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Pope Reflection and Refraction

Reflection and Refraction: A

Reflexive Look at an Evolving
Model for Methods Instruction
Carol A. Pope
I love teaching! I have loved teaching since Mrs. Suttles had me help
Paul Morganton with his reading in the third grade and since Mrs. Pruett,
my fourth grade teacher, asked me to be her voice on a day when she
had laryngitis. Later she said, Carol, you would make a good teacher. I
started to build a teacher vision of myself on the spot. I played school at
home with my imaginary companions: wrote their names and the assignment on the blackboard and lectured on important points from the old
books I had in my room. In my neighborhood I, as the only girl and oldest
kid, organized games and even set plays during touch football games.
Twelve years after Mrs. Pruett made her suggestion, I did become a teacher,
a high school English teacher, and I have loved teaching ever since. I even
loved it through the tormenting days when I struggled to calm my high
school Heroes and Heroines class and when I ran crying from my high
school Stagecraft class. The African-American students, whose high school
had been closed during integration, openly questioned the sincerity of my
attempts to involve them in the schools upcoming musical production,
and who could wonder why? I have loved teaching through struggles and
accomplishments because it challenges me in ways nothing else does.
Imagine my pleasure, after years of teaching English, serving as a
cooperating teacher, student teacher supervisor and mentor, when I became a teacher educator. In 1983, accompanied by a renewed vision of
teaching and a brand new doctorate, I entered my first university teaching position at the University of Houston as an English language arts

Carol Pope is an Associate Professor of English Language Arts Education in the College
of Education and Psychology at North Carolina State University. She has taught English
methods classes at the University of Virginia, University of Houston, and North Carolina
State University.
English Education, Vol. 31, No. 3, April 1999

Copyright 1999 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.


English Education April 1999

methods class professor. I was ready to teach teachers, to make a difference in the lives of many children through the teachers I would prepare.
On the first day of my very first methods class, I presented a thorough
syllabus, complete with a theoretical framework that Smagorinsky and
Whiting (1995) would approve. The syllabus was invitational, filled with
opportunities for students to reflect on themselves as learners and teachers, and it built on the current research and theories. I described the numerous class experiences we would share that the students could adapt
to their own teaching and was convinced by the end of the first class that
I had gotten off to a good start. During the next few classes I listened to
the students and heard their views of the course. They reported that they
were scared and worried about their student teaching. They had taken the
requisite courses in educational psychology, introduction to teaching, and
school and society, but they had completed these classes as students, not
as a teachers. They had learned to prepare lesson and unit plans, but they
registered little confidence that they actually could teach these plans to
real kids. When I mentioned in class one day that they were the hope of
tomorrow, the leaders of future students, the movers and shakers of
tomorrows classrooms, they met me with blank stares. While they all said
they wanted to be teachers because they loved working with kids, they
said they did not want to shake the system. I just want to get through
student teaching, get a job, and start making some money was their most
frequent reply.
When I asked these same students to write me about what they wanted
from the English language arts methods class and me, almost to a person they wrote, I want to know the BEST way to teach English. I must
admit it was tempting in those days to respond to their frequent in-class
questions regarding the BEST way to teach with direct answers. After all,
I had been teaching a long time and held a doctorate in English education. Should I not know the answers? Could I not just tell them the answer
according to the experts and be done with it? Was I withholding answers
from them?

Confronting the Tension

Ever since that first semester in 1983 as an English language arts
methods professor, I have struggled yearly with the questions, How can
I do my job and not come off as the only one in the class with answers?
How can I inform and lead students to current theories, research, suggested
pedagogy without being didactic? How can I support their growth and learning without co-opting them, making them dependent on me? How can I
nurture their development without being afraid to teach? In one form or

Pope Reflection and Refraction

another these how questions continue to drive my teaching and my action

research agenda as an English language arts methods professor.
Over the years I have certainly wavered in my response to these questions. I have been at times overly practical and overly theoretical. I have
walked the tightrope between giving answers and insisting that my students generate answers for themselves with their own students. Gradually, however, I have come to realize that the answers to these driving
questions lay not in me but in my students, not in my planned lessons and
lectures but in our interactions.
In fact, I have discovered how critical it is that my students and I develop the kind of mutually respectful relationship that provides a landscape
for questioning, challenging, and searching together. We have to listen and
to teach each other, but we also have to work at knowing and saying what
we mean. For example, when students tell me, We dont need to practice teaching to each other, I try to listen and probe further to uncover
their real issues before we decide together if the requirement needs to
change. The students voices, concerns, and views, along with my commitment to their futures as English language arts teachers, drive the teaching and learning decisions of the methods class.
Through a number of experiments and a series of failures and successes, each of which has been painstakingly revealed in my students
pedagogy logs, in class discussions, and in personal conversations, I have
developed a teaching/learning process that is congruent with my philosophy, one which honors the voices of my students and which builds on their
needs and questions. This article, at the risk of being naive and self-indulgent, is an attempt to describe that process, to make the implicit explicit, to expose my intuitive teacher self, and to clarify my view of
classroom-based inquiry. I am trying, as Chiseri-Strater (1996) suggests,
to bend back upon myself as well as my students in my self-reflexivity.

