Reflective Teaching via a Problem Exploration-Teaching Adaptations-Resolution Cycle: A Mixed Methods Study of Preservice Teachers' Reflective Notes

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  • Article

    Journal of Mixed Methods ResearchXX(X) 121

    The Author(s) 2013Reprints and permissions: 10.1177/1558689813509027

    Reflective Teaching viaa Problem ExplorationTeaching AdaptationsResolution Cycle: A MixedMethods Study of PreserviceTeachers Reflective Notes

    H. Emily Hayden1 and Ming Ming Chiu1


    We explore development of elementary preservice teachers reflective practices as they solvedproblems encountered while teaching in a reading clinic. Written reflections (N = 175) were col-lected across 8 weeks from 23 preservice teachers and analyzed to investigate relationshipsamong problem exploration, teaching adaptations, and problem resolution. In this sequentialmixed methods design, exploratory qualitative analysis revealed co-occurrence of problemexploration, instructional adaptation, and problem resolution. Confirmatory quantitative analysisfound significant relationships: preservice teachers who engaged in more problem explorationor description of instructional adaptations reported more problem resolutions the followingweek. Results support mixed method, longitudinal analyses to analyze preservice teachers writ-ten reflections, and use of written reflections with responsive feedback to develop preserviceteachers agency for problem solving.


    mixed methods, reflective practices, teacher preparation, reading instruction

    A fundamental task for novice teachers, those engaged in practicum, clinical experiences, stu-

    dent teaching, or the first years of practice (Berliner, 1988) is development of reflective prac-

    tices that lead to adaptive expertise. Expertise in teaching requires skillful, fluid blending of

    deep, varied content knowledge with extensive pedagogy (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, &

    LePage, 2005; Milner, 2010) while balancing unpredictability of people and environments.

    Teachers who manage this balance are enacting reflective practice by combining thought and

    analysis with action in practice (Schon, 1983) and reflective teachers become adaptive

    experts (Hammerness et al., 2005, p. 359) who can identify instructional roadblocks, then gen-

    erate and enact successful responses.

    1State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA

    Corresponding Author:

    Emily Hayden, Graduate School of Education, Department of Learning and Instruction, University at Buffalo, 584

    Christopher Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260-1000, USA.


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  • This sequential mixed methods study was conducted to improve understanding of what

    novices reflect on in their teaching practice, and how their reflections might be connected to

    instructional action. We analyzed structured reflections written by 23 novices after weekly

    teaching in a reading clinic to identify the events these novices focused on for reflection and

    the processes they applied during reflection on these events. Deweys (1916) pragmatic view of

    knowledge as (a) connected inseparably to action, (b) centered on understanding relationships

    between knowledge and action across different experiences, and (c) resulting in the combina-

    tion of action with reflection on that action helped us understand the results as we explored two

    specific questions:

    1. What problems of teaching practice did novices describe in their reflections?

    2. What relationships, if any, were present among three themes that emerged from qualitative

    analysis of novices reflections: problem exploration, instructional adaptation, and problem


    Purpose of This Study

    Our interest in exploring novices reflective practices developed after hearing a colleague assert

    that novices would be unlikely to reflect deeply on any challenges in their teaching. We dis-

    agreed. In fact, novices often acknowledge their need for developing reflective practices to

    improve their readiness for teaching and seek out opportunities to build these habits of mind

    (Loughran, 2006; Lunenberg & Korthagen, 2005; Nilsson, 2009). In the initial exploratory

    phase of this study, qualitative analysis of the written reflections aimed to explore novices

    descriptions of problems. This phase revealed co-occurrences of reflection on problems and

    instructional adaptations. A subsequent review of the literature revealed support for the reflec-

    tion on problems and connection to action (Dewey, 1916) that emerged from this first phase of

    analysis and we followed with a quantitative phase as confirmatory analysis for these co-


    In our review of the literature, we did not find studies that had implemented this type of

    analysis. Many used self-report scales and questionnaires to explore teachers perceptions of

    pedagogical context, knowledge, dispositions, teaching, and learning (Giovannelli, 2003;

    Kramarski & Michalsky, 2009). These approaches provided solid quantitative data but lacked

    rich descriptions and grounded perspectives of novices immersed in reflection on teaching.

