01 SES 09 B, Reflection: An intergral part of professional learning?
Starting from European indications of innovating teaching, aimed at preparing students for active participation in today’s multicultural societies (Unesco, 2011; European Commission, 2013), this paper will explore how learning and implementing Complex Instruction can be a fruitful opportunity for teachers to develop a reflective practice (Schön, 1984; Fullan et al., 2006) and promote more equitable participation in class.
Complex Instruction is a cooperative learning approach developed by Elizabeth Cohen and her Staff at Stanford University with the specific aim of improving the equal status interaction between students of differing academic and social levels in group work and in class, by changing teachers and students' expectations for competence (Cohen, 1994). Thanks to its features, this strategy is presented as an educational response to the demands of growing multicultural society. The research results show that not only does Complex Instruction improve students’ academic achievement and social skills, but it is also develops teachers’ professionalism. This paper will examine the potential that this strategy has to enhance competence of teachers in reflective practice.
Despite work in reflective practice has been significant, what this entails in practice and which difficulties teachers may encounter requires further investigation. The paper aims to explore the conditions in which teachers can develop a reflective approach in their class work, and how and to what extent they can structure their reflection in everyday practice. It therefore examines how experimenting with Complex Instruction can broaden the teacher’s perspectives and develop the understanding of the classroom as a complex social and cultural system, where teachers and students’ different expectations can influence the participation in learning activities.
The paper critically presents and interweaves data collected during an ethnographic research, which was carried out with a group of in-service teachers in some primary schools (from December 2006 to May 2008), and in four workshops which involved pre-service teachers, attended a bachelor of Education (two workshops respectively in 2014-2015 and in 2015-2016). Open interviews and participant observation were employed while the in-service teachers were working on creating new Complex Instruction teaching units and implementing them in class. Class discussions were developed during the workshops and unstructured interviews were posed to undergraduate students, who were experimenting with Complex Instruction, at the end of each seminars. The scope was to better understand how they reconsidered their past experience of teaching and learning from a perspective (provided by this new strategy) they may not have considered previously.
In both cases, findings revealed that Complex Instruction often provides both in-service and pre-service teachers with a very different experience from the usual ones. This can cause “dis-orientation” and “dis-positioning”. But it is precisely this uncertainty that moves teachers to investigate their own belief and dispositions towards teaching and learning and, thus, imagine new scenarios for their classes, and for themselves as educators. This state of uncertainty strengthens the ability to raise questions (not only to solve problems) about their own practice and their usual way of teaching and learning, and makes them more aware of their role in developing a more democratic and inclusive learning process. Complex Instruction seems to have the power to develop an effective reflective process, which is a fundamental competence for teachers in our changing societies. It enables teachers to generate multiple perspectives and make creative solutions by ‘thinking out of the box’. Thus, by developing a heightened sense of agency in teachers, this process challenges their professional identity.
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