Reflection and Refraction (R & R)

As I have examined and deconstructed my own teaching and the processes I use before, during, and after a class, I have discovered how much
time I spend thinking, mulling over, re-playing the last class, envisioning
the numerous options for the next class, and forecasting possible student
responses (Vinz, p. 225). I reflect. Reflection, a term common in educational discourse (Schn, 1983; Gere, et al., 1992; Posner, 1989; Vinz,
1996), refers to the process teachers and learners use to consider and
examine their practice. Through my own reflection, I hold a mirror to my
class. I review my pedagogical choices, explore what worked or did not
work, consider the variables and context, and re-examine my thinking about

English Education April 1999

However, I have found that for me reflecting is not enough. It is what

I make of this thinking that matters in teaching, the changes, alterations,
adjustments I make that have the final impact. In order to get to these
adaptations, I have to do more than hold a mirror to myself and the class;
I have to turn the mirror and see the class from different angles. From varied
angles, I can view the class in different forms and light. I call this process
Refraction. Refraction, an extension of reflection, suggests an added way
of seeing. In physics refraction refers to that process which changes the
direction of a light ray when it is cast obliquely; when applied to optics,
refraction refers to the eyes capacity to change the direction of light in
order to form an image. I use the term refraction in my pedagogical process to describe how I turn my own reflection, challenge my initial reaction, re-interpret the language and behavior of my students, and get past
my own defensiveness to find a new view using the oblique light from my
students responses from our various dialogues.
An example of how my Reflection/Refraction process has helped to
shift and deepen my thinking as well as my practice as a teacher educator involves Janie, a student in a recent middle grades English language
arts methods class. When I asked the class to write me a letter about what
they had been learning from their readings of Nancie Atwells In the Middle,
Janie responded, Can we write about what we arent learning too? Although I felt a wave of anxiety, I responded calmly, Sure. Inside I was
deeply disappointed. We had spent considerable class time discussing and
modeling the parts we had read thus far, so I was mystified by Janies
comment. Following the writing time, Janie further reiterated that she just
could not see how to do a reading/writing workshop. I just dont get it.
Other students chimed in with comments too, Can new teachers really
do reading/writing workshop? Well, she [Nancie Atwell] talks like this
is the only way to teach! She doesnt tell any stories about when it doesnt
I left that class in internal shambles but outwardly composed. I kept
reflecting on their comments, playing back the last few weeks of class.
Despite my modeling, our workshop classes, and simulations, they could
not see themselves implementing a workshop in their own classrooms.
They had also missed Atwells point about teachers finding what works
for different students and classrooms. Granted, we had not finished reading the text, but I believed they should be getting the idea. I thought everything from, Theyre not reading and keeping up, (my angry response)
to I think theyre mad at me (my pity-party, feeling responsible response)
for suggesting the value of a workshop environment for middle school kids.
I am not particularly proud of either of these responses, but they were
definitely there.

Pope Reflection and Refraction

Over the weekend, I continued to mull over the students comments

and our class, haunted by guilt and worry. Then I remembered to reach
beyond my reflecting process to refracting, to shift my thinking away from
myself, to turn the bothersome situation to see if some light could enter
from a different angle. On my Monday morning walk, I returned to my
methods musing, Maybe theyve been seeing experiencing workshop only
as students, not as teachers. And even though Ive given them a packet
of support materials and actually used them in class, they havent used
How could I have missed this obvious omission? I was so caught up
in reflecting, replaying the incident, surrounding classes, and my own
insecurity, that I was slow coming to the next stepRefraction. I needed
to challenge my own initial reactions and try to see from the students perspective, not mine. I already knew, from earlier in the semester, that many
of these students thought the methods class would teach them to teach
grammar, what they had to put up with as English language arts teachers. I also was discovering that this particular group of students were tactile, experience-based learners. Unlike some former students who were
accomplished at abstract thinking and model application, the present group
really needed to do a strategy to see its potential, and they needed to do
it as teachers.
I immediately headed out to Office Max, bought for each student a set
of folders, composition notebooks, and spiral bound notebooks that would
accompany one model of implementing a reading/writing workshop. The
next day I gave them these materials and assigned some aspect of workshop organization for each student to study. They were to determine the
use, format, and paperwork for each of the folders and notebooks. I also
asked them to make copies of any letters or forms they thought appropriate and to explain the value and use of the materials for both a middle
school student and teacher. They brought these materials to the next class,
presented and discussed how to use them, and why they would be useful
in a workshop class.
To follow up our class modeling, I invited Julia, a young middle school
teacher who had graduated from our program, to talk about her adaptation of workshop. My students were elated. After developing their own set
of materials, they saw, touched, and received copies of Julias materials;
they also asked her a myriad of questions about her students, how she
started using workshop, and why she thinks it works. They even began
to get excited about the prospects of being workshop teachers themselves.
When the two weeks of workshop focus ended, I again asked the students to describe their views on reading/writing workshop. Janie responded
first. While Id be scared starting workshop on my own, I think Im pre181

English Education April 1999

pared to do it. I have the materials I can change, and I know some people
I could go to for help. Cynthia, another skeptical student, chimed in, Yes,
I can do this. Murphy, who sees himself as a traditional teacher, said,
Im not sure Ill do this workshop thing as a new teacher, but now I can
see how it works. Other students made similar comments and added,
Thanks for buying us all this stuff and for having Julie come. All that really
As this incident reveals, the success of my Reflection/Refraction process depends on my willingness to listen, to be introspective, and to be
able to interpret and act on my own and my students language and behavior in ways I might not initially choose. Reflection, in itself challenging, requires me to see and hear classroom events clearly, to review, and
to examine the responses of students to my pedagogy. Refraction, on the
other hand, is often illusory, difficult to bring into focus. Refraction requires
me to extend my initial thinking, to gather information, and to form theories from not-so-immediate, not-so-obvious sources. I have to push myself to think outside my own parameters, to consider other meanings and
interpretations of the information I have collected. The most important
requirement of my refraction is that I be self-critical, that I be willing to
face my own fears as a teacher, and that I be vulnerable to alternative
meanings. Because these refractory messages are sometimes oblique and

Reflection and Refraction

Information from Student(s)
(Language and Behavior)
Filter Information
Knowledge of Students

(review, examine)
Figure 1.


