessible in the short and long term.
Digital tools afford us unique ways to reflect. The reality is that teachers have always reflected. Honing the tools we use to reflect and connect them to the purposes we have for reflection can help us build relationships, support student learning, and adjust our approaches to lessons.
These are three ways to approach reflection in the classroom in order to benefit your students and your own progress as an educator:
- Taking “snapshots” of your day with audio recording apps
- Capturing student thinking with classroom social networking
- Processing for the long term with your own blog
Take “Snapshots” of Your Day With Audio Recording Apps
How many times has a sticky note stuck on your desk reminded you to call a parent or check in with a student about missing work? Taking snapshots of your day can help you sort through the major events of the day as well as work as a good reminder system and re-set for the following morning. Rather than write down notes, taking a snapshot of your thinking at the end of the day using audio recording apps on your phone or tablet can allow you to think about the day and make a plan for tomorrow.
For my purposes, I use my cell phone to record major events of the day, concerns about students, and reminders on my way home or while sitting at my desk before leaving for the day. Then, the next morning I check in with myself. Try searching your app store for:
Here free audio recording apps for Android phones:
And here are free audio recording apps for iPhone/iPad:
Capture Student Thinking With Online Forums
We know that a better understanding of student thinking on a day-to-day basis benefits learning outcomes. Thus, at the end of lessons we have our summarizing activities or our exit slips or some other creative way to touch base with our students as they head out of class. Another way to do this is through school-based, password-protected social media sites. These sites allow you to throw out a question, share a link, or ask students to do the same. Depending on your school and student population’s access to technology, this could be done at school or at home.
I have found that using this type of digital tool to pose open-ended questions or for private messaging (so that students can ask questions without the risk of embarrassment) helped me get a better sense of how students feel and think about content and life in the classroom. Here, I am sharing just two of many social networking sites for schools that are protected, free, easy to use, and student/parent friendly.
Here are some social networking sites for the classroom:
- Edmodo: Includes a newsfeed, posting options, etc., which makes it operate much like Facebook. Also includes a library for documents, quizzing/polling options, and small group options. Allows you to network with other classes in your school and with educators around the world.
- twiducate: Functions much as does Twitter, with short posts allowing the embedding of files, videos and images. Much more limited than Edmodo, but does include post threading and like functions.
Processing for the Long Term With Your Own Blog
The ideas and tools above support daily rather than long-term or project-/unit-oriented reflection. These are snapshots, quick moments captured to understand events and problems that occur quickly. To process and reflect for long-term writing, developing a blog, or digital “journal” on a weekly or project-basis can help develops theories of the classroom. Blog posts can be focused on a weekly set of lessons, on a unit or project, on a standard, or on a particular issue in your school or class. Unlike a paper journal, it allows for the inclusion of digital materials such as lesson plans, photos of student work, and links to resources that will benefit you in the future.
When writing a blog with the purpose of reflection, you might ask yourself three questions:
- What happened (in this lesson, unit, project, standard)? What is the story I would tell?
- What have I learned? Where can I identify the successes and the failures?
- What will I take away? How will I change for the next time?
Here are some blogging platforms that allow for password protection or a disabling of search functionality:
When reflection becomes part of your daily and long-term habits you act as a curious inquirer into the ways your classroom operates, ultimately becoming a theory builder and expert on your own learning and that of your students.
Alexandra Panos is a doctoral fellow in Literacy, Culture and Language Education at Indiana University and former middle grades Language Arts teacher.
This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).