Forward-looking reflective teaching

Ehsan Gorji
Ehsan Gorji
A classroom with students sat at desks and one student stood at the front with the teacher

Ehsan Gorji is an Iranian teacher, teacher trainer and teacher educator. He also designs strategic plans, devises study syllabuses, runs quality-check observations, and develops materials and tests for different language institutes and schools in the country. Ehsan has been a GSE Thought Leader and Expert Rater since 2016. 

Reflective teaching, despite it sounding modern and sophisticated, has not yet become a common practice among English language teachers. However, the experiential learning cycle proposed by Jim Scrivener offers a practical approach for teachers. The cycle involves teaching a lesson, reflecting on "what we did" and "how we did them," and then using that reflection to improve future English classes. By using this approach, teachers can prepare for better teaching in the long term.

Why use forward-looking reflective teaching in your lessons?
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Why is reflective teaching important?

Reflective teaching is important to teachers, especially language teachers, for it is one of the few practices that maintains dynamic and healthy teaching. Ranking high along with continuing professional development and lesson planning, reflective teaching prevents teachers from entering autopilot mode – i.e., when a teacher changes from class to class, only battling their growing fatigue.

Reflective teaching helps focus our attention on the responsibility of the teachers to deliver effective teaching and impact students' learning. Language teachers cannot learn for our students; nevertheless, we can pave the way for their learning. Reflective teaching grants us the judiciary seat after each class to listen to ourselves and form accurate and independent judgments on how our teaching assisted, or sometimes impeded, their learning in our classes.

What is forward-looking reflective teaching?

Forward-looking reflective teaching is a new perspective on post-teaching analysis. It starts from the very first and wishes to prepare for the very end. Unlike reflective teaching, which mainly focuses on the 'teaching' phase, forward-looking reflective teaching observes both 'teaching' and 'pre-teaching' phases to gather enough data and analyze it to produce better results in 'post-teaching'. This approach provides language teachers with the following checklist of questions.

  1. How well did I plan my lesson?
  2. Did I design suitable tasks and practices for my students?
  3. Did I set practical assignments for my learners?
  4. Did I support learner autonomy?
  5. How did I treat errors made by my students?
  6. Did I deliver personalized and accurate feedback on each error?
  7. How important was my learners' employability to me?
  8. If I were to teach the same lesson, what would I do the same?
  9. What would I do differently if I were to teach the same lesson?
  10. What is the next step?

What is the forward-looking reflective teaching checklist?

To apply forward-looking reflective teaching and to bring it to our everyday teaching, we can consider examples from the following checklist.

Reflection questions

Planning the lesson

1. Was I aware of which learning objectives I intended to teach?
2. Was I aware of which learning outcomes I needed to follow?
3. Did I curate suitable lesson objectives?
4. Did I carefully inspect the language examples I used in my lesson?
5. Did I explicitly know what I was able to do in my class?

Designing the tasks

6. Did I break my lesson into clear stages, following each other smoothly? For example, preliminary > presentation > controlled practice > freer practice > production/ or: before > during > after/ etc.
7. Did each of my lesson stages intend to push my learners toward the lesson's learning objectives?
8. Did each of my lesson stages intend to push my learners towards the learning outcomes of the course?
9. To what extent did my lesson design give my class an adequate opportunity to practice and generate communication?
10. To what extent did my lesson design provide my class an adequate opportunity to practice and enable collaboration?
11. Did I time my stages well?

Setting assignments

12. Did my assignments target the learning outcomes my learners were supposed to acquire?
13. Especially in Young Learners classes, did I set assignments in favor of 'fun and ease' or 'fun, ease and outcome'?
14. Especially in Adult and Professional Learners classes, did my homework assignments intend to develop their employability skills?
15. Did my assignments encourage learner autonomy? How?

Treating errors

16. Did I treat errors or just correct errors?
17. Did I bear in mind that not every error is indicative of an actual issue?
18. Did I sharply distinguish an error from a mistake, and did I treat these two differently?
19. Did I tell faulty knowledge from non-existent knowledge accurately?
20. Did I apply teaching with ZPD when appropriate?

Delivering feedback

21. Did I evaluate my students' formative progress against some detailed learning objectives rather than basing it on how others did in class?
22. Did I evaluate my students' summative progress with the precise learning outcomes that their level demanded?
23. Did my feedback on my learners' learning and oral performance help me communicate clear and detailed expectations to the learner, with the aim for them to improve in the future?
24. Did my feedback on my learners' learning and written performance help me communicate clear and detailed expectations to the learner, with the aim for them to improve in the future?

How can I use a forward-looking reflective teaching checklist?

The teaching checklist works better if it is run through regularly. Start from one class each day, and gradually change the rhythm for more. Immediately after your class or later at night, before planning the next class, go through the checklist and add more than your estimated teaching capacity. Ask yourself every one of the questions patiently and note down your answers; they show you where to start for the next class. Some of the questions in the checklist might receive 'Yes'/'No', and some might come up with:

  1. 'Fully'
  2. 'Partially'
  3. 'Not at all'

The checklist works much better if you prepare a plan of action to improve things for the following class(es). Do not feel bad if you score lots of 'No's or 'Not at all's; instead, be inspired to reduce them in the subsequent classes step by step. This checklist is a roadmap to your professional development and more importantly, to better the learning by your students; therefore, welcome it and let it run everyday check-ups on your teaching.

Collaborate with colleagues to share checklists and set up forums. Discuss and learn from each other about inspecting language, error treatment, and feedback delivery. Ask questions to enrich your action plan. Find out how to create effective scaffolding. The forum can cover all parts of the checklist.

Read this blog to better understand lesson planning and inspecting language. Review and revise your techniques and principles in your teaching wardrobe, especially with teaching beginners.

A forward-looking reflective teaching checklist works best if accompanied by the Global Scale of English and its powerful Teacher Toolkit. Years of research by thousands of experts and teachers from around the globe have resulted in a free, excellent bank of learning objectives for different learner types – young, adult, professional and academic. This checklist and approach, alongside the GSE resources, can further equip you with the necessary tools to succeed.

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