Pope Reflection and Refraction

hard for me to uncover, I spend considerable time observing, gathering

impressions, questioning, and exploringturning the issue this way and
that both in solitude and with my students.
Reflection and Refraction serve as dual anchors in this process. They
function in my pedagogical mind much like a dialogue journal, a reflection on my own reflection, except that I try to step out of my own paradigmatic thinking and consider options I may normally not see. I try to
get past merely holding a mirror to my pedagogy; I try to see inside the
mirror, the students, and myself. (See Figure 1)
Critical variables in this process include both my knowledge of the
students, which I use as a filter in the process, and my own balance of
reflection and refraction. Just as in the prior reading/writing workshop
example, I have to keep in mind my students learning styles, prior experiences, and established teaching/learning philosophies. While I mull over
their comments, questions, and behaviors, I simultaneously make meaning and interpret possible explanations for their reactions. This refraction
part is tricky because it requires self-knowledge and a degree of objectivity. That is, while I consider the students own personal and pedagogical assumptions, I must also acknowledge my own assumptions and not
cloud the meaning-making process with my insecurities, biases, or private agenda. To achieve this delicate balance, I often ask the students for
clarification and their impressions of the issue; I also discuss with them
my dilemmas and concerns. By sharing my tensions with them, I am also
modeling the refraction process.

Creating a Reflection and Refraction Environment

In order to make Reflection and Refraction (R & R) work effectively,
my students and I must have a rapport that encourages honest exchange.
They have to be comfortable sharing their opinions, and they must trust
me. In turn, I also must trust them, be comfortable revealing my teacher
thinkingreflecting and refracting. I know creating this bond takes time,
so I try to build a dialogue process, one which is facilitated by writing and
class discussions.
We begin this process on the first day of class when I ask students to
write a letter to me about their concerns and expectations for the methods class; I address the same topic in my writing. As we discuss their and
my expectations, I list them on the board and make a point of acknowledging their value. I also take up these letters to assure that I have seen
every students concerns. The next day in class I reiterate the points they
made and show them in the syllabus where and how we will address their
concerns. I also tell them that I will add more time in whatever areas they
lack confidence.

English Education April 1999

At NC State I have an advantage in that my students have had courses

in young adult literature, reading in the content areas, and teaching writing across the curriculum before the methods class. They have experienced
keeping journals and learning logs in which they have learned to be reflective and to interact with texts they are reading and studying. I also have
often taught or advised the methods students, so they have experience
with me. They know that I 1) do not grade journals; 2) affirm and invite
them to lengthen their comments; 3) try not to intimidate when I question; 4) nudge them to extend their thinking.
Because of our shared history in classes, I vary the journal assignment
in the methods class by asking them to keep a Pedagogy Loga log in
which they record, react to teaching strategies they read about, experience in class, or observe in middle school classrooms. I encourage them
to question, critique, and reason WHY I and their cooperating teachers make
certain pedagogical choices. We also have daily class discussions about
teaching choices; we analyze lessons, explore rationales, and consider
teaching contexts.
As the students get more accomplished at their response and analysis of teaching strategies, I urge them in class discussions and in written
pedagogy log responses to get inside their own reactions. I ask them such
questions as, In what classroom contexts would this strategy (e.g., a
debate) work? Why do you think teachers use this strategy (e.g., lecture) so often? What do students gain from doing focused freewrites (e.g.,
other process approaches)?
From the pedagogy log interactions and our class discussions, we
develop a professional dialogue. We work on our ability to articulate and
substantiate teaching philosophy and classroom strategies. Simultaneously
we are developing an open communication, and I am gaining needed insights about the students views of class, their ways of thinking and talking, as well as their assumptions. This process provides information helpful
in making my Reflection/Refraction process work. Only if I know about
my students can I filter their language and behavior appropriately as I reflect
and refract on our class and determine with them our next steps.
I also believe our pedagogy log exchanges, class discussions, and my
Reflection/Refraction model a process they can adapt and incorporate into
their own thinking and actions as teachers and classroom leaders. Early
in the semester I present myself as a teacher-researcher, one who constantly wonders, rethinks, and re-envisions our class. I tell them how the
course looks different every year, and I reveal my process for and concerns about making decisions about my classroom role. Throughout the
semester I repeat this message and describe how the process guides my
teaching. Through this repetition and consistency, I strive to help them
move along in their development as thoughtful teacher-researchers who

Pope Reflection and Refraction

are capable of becoming transformative intellectuals (Giroux, 1985), teachers who think critically, constantly stretch themselves, and examine their
own practice.

