Reflective Practice - Political Paper Tiger, Bone of Contention in the Professions, or Pedagogical Challenge?

Reflective Practice - Political Paper Tiger, Bone of Contention in the Professions, or Pedagogical Challenge?

Gerd Bräuer (University of Education Freiburg, Germany) and Brady Spangenberg (translator) (Purdue University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0143-7.ch002

Abstract

The professional field of primary and secondary education can through reflective practice become visible and serviceable when the field itself is open to systematic research and exploration. Facilitating the development of such competencies stands at the center of instructional and pedagogical efforts, and portfolios in particular are currently enjoying a swell of interest. This chapter works to describe the Anglo-American concept of reflective practice in more detail in order to come up with suggestions on how to adapt this concept to the specific needs of education in Europe in general and in specific regard to electronic portfolios. When learners experience that working with a portfolio—a writing portfolio, for example—contributes to their continued long-term development as writers and readers, then they are able to better understand the reason for the portfolio work instead of merely mimicking some sort of predetermined model.
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Introduction

As part of the discussion about a new learning and achievement culture in the systems of primary, secondary and higher education within the German-speaking countries, there has been much said about documenting, evaluating, and reflecting on learning processes (cf. Gläser-Zikuda & Hascher, 2007). Facilitating the development of such competencies stands at the center of instructional and pedagogical efforts, and portfolios in particular are currently enjoying a swell of interest. However, there is a sense that portfolios are used because they are en vogue or because they have been ordered from above, and one must weather this craze. This contrasts with the more earnest approach that emphasizes the use of portfolios because they express a growing and maturing culture of learning and achievement whose possibilities will be discussed in more detail in the following sections. When the former sense prevails, the behavior of the portfolio-maker remains relatively unchanged, as if he or she only wants to use the portfolio as a means to achieve a better grade or professional recognition (Bräuer, 2006a). But when used as part of a culture of learning and achievement, portfolios can serve as a means to transition between learning processes.

The following discussion will work to describe the Anglo-American concept of reflective practice in more detail in order to come up with suggestions on how to adapt this concept to the specific needs of education in Europe in general and in specific regard to electronic portfolios. The motivation for this article stems from an understanding of reflection as a situated, meta-cognitive activity that not only enhances competencies in documenting, analyzing, interpreting, comparing, and evaluating learning (Bräuer, 2007a, p. 48, 2009, p. 162), but also directly augments the particular activity being observed. When learners experience that working with a portfolio—a writing portfolio, for example—contributes to their continued long-term development as writers and readers, then they are able to better understand the reason for the portfolio work instead of merely mimicking some sort of predetermined model. In Anglo-American literature on social constructivist writing pedagogy, this type of process-oriented textual work is characterized as “meaning making,” an expression that triggers not only personal involvement but also stronger motivation on the part of students and instructors alike.

The following sections will more closely examine the implied connections between reflection, situated learning, and qualified practice. Major areas of focus will be the theoretical, practical, and institutional foundations of reflective practice observed from the two frames of reference noted below. These frames of reference simultaneously embody, in my understanding, core objectives of teacher education and professional development:

  • a.

    How to initiate, organize, and use reflective practice in the classroom as a form of meta-cognitive learning?

  • b.

    How to initiate, organize, and use reflective practice, and its theoretical implications, for professional development within an institution?

An altered culture of learning and achievement must not only begin in a school-based professional context but must equally be integrated in the whole university curriculum particularily in teacher education programs. Nevertheless, this essay will not discuss the use of reflective practice at the university-wide level. The author has considered this perspective elsewhere, from a writing research perspective (Bräuer, 2006b), from the perspective of research on institutional development (Bräuer et al., 2012), and from the stance of second language acquisition (Bräuer, 2009).

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