In today’s post, the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Dr Erik Blair considers how reflective practice can be structured to support the development of teaching practice.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s major work, De Architectura (circa 15BC), helped define Roman architecture by expressing the ratio of a building’s parts to each other. This proportionate and balanced perspective is why Roman architecture and many of the neo-classical buildings that litter our cities are so pleasing to the eye. The ratio of a building’s width to its height gives the appearance of things being balanced; the scale of the various arches seems just right, and columns are neatly set apart using mathematical formulae rather than just equal spacing. Later, Leonardo da Vinci drew on Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s work to develop a template for drawing people to proportion. His famous naked-man-in-a-circle drawing is actually known as the Vitruvian Man and shows the ratio of head to arms to legs to torso. The image shows that the span of someone’s outstretched arms is actually the same measure as their height, offering a guide for artists who don’t have da Vinci’s talent. It is this balanced approach that I think we could draw on when developing reflective practice models.
Reflective practice is a means of self-analysis used in education in order to examine one’s teaching practice – sift out the good, the bad and the ugly aspects – and work out what works, and what doesn’t. Rather than just walking out of a classroom and thinking, “Yeah, that was okay today” or, “That was my best class yet and no-one cried”, reflective practice is a personal and analytical process. There has been much written on reflection in education. The literature in this field is broad and often rooted in the work of Donald Schön and John Dewey. Reflective practice is driven by reflexivity and a desire to improve; where intrapersonal examination leads to a modification in one’s actions, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes such a complicated process is easier with a framework that can be applied… and this is where we return to Vitruvius.
Reflecting in a constructive manner may be best facilitated through the consideration of specific aspects of practice, rather than just assessing practice as one whole conglomeration of activity. I have previously blogged on ‘Everyday reflective practice’ where reflection can be a balanced activity. I suggest that a good place to start might be the four domains of learning developed through the work of Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues (Bloom et al, 1956, Krathwohl et al, 1964). Here there are four aspects of learning: the cognitive, the affective, the psychomotor and the conative. These domains have clear and identifiable links to practice: they focus on cognitive skills (what is thought, known and learned); affective skills (the emotions, feelings and beliefs that underpin the educational drive of all those involved in the learning environment); psychomotor skills (the physical acts undertaken within the learning environment), and conative skills (the endeavour of learning and teaching). Using these four domains offers us a proportionate way of analysing practice at the person level. This domain-driven model asks practitioners to evaluate their practice in a measured way, examining all four domains. By using a proportionate and balanced Vitruvian-type approach, reflective practice can be considered in a way that is organised and easy to use. But that is only the start of the story.
The balance that I have been speaking of so far is only really true when we take an objective position. If we look at stuff in a subjective manner then things start to change. For example, standing next to the fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda offers a fantastic view of the front of the Pantheon from a distance of about 50 metres. From this distance, the huge isosceles shaped roof sitting atop the eight columns is proportionate and pleasing to the eye. But as we move closer and sit on one of the steps, looking directly up one of the columns the view becomes distorted. The same is true of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. When we observe the drawing we see balance and proportion but what if we were the Vitruvian Man? If we look through the eyes of the Vitruvian Man, and turn our head to look along one of our arms, things become foreshortened – where things that are closer appear bigger. What is objectively seen as proportionate can subjectively be seen as distorted!
When we observe the world we don’t do this in an objective manner, we look through our own eyes and assess things using a mixture of our natural condition and our environmental conditioning. This nature/nurture perspective means that reflection is value-loaded and the things that matter most to us take on greater significance in our reflections. In this way, our judgement of the world is foreshortened. Since we are subjective beings, a truly proportionate model of reflective practice must embrace our humanity – using a framework for self-discovery but balancing this with what we value. The question then moves from “What should I reflect upon?” to “How does my personal perspective affect the things I reflect upon?”
Reflective practice is a conversation with oneself that seeks to inform and develop future practice. Using a framework that draws on the domains of practice, rather than unorganised reflections, can help in this process being more focussed. But this Vitruvian approach can be further augmented through a more personal dialogue where practitioners start examining the relationship between their reflections and the things that really matter to them as individuals. Reflection and self-awareness are important teaching skills and having a personal and proportionate framework for examining practice might offer a resultant pedagogy that is pleasing to the eye; pleasing to our students, and aligned with individual values.
Bloom, B., Englehart, M., Furst, E., Hill, W. & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain, New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green
Krathwohl, D., Bloom, B.S. & Masia, B. B. (1964) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of educational goals– Handbook II: Affective Domain, New York: McKay