Building a Reflection/Refraction Model

My interest in reflection originated in my early years as an English
language arts teacher educator when I learned about reflective practice
(Schn, 1983). I was really taken with this theory and the emerging teacher
education research (Zeichner, 1981); it was a natural fit with my belief in
the value of introspection and self-examination, my favorite themes in literature and life. I added the goal of becoming a reflective practitioner
to the English language arts methods syllabus and set about to integrate
more consciously this premise into my own teaching. I had learned as a
professional the value of practicing what I preach as a way of building
credibility with students. I was also heavily influenced by my involvement
as a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Teacher Preparation
and Certification in writing the Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers
of English Language Arts (NCTE, 1986). In this experience I had reaffirmed
what English language arts teachersand, in turn, teacher educators
ought to know, do, and be. I wanted to be a serious student of my own
teaching as I expected my own students to become.
At the risk of sounding solipsistic, I have been studying my students
and my methods class teaching ever since. I believe I am like most teachers:
I live and breathe teaching. I constantly question, challenge, consider alternative ways of teaching as my students and the literature evolve. I always have considered my preoccupation with teaching as natural until I
received recognition as an outstanding teacher. This recognition made
me want to understand my teacher self more, so I began to analyze across
time the documentation I had been keeping about my methods class. I
reviewed accumulated lesson plans, class notes, my reflexive writings,
students pedagogy log entries and my responses to their entries. From
that examination, I realized that I have internalized a process, one that has
helped me evolve and grow as a teacher. Upon close scrutiny and after
testing various teaching scenarios across time, I could see a pattern of
Reflection and Refraction emerge. Although I call this pattern a model
in this article, I know that, even as I write these words, my model is not
stagnantit is dynamic, responsive to time, to students, and to myself as
a changing teacher.
The following teaching stories are a few of the ones from which I have
derived my Reflection/Refraction process and model. As you read them,
remember that I did not start out consciously reflecting and refracting; I
have developed that process over time and come to understand it as a

English Education April 1999

model by analyzing numerous teaching scenarios in retrospect. Two of

these stories grew from my own questions, times when I asked myself, I
wonder what would happen if . . . as I planned classroom experiences. I
wanted to determine if my choices work with methods students, so the
Reflection/Refraction process follows the implementation of a pedagogical choice. The other two stories are student-driven and problem-based;
they reflect my response to students concerns and complaints. In these
cases the Reflection/Refraction process occurs before I make pedagogical choices.

Self-Generated Inquiry
These first two stories are ones generated by my own need to determine if pedagogical choices I make in the methods class actually work,
if the students will find them beneficial to their learning and experience.
In these cases I move from my own question to implementing a teaching
strategy. After I use the approach, I reflect on the success, refract on WHY,
and try to understand the results. In these cases my Reflection/Refraction
process comes after the implementation of a strategy which grew from
my own inquiry.

Story # 1: The Value of Self-Disclosure

I once heard from a supervision expert that we become better teachers in our own minds the farther we get away from our former teaching
experiences. I never want to give the impression to my students that I was
a better English teacher than I really was. I want them to know that I made
mistakes, that I failed many of my own students because I did not know
how to help them (Pope & Beal, 1994), that I learned the most by constantly revisiting and revising my teaching. My goal is for them to accept
the fact that teaching is a dynamic process, one which requires us to revisit our own choices continuously. We find lessons that do not work the
way we wish, and we learn how to revise them based on what we learn
from students.
To reveal a not-so-rosy but realistic picture of myself as a secondary
English teacher, I often tell stories of my mistakes. I show my students
examples of what I now consider my own imperfect pedagogy. The first
time I decided to reveal my imperfect pedagogy, I questioned myself,
I wonder what will happen when I reveal the mistakes I made when using journals in my secondary classroom? Will their respect for me be compromised? Is this a good way to inform them of what and how I continue
to learn as a teacher?

Pope Reflection and Refraction

Holding at bay my fear of losing credibility, I swallowed hard and distributed two Negative Example(s) of Reading Log guidelines (Figures
2 and 3) and one Better Example of Journal guidelines (Figure 4) representing three years of trial and error from my secondary teaching experience. Citing stories of my false starts, complete with these
embarrassing, original dittoed handouts, I explained that these two Negatives Example(s) show the naive view I held of my students and their interests. In my first year of using Reading Logs (Figure 2) I was trying to
create an alternative to independent reading assignments that was also
in my view highly academic. My choice failed miserably. Because the
students in my classes were kind and pleasant, they humored me for a
while and made a half-hearted attempt to give me what I required. After
collecting and reading the students entries three times, I realized that they
were having real difficulty with the assignment. I abandoned the Reading
Undaunted, the next year I revised the Reading Log assignment (Figure 3) for the Representative Writers classes I was teaching. This sheet
looked pretty impressive to me at the time (and actually impressed the


English 5-6
Carter (Pope)

The purpose of this reading log is to stimulate your own reaction to a novel you have
read. It will also give you experience in using the library and in becoming aware of
literary criticism as an art in itself.

Title of book


Authors name


Analysisentirely based on your ideas (Do not use any kind of helps)


Theme of the novel and how it is expressed

Style of the author in this novel
1. Plausibility and consistency
2. Method of presentation

Literary CriticismYou are to read a review (not an analysis) in a reference

source or magazine of your novel and express the opinion of this critic in
your own words. You must fully document this information by giving authors
name, source, and other publication information.


Figure 2. Negative Example


English Education April 1999

parents too), so I was determined to see it through. I think we got through

the end of October before I accepted that this version of the Reading Log
was also too inflated. Not only did the students have great difficulty doing what I required, they just did not want to do it, as their entries revealed.
Either they did not do the assignment, or their work was completely off
the mark. I tried re-teaching, but we got nowhere. Once again, I abandoned
the Reading Log. When I re-read the sheet now I am horrified; how could
I have been so off base about my students, their interests, and their capabilities?
The third year, when I taught Heroes and Heroines classes, I took
some time to read further, to look at some colleagues approaches, to reexamine my mistakes of the past two years, and to think about the students in my class. I developed the Journal (Figure 4) guidelines. This time
I connected with the students, responded honestly to the students entries,
did not assign grades, got beautiful, heart-felt writing and developed a
genuine communication with my secondary students.
After reviewing with my methods students my attempts at coming to
a workable journal process, I talked a bit about how teaching evolves
over time. I also described teaching as a process of becoming, of learning about students through observing and listening, of acknowledging that
even our most cherished plans can be a disaster when they are inappropriate for the students in our classes.
I held my breath for the next couple of days to see how the methods
students would respond to my self-disclosed failures as a teacher. Here
are a few of their non-prompted pedagogy log reactions.
Thank you for sharing with us your experiences [negative journal assignments]. It means so much more to know what someone else has gone
through and it meant a lot to me that you shared with us. (Pauline)
The negative example was good. Its nice to know that even [my] teacher
makes mistakes and has to change. (Violet)
Although [your] plan for the journals looked good, it certainly was complex and left no room for adventure. [I also now] realize that every plan
or idea that I create will not always work or be the ideal lesson plan. [I
learned] that you learn by practice and doing. Even if that means failing!

