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Reflection, metacognition and critical pedagogy

August 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Apologies to those of you who have been unable to access the Pontydysgu web site over the past couple of days. We have some issues with our Apache server which we are trying to track down. Hopefully we should get a permanent fix soon (may thanks to Raymond Elferink for all his efforts to help us).

Some more quick notes on pedagogy – an issue that is somewhat obsessing me at the moment.

One of the issue which is constantly arising is that of reflection. Reflection is seen by many as a powerful tool for learning and especially for metacognition. Yet reflection is seen as problematic. As teachers we cannot force learners to reflect. And many teachers – especially in the upper school systems and in universities complain that students do not want to reflect – they want just to be told what they have to learn to pass their exams.

I have taught in many sectors (or domains) in the education system. I have worked as a detached youth worker, in adult education, as  as a teacher trainer and as a trainer for continuing educational development. I have also (occasionally) taught undergraduate students in university. And what strikes me is  very different approaches to reflection and to pedagogy in those different domains.

We seldom talked about reflection when I was working as a youth worker or  trainer. We often talked about reflection when i worked as a university teacher. Yet despite this, there were far higher levels of refection in training courses I have run than on university courses I have taught on. Why?

University courses are geared around a subject based curriculum. Essentially we are involved in dividing up that curriculum into chunks and providing lectures, seminars and assessed assignments to ensure the curriculum is fully covered in a semester or module.

In contrast trainers – be it in professional development or in youth work have a very different starting point and pedagogic focus. Essentially trainers are concerned above all with designing learning. This includes

  • A focus on the needs of the learners, rather than the demands of a syllabus
  • The development of aims and objectives for learner achievement
  • The design of the learning environment
  • The design of learning activities
  • Formative assessment for learners to measure their own (both individual and collective) progress
  • Mechanisms for evaluation, feedback and iterative programme development

In terms of activities we were often looking for active and authentic learning activities – activities designed to help learners develop their own ideas. And we would build in methods for discussion and exchange of ideas. Programme planning and design used to take much longer – in professional development we had a rule of thumb which said two days development time for each days delivery. Of course this is resource intensive. But would a change to focus on the needs of the learners and to design authentic learning activities not facilitate the kind of reflective learning to which we aspire. That might mean tearing up rigid curricula. It might mean developing new learning environments outside a classroom. It might mean moving away from individual assessment. But it might be worth it.

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One Response to “Reflection, metacognition and critical pedagogy”

  1. Frances Bell says:

    You say that there was a higher incidence of reflection in training courses than in HE. I can’t comment on that (and you don’t supply evidence- hard to find) but note that your argument relies on relating experiential learning to reflection. This applies to training where a practice context can be the site of reflection but can also apply to HE where students have multiple sites for reflection. These include scholarly tasks like reviewing literature, constructing arguments, creating artifacts (technological, dramatic, musical, etc.) and primary research (interviewing / surveying research subjects. These tasks can be less immediate and more challenging for reflection than a work context but I don’t think it makes it makes them less valuable – just different.
    The tough question is how do we encourage effective reflection? and you suggest some approaches. This very tough question needs good research I think.

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