Using the Reflective Cycle to Facilitate Change

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  • 0:04 Reflective Cycle of Education
  • 0:46 Gibbs' Cycle of Reflection
  • 1:37 Applying the Reflective Cycle
  • 3:36 Student Uses of the Cycle
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

When things aren't going well in the classroom, what steps can you take to make a change? This lesson looks at how to use a reflective cycle to gain insight and make conscious improvements.

Reflective Cycle of Education

It's been a bad day for Mr. Reynolds, a 4th grade math teacher. As he leaves the school for the day to go home, he thinks to himself, ''This year's 4th graders just aren't very bright compared to past years.'' If Mr. Reynolds took time to reflect, he would see that there's more to the story. In this lesson, let's look at how Mr. Reynolds could use the reflective cycle to come away from a difficult day with ideas for what to adjust for the future.

The reflective cycle is a way for both teachers and students to take time to look carefully at their experiences and to consider what could be improved. This process can help improve all aspects of the instructional process, including planning, teaching, and assessing students.

Gibbs' Cycle of Reflection

One popular model of the reflective cycle was developed by British education professor Graham Gibbs. Gibbs (1988) proposed six stages to this process:

  1. Description: What has occurred? Who was involved?
  2. Feelings: What were the feelings of those involved?
  3. Evaluation: What worked and didn't work about the situation? What were the consequences?
  4. Analysis: Why did things turn out the way they did? What behaviors and choices influenced the results?
  5. Conclusion: What has been learned from the experience? What could be improved?
  6. Action Plan: What are the specific things that need to be done to put these improvements into place?

Gibb's model is referred to as a cycle because once you put an action plan into place, you would continue to assess new situations starting from the first stage again.

Applying the Reflective Cycle

Now we'll look at these stages using the example of Mr. Reynolds' bad day with his 4th graders.

  1. Description: Mr. Reynolds' 4th-grade math class is struggling with rounding decimals, even though he had covered the material several times.
  2. Feelings: Mr. Reynolds feels very frustrated, especially because he made a special effort to teach the topic in a more relevant way this year, relating it to money. He knows his students are frustrated too.
  3. Evaluation: Mr. Reynolds noticed that students don't have much trouble with rounding some numbers, like when they round $3.63 up to $4. Where they get stuck is when they have to deal with the thousandths and ten-thousandth places in a decimal expression, like when rounding 3.3464 to 3.346.
  4. Analysis: Mr. Reynolds wonders if relating the topic to money had an unintended side effect of causing the students to be confused when they see numbers written to the thousandth place, something you just don't see when dealing with dollars and cents.
  5. Conclusion: Mr. Reynolds concludes that using dollars and cents might not be the best idea when trying to teach a comprehensive lesson: how decimal places work. The real-world examples he decides to use could be changed to something more all-encompassing, like different kinds of measurements.
  6. Action Plan: Mr. Reynolds can make sure students understand how the same general rules apply to the decimal places that they're not used to seeing in money. He'll provide additional examples for when these types of decimal places are used, such as when calculating precise measurements, like a piece of paper that is 0.0254 mm thick or when abbreviating very large numbers, such as describing 7.125 billion people in the world.

If Mr. Reynolds' changed approach doesn't have the desired impact, he would go through this process again to consider what else might be going on. He'll also pay attention to whether his revised approach introduced any unanticipated negative consequences.

Student Uses of the Cycle

The reflective cycle isn't just for teachers. A teacher that understands a reflective cycle can share this philosophy with students. For instance, if Mr. Reynolds couldn't figure out why his students were struggling, he could have used the same cycle for helping them assess the situation.

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