When I first read these comments and others that were similar, I was
shocked. I guess I thought they would be embarrassed for me, that indeed
they would question my credibility as their teacher.
Reflecting on Self-Disclosure
To reflect on the class these students wrote about, I replayed the whole
lesson in my head and reviewed the students responses in class. When I

Pope Reflection and Refraction


Discerning awareness of reading

Critical perception
Personal reactions
Identification of interest for research paper
Responsive writing
Future reference
Personal intellectual growth measurement


Date of entry (five entries each week)

Source of entry in bibliographical form
Response to reading

English 191
Carter (Pope)

Information gained
possibilities: Personal opinion/reaction
Value of reading
Relatedness of reading to classwork
New words/ideas encountered
Theme and how it is expressed
General directions: Your entries in your log may be derived from any reading you have
done that day. Anything you consider worthwhile may be listed: magazine articles,
newspapers, short stories, books, short selections, any other reading material. (Of course,
you may also include any other creative writing or responses to activities, philosophies,
or other happenings in your lifesuch as theatrical performance, media.)
Remember that your reactions to literature should be objective, discriminating,
personal and evident of critical thinking. Accordingly, you will find yourself developing a discerning eye for the world around you.
One of the prime findings in this log should be a daily response to your parallel
reading for this course. If you react on a regular basis to your reading, you will find
that you can use these reactions to your selected work in the required compositions.
Therefore, your log may consist only of reactions to your parallel reading.
Following is a list of the dates and subjects for the essays on your parallel reading. The list of selections are located on another sheet. You are to read a minimum of
four major works outside of class. (You might also begin to identify some interest for
your research paperto be discussed later.)
September 30 - Characterization (correlate with Beowulf and Chaucer)
October 28 - Theme (correlate with Shakespeare)
November 30 - Style
Final Exam - Culmination of critical evaluations of English literature
Evaluation: Your reading logs will first be read on Wednesday, September 15. After that date,
you will bring your log every day, and they will be collected and inspected periodically.

Figure 3. Negative Example


English Education April 1999

presented the three handouts from my own teaching, the methods students
sat silently reading, studying as I discussed each sheet. They did not look
up at me until I joked, Lo and behold, the wrong students walked into
my classroom that Fall and How could I have been so naive? Can you
see what I did here? They listened politely, laughed when I made selfdeprecating comments, and wrote a few comments on the handouts.
Refracting on Self-Disclosure
While this reflection mirrored what happened in the class, it did not
really tell me what I wanted to know. I wanted to understand why my methods students had reacted as they had; I wanted to consider other possible
explanations for their reactions, to reframe my reflection in order to find
a deeper meaning. So I brought these issues to the attention of my students for discussion the next class session after I had read their pedagogy
logs. They reported that often their education professors and readings offer
the answer, so it was a surprise to hear a teacher actually admit making
mistakes. They found my admission not only funny but comforting. For
the first time, they said they felt as if it really would be okay to make a
mistake teaching, that they could still be successful in spite of making
inappropriate choices.
My Learning
This realization stimulated me to become more self-critical in my
methods teaching. Not only is it appropriate for me to admit to making
mistakes when I taught secondary English; it is actually a good idea. I also
ashamedly realized that my students had come to believe that I, as well
as my colleagues, knew all the answers to classroom instruction challenges.
It is important for my students to know I am not nearly so certain as I might
initially appear, so I must be careful not to give that impression. While I
feared their confidence in me would be shaken as a result of such admissions, I found the opposite to be true. I became more credible to them.
From this incident I learned not to be afraid to admit mistakes I made
as a secondary teacher but also mistakes I make now as a teacher educator. I try not to sound so certain that I know a right way to teach English language arts, and I encourage students to question, look deeply into
texts and classrooms before they rush to judgment about the validity of a
particular method of teaching. Yes. I do feel vulnerable when I think about
and reveal my teacher warts. But I just cannot live with myself if I create
a teacher self that just was not.
Now when I mentally plan and rehearse stories and discussions of my
own teaching I want to share with methods students, I remember my real
teaching self, the one who made many mistakes, who had to learn from
her students. In an attempt to deconstruct my teaching memories, I ask

Pope Reflection and Refraction

myself such questions as, What was my prior experience when I finally
learned how to implement such strategies as small group assignments?
How many times had the group work been disastrous? How did my own
thinking and planning evolve? I try to make my teaching stories more
credible to my students, more reflective of what I was really going through
and deciding, not just examples of Heres what I did. Wasnt it great?


