Telling his or her story through reflective journals Nooreiny Maarof

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Telling his or her story through reflective journals

Nooreiny Maarof

Faculty of Education, National University of Malaysia (UKM)

This study examined the reflective journal entries of 42 trainee teachers who underwent teaching practicum in schools in Malaysia. The study investigated the types of reflections, strategies or stance used, and perceptions of the trainees toward reflective journal writing. The findings of the study indicated that the trainee teachers were engaged in Descriptive Reflection (DR), Dialogic Reflection (DIAR), Descriptive Writing (DW) and Critical Reflection (CR), respectively. In their summary of the journal writing experience, approximately 77 per cent of the trainees stated that the task assisted them in evaluating their teaching methods, strengths and weaknesses, awareness of their own teaching, problems in teaching, and identifying materials and aids for their teaching. An implication of the study is to provide explicit training of the use of reflective journals in teacher training. In addition, practising teachers should be encouraged to use reflective journal writing as part of their daily professional teaching experience.

teacher trainee, reflective journals, reflective writing, strategies, reflection


Education has never been more challenging and pertinent than in today’s global world. It is considered as one of the most important factors in the development of a nation (Cobb, Darling-Hammond, and Murangi, 1995). Therefore, the education and preparation of teachers is a critical issue in national development. The demand for quality teachers has become the goal of teacher preparation programs around the world (Cobb, 1999). Attributes of quality teachers include possessing “ pedagogical knowledge, subject content knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for effective teaching, strong understanding of human growth and child development, effective communication skills, strong sense of ethics, and capacity for renewal and ongoing learning” (Cobb, 1999, p. 1). In light of these developments, there is a revival of interest in teacher preparation programs to foster and develop perspectives and practise focusing on reflective practice (Boud and Walker, 1998; Hatton and Smith, 1995; Schon, 1987).

Reflective practice as defined by Richards and Lockhart (1997) refers to an approach to teaching where “teachers and student teachers collect data about teaching, examine their attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and teaching practices” (p. 1) and the data are then used further to reflect critically about teaching. In addition, they point out that to explore teaching, novice and experienced teachers must have techniques and strategies with the following underlying assumptions about teacher development.

  1. An informed teacher has an extensive knowledge base about teaching.

  2. Much can be learned about teaching through self-inquiry.

  3. Much of what happens in teaching is unknown to the teacher.

  4. Experience is insufficient as a basis for development.

  5. Critical reflection can trigger a deeper understanding of teaching.

Schon (1987) in his AERA address “Educating the Reflective Practitioner”, construes reflective practice as a process of “refining one’s artistry or craft in a specific discipline” (Ferrarro, 1999, p. 1). He suggested that reflective practice should be used to assist novices in a discipline to see parallels between their own practices and that of experts. Schon defined reflective practice as thinking through one’s own experiences putting knowledge to practice while under the supervision of experienced experts in the field (cited in Ferrarro, 1999). Reflective practice engaged teachers in a recurring “cycle of thought and action based on professional experience” (Wellington, 1991, p.4). Thus, reflective practice could be seen as teaching which involved constant inquiry about one’s own teaching and then attempting to take a more systematic approach to practices and to work with others who had such common interests and questions as yours (Pickett, 1999).

Schon (1987) differentiates between reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action is when a practitioner, who is often already an expert, learns to think on his or her feet and is able to improvise with new incoming information and is able to deal with the unexpected. An example Schon provides is that of people playing jazz music or of people having a good conversation. Both require spontaneity and unpredictability. Reflection-on-action involves the practitioner reflecting and contemplating on the underlying, implied understandings and assumptions that he or she has and further analyses them consciously in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of roles of the teacher and student, the motivations and behaviours in the learning context (Pickett, 1999). Schon believes that teachers’ learning is the result of the actions and reflections of daily problems. He includes critical awareness as pertinent in teacher reflections. Hatton and Smith (1995) provides a succinct explication of the two types of reflection and a brief review of the various conceptions of reflection as used in a teacher education context.

In most teacher training and preparation programs, reflective practice is used at both the pre-service and in-service stages of teaching. Reflection-promoting techniques include reflective journals comprising dialog journals, peer reflection, diaries, learning logs and audio-video recordings and others (Pickett, 1999; Richards and Lockhart, 1997). Strategies that seem to help foster reflection are (a) action research projects, (b) case studies and ethnographic studies of students, teachers, classrooms and schools, (c) microteaching and other supervised practicum experiences, and (d) structured curriculum tasks (Hatton and Smith, 1995, p. 4). Bailey (1997) explored the notion of reflective teaching through her own "story" of her teaching experience. Through her vignettes of incidences in her classrooms, she saw teaching as "part of a bigger pattern, a reflection of a wider world" (Bailey, 1997, p. 7). Through her unfolding "story" the reader could share the authentic experiences of the teacher as she taught in her classroom.

This article focuses on the use of reflective journals in teaching practice of a group of teacher trainees at the Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The aim of the article and study is to examine the nature of teacher-trainees or novice teachers’ journal writing and their conceptions of journal writing. The questions driving the study include (a) What are the types of reflection as evidenced in trainees writing, (b) What are the strategies or stance used by the trainees in “telling their stories”? (c) What seems to be a common type of reflection among the trainees?, and (d) What are the trainee teachers’ perceptions and understandings of reflective journal writing?

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