This paper provides a critical review of reflective practice (RP), drawing attention to particular problems with its representation, as well as proposing a more evidence-based and data-led approach to RP. Our central argument is that RP in the fields of applied linguistics, TESOL and education has achieved a status of orthodoxy without a corresponding data-led description of its value, processes and outcomes. Our concern is that RP is described in ways that are elusive, general, and vague and which may not be particularly helpful for practitioners. This is largely due to the lack of concrete, data-led and linguistic detail of RP in practice and to its institutional nature, lack of specificity, and reliance on written forms. It is also the case that, despite a small number of exceptions (e.g. Korthagen and Wubbels 1995; Walsh 2011), reflective practice is not operationalized in systematic ways.
This paper argues that applied linguistics needs to champion a description of RP's processes and impact by drawing on data-led accounts of reflective practice across a range of contexts. Too many RP accounts rely on general summaries and so are neither critical, transparent, nor usable by other practitioners. A key aspect of developing a more critical approach is the need to move beyond rosy summaries of the outcomes of RP towards accounts of how RP gets done. Where possible we need to share examples of ‘reflection in action’ so that its nature and value can be better understood. We propose here that RP needs to be rebalanced, away from a reliance on written forms and taking more account of spoken, collaborative forms of reflection; in sum, we argue for a more dialogic, data-led and collaborative approach to reflective practice.
About the authors
Dr Steve Mann is Associate Professor at the Centre for Applied Linguistics at University of Warwick. He is Director of MA ELT programmes. He previously lectured at both Aston University and University of Birmingham. He has experience in Hong Kong, Japan and Europe in both English language teaching and teacher development. His most recent book Innovations in Pre-service Teacher Education (2013) is part of the British Council's new Innovation Series. Steve supervises a research group of PhD students who are investigating teacher's education and development. The group's work considers aspects of teacher development, reflective practice and teacher beliefs.
Steve Walsh is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of Postgraduate Research in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. He has been involved in English Language Teaching for more than 20 years and has worked in a range of overseas contexts, including Hong Kong, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and China. Steve's research interests include professional discourse, classroom discourse, teacher development, second language teacher education, educational linguistics and analyzing spoken interaction. He has published extensively in these areas and is the Editor of the journal Classroom Discourse published by Routledge.
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