English 188
Carter (Pope)


Record of personal feelings and reactions

Chance to write creatively
Practice in using words
Communication with instructor
Self-expression about any subject


In a separate notebook or set of papers reserved for your journal

Complete date

Directions: Make at least one entry each day (Monday-Friday)

5-10 minutes will be provided at the beginning of each class to write in
journals (you may, of course, write in them other times as well)
Your entries in your journal may include:
Creative writing (poetry, stories, drawings, etc.)
Response to reading (magazines, newspapers, book, short stories)
Response to class (activities, material covered, suggestions,
contributions, related readings)
Messages you wish to convey to me
Response to something special to you (sports events, tv programs,
movies, activities, school)
Opinions about school policy, laws, community, etc.
Expression of complaint/frustration
Writing about some philosophy/idea that you have been thinking
Comments: This journal should reflect you, your thoughts, your desires, your responses
to the world around you. At its completion you will be able to see how
you have grown in your thoughts and in your writing. The journal is not
just a diary; it is an outgrowth of your feelings, and recording your responses will put you in touch with yourself. (Writing about something
seems to make it more real.) These journals are not necessarily formal
writing, so you will be writing exposition in class concerning class studies.
Evaluation: I will be collecting, inspecting, and responding to your journals periodically, so they should be kept current at all times. You should also bring
them to class every day.

Figure 4. Better Example


English Education April 1999

Story #2: Letting Them Talk

When I am teaching the methods class I question all of the time; I even
question pedagogical approaches I believe in. One such approach is the
use of open dialogue to both empower students and to establish a classroom community. I often wonder if I spend too much time encouraging
students to talk in class and then letting the talk go on too long. While the
conversation is occurring, I always end up asking myself, Should I stop
this? Am I doing my job? Are the students engaged? On course evaluations a student here and there will mention impatience with class dialogue.
Such comments renew my internal tension, and I again question, How
do I know when there has been enough talk? Over the years I have taken
comfort that others have experienced similar dissonance and have explored
the light and dark sides of community and empowerment (Ellsworth, 1989;
Noddings, 1996).
One yearly instance when I question methods class conversation is
after the students first observations in their student teaching classrooms.
When I plan for this class day, I always end up asking myself, I wonder
what will happen this time if I just let the students talk about their observations. We begin this class with a log entry: Write about your observations in your middle school and classroom. After the writing time, I ask
a volunteer to begin the discussion. The students describe their individual
classrooms, middle school students, cooperating teachers, and other faculty
they met. Other students and I usually ask questions too so that we can
picture the setting. When I see a student glance at a watch or shift in the
seat, I worry that students may feel the talking is a waste of time.
Reflecting on Talk
When the class ends, I reflect on the day, replay on my mental screen
the students faces and comments they make as they listened to their peers.
In this reflection I usually find the students listen with rapt attention to their
colleagues and respond with questions, laughter, and words of encouragement. However, I am always anxious for more feedback, more individual views, so I look forward to the students pedagogy log entries for
that day.
Today was neat!! We went around the room and everyone shared about
their experiences in the schools. I was glad we did this because I like to
know how everyone is doing and what kind of situation they are in. I really hope everyone in the class has a really great experienceincluding
me! (Patricia)
I like todays class, not that I usually dislike them; it was just nice to hear
from other class members and compare shared experiences. (Vanessa)


There is not any competition among us. We strive to help each other and
also seek help from each other. (Stevie)

Pope Reflection and Refraction

What I enjoy most about your class, Carol, is that we have the opportunity to discuss concerns and problems or even share successes with our
peers and learn from each other as well. (Posey)

My first cynical responses to these reactions may run something like,

They just liked not having to do any real work or Theyre just trying to
please me, not question my decision to let everyone talk. However, I
cannot overlook the number of pedagogy log entries similar to those above;
nor can I overlook their attention and concern for each other. My mental
snapshot and reflection of the class does not tell me enough, so I push
myself to refract further.
Refracting on Talk
Why is the talk so valuable to the students? I can see why they want
to tell their own story, but why do they want to listen to everyone elses?
As I think more deeply about the students, as I turn their reactions this
way and that, I remember how valuable their student community is to them,
how close they have become through their shared experiences, and how
curious they are to have a picture of each others circumstance. They
do care, and they are anxious to learn from each other. They have not,
after all, been in a large number of schools since their own graduation,
and they are curious about what is unique about each setting, how the
students act differently, how the teachers are different, how the principal
is different. They are also aware that they will soon be looking for teaching positions, and they have a strong need to know about various school
My Learning
Even after providing classroom talk and dialogue time, I still question
the amount of time I allow, and I watch the students carefully for evidence
of impatience. My refraction process, however, has provided a different
way for me to frame this talk time. The dialogue space is the students
opportunity to explore in a focused way with and through each other. They
enjoy the interaction and learn from engaging in professional discussions.
To be truthful, I also learn and get excited by what I hear during these
sessions. I can pull back, quietly observe, and gather information about
each students placement; I can also witness each persons professional
evolution in action.
I hasten to add here that I am not satisfied that I have figured out how
much talk time is enough? or too much? The question will always be a
part of my teaching inquiry, I think, because I know some students have
less tolerance for this kind of conversation that others. It is this awareness
of differences in groups views and assumptions that prompted me to add
to my Reflection/Refraction process a filter, a way of sifting through ob193

English Education April 1999

servations and information I have about groups of students. This filter

prompts me to consider group and individual differences when reflecting
their responses and when refracting on the meaning of those responses.
As always, I return to how important both the pedagogy log and the class
discussions are to the accumulation of my knowledge about the students
and for the establishment of our rapport.

Problem-Based Inquiry
These next two teaching stories are problem-based ones which grew
from students expressed concerns or complaints. In this process I reflect
and refract before I make a teaching choice. After students register a concern, I reflect, make sure I grasp the students issue; then I refract by internally questioning, re-considering the students problem in light of what
I know about the student. From this Reflection/Refraction process, I determine and implement an activity, experience, or series of experiences
that I anticipate will address the problem. After this implementation, I
analyze students reactions to see the impact of my choice. I read students
pedagogy logs or elicit reactions through class discussion. From this process, I continue to learn about my students, my teaching, and our learning.

