Friday, 19 July 2013

Reflecting on Reflection

Last month I tweeted a little pun:
However, it got me thinking of how these three wave phenomena actually describe reflective practice pretty well.
In physics the white areas represent a medium, be it air, water, diamond, vacuum, &c., the grey areas represent a new medium that has a different density compared to the original one. The red lines are wave rays, which represent the direction of travel of a wave, be it sound, water, light, electron, &c.
In terms of reflective practice white areas on top represent ourselves as individual teachers. The grey areas are other individuals, like colleagues, family and friends. The red wave rays represent our practice, what we think about our practice, teaching philosophy, ideas and more.

Reflection: When we reflect on something the metaphor is pretty straight forward. With waves the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection so we should be seeing what is reflected exactly as it is. This allows us to critique our practice and always work to improve. The one draw back of reflection is that it is solitary. However much and however well I reflect my practices, ideas, and philosophies stay with me.

Refraction: Waves bend at the boundary between two media and similarly our ideas and practices change when we share them with others. People can see things in ways we'd never imagine. This can help us catch flaws or turn ho-hum activities into show-stoppers. In reflection the angles don't change, but the incident and reflected angles in refraction are different, though related by Snell's Law. Relating this to reflective practice shows that when we share ideas or practices they no longer are ours. The sharing of them fundamentally alters them. They become someone else's understanding/interpretation of our idea. They experience it in a way we cannot.
The plus side is that partial reflection also occurs during refraction. Some of the wave bounces off the boundary between media. Seeing how other people react to, understand, or build upon our ideas allows us to learn things a teachers that we could never learn alone.

Diffraction: Waves bend around openings. (Try bouncing a laser off the shiny side of a CD!) Diffraction allows educators to bring their ideas to the world. Traditionally the openings allowing our ideas to bend and spread have been journals and conferences, but with the advent of the internet the opportunities for diffracting have exploded: blogging, twitter, facebook, youtube, slideshare and so many others. Making our ideas, practices and philosophies public allows for greater growth. Through feedback and interaction we get a much broader view. Tens, hundreds, or thousands of others can engage in refraction with us and show us what our ideas can become. They in turn get a new idea to reflect upon and integrate into their practice. Many people talk about bringing the world into their classroom, but we can also bring the world into our reflective practice and reap the many benefits.

I'm committed to being a reflective, refractive and diffractive educator.

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