    Other studies provided case descriptions of individual teachers development of reflection and

    adaptive expertise (Hayden, Rundell, & Smyntek-Gworek, 2013; Jay & Johnson, 2002; Lytle &

    Cochran-Smith, 1992; Orland-Barak & Yinon, 2007; Ostorga, 2006) and teacher educators

    reflective development (Pui-lan et al., 2005), but one analyzed data for only one lesson instead

    of following teachers over time (Orland-Barak & Yinon, 2007) and none connected that with

    confirmatory analysis that measured relationships among variables. We aimed to fill this gap

    by providing comprehensive, convergent analysis of the reflective data these novices provided.

    Theoretical Frameworks

    Deweys (1916) pragmatic views of knowledge as concerned with grasping the relationship

    between our actions and their consequences (Biesta, 2010, p. 106, italics original) became our

    theoretical lens. Understanding this relationship makes knowledge in one experience freely

    available for use in other experiences (Dewey, 1916), but Dewey was careful to differentiate

    between knowledge and habits, which are predispositions formed by prior experiences that

    encourage the same response when presented with particular situations. Habit does not make

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  • allowance for change of conditions [and] . . . often leads astray (p. 359). Knowledge is more

    powerful and can help us plan intelligently and direct our actions (Biesta, 2010, p. 107).

    Knowledge for teaching serves as a tool for reorganizing instructional activity, combining

    pedagogical theory with practice, and illuminating connections between what is known in one

    content area with applications in another. Knowledge combined with action allows one to make

    a systematic inspection of the situation . . . to identify and state the problem [and] develop sug-

    gestions for addressing [it], for finding a way to act, and hence find out what the meaning of the

    situation actually is. (Biesta, 2010, p. 109) Reflection at its basic level centers on this type of

    exploration, asking questions, describing key elements, and evaluating current practice in light

    of student responses (Hayden et al. 2013, p. 147). It is aimed at taking action (Korthagen &

    Kessels, 1999, Korthagen & Vasalos, 2005) and is embodied in practice (Kinsella, 2007). And

    since some of the most efficacious learning experiences for teachers at any level come when they

    encounter puzzling, troubling or interesting phenomenon (Schon, 1983, p. 50) exploration of

    these problems of practice can generate adaptations either initiated in the moment of teaching or

    planned for future interactions (Duffy et al., 2008) and aimed toward resolution. This is the prac-

    tice of adaptive experts (Gooddell, 2006; Hole & McEntee, 1999; Tripp, 1993).

    Literature Review

    Language and Reflective Thought

    Exploration of ideas through language shapes and drives learning and solidifies development of

    schema (Vygotsky, 1978) and knowledge. Reiman (1999) linked intrapersonal language to

    reflection and argued that a pedagogy of action/reflection and journaling can frame language

    in new ways, promoting deeper understanding (p. 599). Writing to reflect focuses attention

    and permits the symbolizing of meaningful experience (p. 604). Hacker, Keener, and Kircher

    (2009) declared [p]roduction of thought is the core of writing (p. 155) and Wells (2003)

    asserted that writing allows complex structures of meaning to be articulated more precisely

    than . . . in everyday conversation (p. 55). But Reiman (1999) lamented the lack of solid con-

    structs for analyzing written reflections and their usefulness and identified the need for scaffolds

    or guided formats to provide continuous, ongoing connections between teaching action and

    reflection. Reiman especially supported dialogic reflection, where teachers write for an audi-

    ence (e.g., a teacher educator) and can expect a response. This method is useful for developing

    teaching competencies for multiracial settings (Milner, 2010) supporting preservice teachers

    (Farrell, 2007; Lam, 2011) and helping novices negotiate first years of practice (Tillman, 2003).