Story #1: The Value of Listening and Making No Assumptions

Because I have already taught most of my students before they arrive in methods class, I sometimes begin a course with inappropriate assumptions about their confidence, abilities, and knowledge. Talia, an
intelligent, composed young woman who had been in my Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum class, was an excellent student: her responses
to readings were always thorough, her plans carefully envisioned, her
writing flawless. Based on previous observations and experiences with her,
I assumed she was having no trouble doing the work for the methods class
or for her student teaching assignment. It was not until I read the following entry in her pedagogy log that I thought differently.
First Id like to say that I am at a total loss almost on my unit plan. I spent
last Friday morning working with [the cooperating teacher], but when I
got home and started to piece the ideas together, they just did not fit! I
am most confused on when to teach what and how in the world do you
make context clues interesting!

Talia went on to describe her panic and her need just to scream as loud
as [she possibly could]. I was startled by her admission.


Pope Reflection and Refraction

Reflecting on Talias History

My first thought was to dismiss this outpouring as just a stage in Talias
process of teaching. I reflected on her behavior and questions in class and
still could derive no clue to explain Talias distress. I also thought about
the prior class in which I had taught Talia and remembered how quiet and
focused she always was in class. From just reflecting on Talias behavior
and prior work, I would assume that she would come through this period
of self-doubt eventually. Just watching Talia in class, replaying her behavior and demeanor was not very revealing about her frustration. I needed
to go deeper to find the issue here that made this class different for her.
Refracting on My Assumptions
I returned to Talias pedagogy log and re-read her entry. Her statement, What scares me the most is that I have to actually teach this plan
prodded me to re-consider my reflection of Talia and her former behavior in class, to challenge myself to look deeper and to challenge my original
response. Talia had been adept at writing plans and units for a prior class
and for our methods class thus far; however, now was the first time she
was planning a lesson that she would actually teach to a group of real
middle school students she had actually met and talked with. Therefore,
they and the task were real to her. She obviously felt daunted by the task
and needed more direct support.
When I finally understood Talias genuine frustration, I returned to the
class for a discussion of their concerns about planning. I discovered other
students were equally panicked. Based on Talias and their responses, I
built in class time to walk them through a planning process and gave them
time to work together in pairs during class so that I could answer questions and meet with them individually. I also offered to meet with them
anytime in my office, and several students took advantage of that opportunity, including Talia. In just a couple of days I began to see the students
gain confidence and take charge of their plans. They worked singularly
and in pairs during class, showed ideas to their partners, and brought shape
to their ideas. Excitement and light-hearted voices began to fill the air.
Moving beyond reflection to refraction had made it possible for me to
hear the students and respond to their needs. I had to question my own
assumptions based on prior experiences with them, recognize they were
in a new context, one where they were in their student teaching classrooms,
working with real middle school students and their cooperating teachers;
therefore, the plans they were creating were more real than they had ever
been before. By challenging my own reflective thinking, by refracting,
looking at my assumptions differently, I was able to respond to the students needs in a way that helped them.

English Education April 1999

My Learning
From this incident I have learned not to assume my students remember, know, or are the same people they were in previous classes. The
methods semester and its challenges are new, and they have never been
in this situation before. I slip up occasionally and forget to go beyond reflection, but I am getting better. My Reflection/Refraction model now serves
as a structure to remind myself to question prior views I hold of my students.

Story #2: Building a Vision of Success

When I came to NC State, I was pleased by the amount of time the
teacher preparation students spent in schools before student teaching.
Besides a semester of early field experience at the sophomore level, each
student also tutors students in schools, and has other observation and
teaching experiences before their senior year methods class and student
teaching. Even with these opportunities, I found that when they began the
professional semester, the students complained that they were not prepared for student teaching.
Reflecting on Complaints
The first time I heard these remarks, I was stunned; they were getting
much more time in middle schools than students at other universities I
knew; they were also getting what I believed were realistic pictures of the
school world. We insisted that throughout their programs field experiences
they be in schools with diverse populations, heterogeneous groups, and
hardworking teachers. They tutored students with genuine learning needs
and worked with them over an extended time. I could not understand what
else they needed. I became a little defensive.
Refracting Further
After I reflected on the program and the students experiences a little
longer and posed questions like, What do they expect? I forced myself
to move past my defensiveness. I reviewed the students comments and
considered the possible meanings embedded in their responses. I also
talked with the students about this issue at length in student teaching
seminar class. I asked them what would have made them feel more prepared. Unfortunately, they had trouble answering the question. They responded, I dont really know. I just know I didnt feel ready. I didnt have
confidence that I knew enough. I believed from those comments that they
could not see themselves as teachers, they could not envision their own
futures. How could I help them gain confidence, feel more ready for the
challenge of teaching?

Pope Reflection and Refraction

I decided the next year that we could work on getting them ready for
student teaching by making the methods scaffold stronger, by supporting them even more, and by showing them examples of novice teachers
who had made it. Perhaps some young teachers could serve as role models
with whom they could identify. I first invited two teachers who had been
teaching less than five years to the class; they demonstrated lessons that
worked with their students; then they discussed the lesson, talked about
their students, and described their schools. The students responses in their
pedagogy logs were positive.
Betty was beneficial to me because shes out there now and dealing with
those kids. I realize that you are also out there, but I cant seem to see
you as their teacher, only mine! (Patsy)
Eleanor was an inspiration to me because we have been studying these
different types of teaching methods and she is living proof that these really work. She helped to reinforce a lot of things that we have been learning.

These responses made me realize how important it is for my students to

be with teachers out there who are using methods they have explored
in class. Although they think I am a good teacher, I am (as Patsy pointed
out) their teacher, not one that works in the settings where they will teach.
In addition, the reinforcement of strategies they are studying being demonstrated and actually used by classroom teachers has a powerful impact.
As a result of this experience, I now make certain that I send students
to the classrooms of innovative teachers, some of whom are not going to
be cooperating teachers. Additionally the students now pair with a teacher
on the opening day of school in order not only to observe but also to be
with the students and the teacher as a colleague. I use videotapes of teachers in real classrooms, where the unexpected happens; I use real middle
school students work so that the university students can practice responding, evaluating, and grading; I provide sample lesson plans which have
actually been used in classroom settings and include a things I would have
done differently section.
Another way I try to help students build a vision of themselves as teachers is to invite recent graduates from our program who are in their second year of teaching. These new teachers have been in these same
university desks just two years before. They talk openly about their own
personal changes during and since student teaching, complete with candid appraisals of job-searching, discipline problems, other teachers, administrators, and their own lives. The wisdom from these teachers has a
great impact on the methods students.
I enjoyed hearing the young teachers stories. They were encouraging,
excited, and outgoing; I think I would like to be one of their students. I


English Education April 1999

was also impressed by how quickly each of these different people has
developed so quickly from student teacher to teacher. (Joyce)
One of the main things I recognized was the need to be flexible and organized. I had heard this before, but now I realize how important these
are. These teachers must have felt nervous about student teaching, just
as I do. But they turned out really well; Im sure I will too. (Sarah)

My Learning
Although I still occasionally hear students mention early in their student teaching experience that they were just not prepared for how hard
student teaching is, I try not to get defensive. I try to remember to move
past my But in this program they . . . reflection to the refraction part of
my process that reminds me how new and frightening student teaching
is. I remind myself too, that they do not mean they lack lesson plan ideas
or skills for organizing students; they mean that their vision of themselves
is amorphous, as is their vision of being one of the teachers whom they
have formerly known only as authority figures. The transition from being
a student to a student teacher and professional is a life-changing one.
Student teachers discover parts of themselves they never knew before, their
own physical and emotional limits as well as their professional voices. They
often did not know they could get angry or be directive; neither did they
know they could be the adult in charge and that they could make so many
decisions as a teacher. To ease this transition, they need to hear and see
teachers so that they can envision themselves in a teacher role. Hearing
the voices of these teachers can give them a sense of belonging, a sense
of a professional community they are joining.

Looking Back Over the Years

Looking back over the years, I see how much I have come to rely on
my Reflection/Refraction process. I remember those first days as a professor when I thought that I not only had to know everything but also had
to be able to solve all the problems my students brought to class. Now I
rely on my Reflection/Refraction process to define not only the issues of
my teaching but also my role in the English language arts methods class.
I have learned from the stories cited as well as other similar ones that I
need to 1) be more self-critical in reporting memories of my teaching; 2)
keep my teaching questions vital, for there is never one answer that works
the same with every group of students; 3) challenge my prior experiences
and assumptions about my students; and 4) remember that the methods
class and student teaching are new challenges for my students.
By referencing, explaining, and modeling this process with my students, I hope they can see how teaching English language arts is a life198

Pope Reflection and Refraction

long process of learning with and from students, adapting to their needs,
and soliciting them as partners in the classroom. I want my methods students to know that neither I nor anyone else has all the answers for every
teaching challenge. I am, like them, a questioner, a wonderer, a researcher
in my classroom; I find my answers with and from students, as I hope they
will in their classrooms.

Reflecting and Refracting on My Model

Writing this article has given me the opportunity to reflect and refract
on my own teaching model as it has evolved in my career as an English
language arts methods teacher. Reflecting on past incidents of my methods teaching, the analysis of which has helped me clarify my Reflection/
Refraction model over time, reminds me of how challenging it is to teach
the way I recommend to my students. As I review the many years I have
taught the methods class, I remember why I always find the methods semester so challenging. The students are about to embark on a life-changing
eventstudent teaching; they are anxious; and they still want just what
my original 1983 group of students wanted, Teach me the best way to
teach English language arts. The responsibility looms heavy.
During the methods semester I often reflect on previous years plans
and think, Oh, this will work. Students liked doing this, and some of them
actually used this strategy in their student teaching. Refraction, however,
pulls me up short. These students are not the same as last years; what
do they need? Throughout the semester, then, I constantly revisit my plans
to determine if I and the class are responding appropriately to the students
questions, gaps in learning, and anxieties. I even wish sometimes that I
did not have to revisit my teaching decisions over and over, but I can never
stop myself. My refraction reminds me yet again that each group of students brings a new perspective, new questions, and new surprises. And I
must respond by adapting my pedagogy to their unique stance.
When I share this Reflection/Refraction process with my students, I tell
them the angst I experience as I reflect on their concerns in class and push
myself to refract, to look beyond what might seem obvious. I theorize that
by hearing about and being privy to my Reflection/Refraction process, they
will not be overwhelmed by their own challenges at trying to find the best
ways of responding to their own students needs.
My students, and other teachers as well, have to find their own teaching model, and that model has to be dynamic enough to adjust and respond to various groups of students over time. Even now, I know that while
I still use my Reflection/Refraction teaching model as a process for figuring out how to adapt to new groups of students and issues, somewhere
inside a new model is taking shape. Teaching models, after all, are not

English Education April 1999

meant to be intransigent; rather, they are evolving, adjusting to the changing

students, cultures, and contexts of teaching.

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