    Learning Reflective Practices

    Novices must learn ways adaptive experts link reflection and action, because reflective practice

    is more than acquiring skill sets or possessing certain dispositions. It involves integrating spe-

    cific thinking activities with analysis in order to develop new habits of mind. Korthagen and

    Kessels (1999) outlined habits of reflection in their ALACT model, when a teaching Action is

    followed by Looking back to reflect, Awareness expands by naming, questioning, describing,

    and evaluating, and Creating instructional adaptations is followed by Trial and review. Jay and

    Johnson (2002) included some ALACT elements in their stage model of reflection, starting

    with descriptive reflection when teachers name events, key elements, feelings, responses, and

    generate questions. Active, reflective analysis of teaching challenges and generation of adaptive

    responses encourages novices to take agency and bridge theory and practice by perceiving

    more in a particular situation and finding a helpful course of action [based on] strengthened

    Hayden and Chiu 3

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  • awareness (Korthagen & Kessels, 1999, p. 7), but this does not develop without specific gui-

    dance and concentrated support (Risko et al., 2008). By combining questioning of causes and

    contexts with knowledge of theory and methods, novices can uncover instructional steps that

    strengthen student learning.

    Challenges, Adaptation

    Reflecting on teaching challenges is crucial for building agency and efficacy, since it helps

    novices become aware of spaces where [they] can take initiatives (Greene, 1988, p. 17).

    Experiences of ambiguity and uncertainty can become prompts to reflect, and reflection can

    change the character of an action (Shepel, 1995, pp. 434-435) when novices use it to adapt

    instruction to affect student outcomes. But expecting teachers to think deeply about every event

    in the teaching day would be unrealistic.

    Cubans (1992) distinction of problems from dilemmas provides a way to think selectively

    about teaching interactions. Problems are routine, structured situations that produce conflict

    because a goal is blocked. Learning when to re-teach and when to move on is a problem of tim-

    ing and targeting that will resolve as the ability to assess student learning improves. Expertise

    provides solutions to such pedagogical issues, so less reflection time is required as teachers gain

    proficiency with management of the tasks of teaching. Dilemmas are messier and require teach-

    ers to choose among competing highly prized values (Cuban, 1992, p. 6). For example, some

    students may transfer learning easily between reading and writing domains, seeing that strate-

    gies to recognize and record story elements on a graphic organizer can be applied in reverse as

    a prewriting strategy. Other students may need more scaffolded support in order to transfer stra-

    tegies from reading to writing. If the teachers goal is for every student to write a story with

    specific elements, that goal may need to be confronted.

    Problems have elements of predictability and can be managed, but dilemmas interrupt the

    teaching flow even for experts and require reflection and agency. Reflecting deeply on dilem-

    mas while managing problems is a marker of expertise that requires the ability to filter prob-

    lems by generating pedagogical adaptations that lead to resolution. Doing so frees up time and

    space for reflection on dilemmas, improves self-efficacy for teaching, and decreases burnout

    (Haverback & Parault, 2008). Novices may initially reflect deeply on every classroom chal-

    lenge, not yet having management routines for resolving problems. Developing such routines is

    a crucial milestone in teacher development and an indicator of growth through the novice stage.

    When novices notice and describe problems (Jay & Johnson, 2002; Pui-lan et al., 2005), feel

    empowered and perplexed enough to pose questions (Miller, 2007, p. 312) then reflect and

    generate solutions, they move toward adaptive expertise.



    We obtained consent to collect written reflections from 23 novice teachers, all female, enrolled

    in a reading assessment and evaluation course with teaching component at a public Midwestern

    university. Six were graduate students adding teaching credentials, and 17 were junior-year

    undergraduates. Eighteen novices provided information on previous teaching experiences. Four

    of the graduate students had worked as para-educators in public schools for less than 4 years,

    one was an English Language instructor overseas for 2 years, uncertified to teach in the United

    States, and one had a degree and 2 years experience in school counseling. Undergraduates

    reported two to six semesters of practicum during teacher training.

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  • Context

    The course novices were enrolled in focused on developing reflective inquiry and theoretical

    frameworks to link assessment, instruction, and student performance. Instruction covered initial

    reading/writing/spelling assessment and analysis and research-based elements of instruction.

    Teaching in the reading clinic coincided with the class, but discussions of teaching experiences

    were only used as examples to clarify instructional topics. No seminar or other outlet for dedi-

    cated discussion accompanied teaching and the only regular time discourse occurred was during

    novices writing of reflections and supervisors responses to them.

    Each novice taught one child for two 60-minute sessions per week. Children were predomi-

    nantly Caucasian, attended public o...


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