Reflective thinking among preservice teachers: A Malaysian perspective
S. Chee Choy, Joanne Sau-Ching Yim and Poh Leong Tan
Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, Malaysia
"The notion of reflection nowadays is considered crucial in the field of teaching and teacher education" (Clara, 2015) and relevant literature reviewed in this study has indicated support for this. We propose and test a model of reflective thinking among teachers using a sample of 1070 preservice teachers in Malaysia. Data were collected using a self-report questionnaire administered to the participants. Structural equation modelling (SEM) was employed as an analytical technique for the proposed model. The results show that reflective thinking leads to self-efficacy, self-assessment and teaching awareness, all of which are traits of competent teachers. The research model in this study also suggests that the ability to self-reflect is crucial for the development of confidence and competence among teachers. Limitations and implications for practice are also discussed.
According to the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 for higher education (MEB) (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2015) employers have reported that many Malaysian graduates lack critical thinking and communication skills which are crucial for success in the 21st century. One of the six aspirations for students in the Blueprint is to acquire thinking skills that will include an appreciation of diverse views, enable critical thinking, and be innovative. According to Dewey (1963), experience alone is not cognitive in nature, hence will not stimulate students to think about it because an experience is not the same as thought. Therefore students must be guided to derive meaning from the experience through reflection by their teachers. Felton and Kuhn (2007) further noted that critical thinking, which is the process of analysing and evaluating something in order to form a judgement, requires considerable effort and students will engage in the cognitively complex process only if they think it is worth the effort. Hence, the function of reflective thinking is to make meaning, and formulate a relationship between the experience and other experiences and create continuities (Rodgers, 2002), which is an important step to the process of critical thinking. This continuity allows for the creation of meaning in all the events that occur in a learning experience and in life.
A critical point Dewey (1963) noted is that once students direct their attention to learn and perceive a fact, it is limited by the context they are in, and this is especially true in a classroom setting. The role of the teacher is to step in to stimulate reflection of the fact, and to perceive more rather than less. Hence, it is crucial for teachers to have the skills to carry out reflective thinking themselves, and eventually become a model demonstrating the process of such thinking. However, this is not the case as research has shown that teachers themselves often do not know how to be reflective or demonstrate reflective thinking (Black, 2005; Choy & Cheah, 2009; Choy & Oo, 2012).
Rather than being a solitary undertaking, critical thinking has now been redefined by Kuhn (2016) to have shifted more to a form of social practice where it is embedded into actual and virtual contexts of others and whose reactions needs to be analysed, reflected on, and evaluated constantly. Hence, students are continually challenged to carry out reflective thinking on situations they are in, where individual competencies are contextually guided to a certain degree, requiring continued reflection in order to assess and understand the situation. Teachers who use reflective thinking know something about the effects they have on students. They are alert to the presence of power in their classroom and the possibility for misuse, knowing their actions can silence or activate students' voices (Brookfield, 1995). Individuals who are reflective about what they are doing also had fewer errors, were more critical, and learned more in their work, compared to non-reflectors (Lindh & Thorgren, 2016; Roessger, 2014).
Schon (1987) suggested that the capacity to reflect on one's actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the characteristics of active learning. The cultivation of 'reflection-in-action' (the actual practice of reflection) while doing something, and the 'reflection-on-action' after the students has done it, is an important feature in many learning situations. Teachers can support this active learning process by asking students appropriate questions to ensure that they constantly reflect on what they are doing. However, this distinction between the two types of action is far from clear and Schon (1987) had highlighted this in his text on reflective thinking (Clara, 2015). Osterman and Kottkamp (1993) proposed a model for reflective thinking for educators which aims to bring about such behavioural changes to teaching practices through self-awareness. The model proposes that teachers can personalise the content of their subject area, to share with learners who become agents for change in their environment. The teachers are constantly reflecting on their practices and actions as facilitators for learning. Gur Sahin and Dikkartin Ovez (2012) also found that the reflective tendencies of teachers changed over time, depending on the type of schools and the subjects they were teaching. Hence, the context of this study will be to develop a model of reflective thinking for teachers based on past research.
Choy and Oo (2012) attempted to show the link between reflective thinking and critical thinking among teachers and perceptions of themselves as teachers. However, the four scales proposed to measure reflective thinking were not put through rigorous statistical testing. The scales for the questionnaire were created based on research by Sparks-Langer and Colton (1991) and rubrics by Hamilton (2005) on reflective thinking. The items covered three major areas of development: ability to self-express, awareness of how one learns and developing lifelong learning skills. Choy and Oo (2012) decided to add another area, the belief about self and self-efficacy, because research had found these factors to be a greater influence on teachers' decision making processes and their planning than their knowledge of pedagogy (Williams & Burden, 1997) and named their instrument Questionnaire for Reflective Thinking for Teachers (QRTT). The results from the study were analysed based on a percentage count of the responses to the questionnaire and was not subjected to rigorous testing of relationships. All the available literature on reflective thinking to our knowledge does not show a model with tested hypotheses. Further to this, Clara (2015) noted that how reflection works is not something that is substantially known, it is an issue that warrants much research within the literature on reflection. Most of the research studies on reflective thinking have been carried out with Western populations, hence data from an Asian population is needed for comparison.
This study has the potential to give greater clarity to the relationships between the four scales developed by Choy and Oo (2012) to measure reflective thinking among teachers in Malaysia. The following research questions are formulated for this study:
Figure 1: Conceptual framework for the influences of reflective thinking
As there are no widely accepted models of reflective thinking that have been shown to be robust, powerful, parsimonious, and capable of explaining reflective thinking among preservice teachers, we decided to use an amalgamation of research on reflective thinking to formulate the hypotheses. For each of the hypotheses, reflective thinking is defined as the mindful consideration of one's professional actions, and the critical assessment of one's behaviours, leading to improved performance when teaching (Schon, 1987; Choy & Oo, 2012). The hypotheses are as follows.
H1: Lifelong learning skills will have a significant relationship with reflective thinking
In this study lifelong learning skills is defined as the ability of preservice teachers to carry out continuous assessment and evaluations of their teaching strategies and the influences they have on student learning. This is a strategy described by Schon (1987) and Eby and Kujawa (1994) in their reflective thinking models as a means to promote reflective thinking. Preservice teachers with adept teaching strategies that engaged students with problem-based learning were more likely to be reflective (Peters, 2015).
H2: Ability to self-assess will have a significant relationship with reflective thinking
Self-assessment ability is defined as the ability to discover and assess the strengths and weaknesses about oneself after experiencing an event. This is described by Schon (1987) as reflection-on-action and Dewey (1963) as spontaneous interpretation of the experience and is thought to promote reflective thinking. Rodgers (2002) described it as an analysis of an experience that results in reflective thinking about it. Self-assessment therefore enables preservice teachers to be reflective of what they are teaching and their relationships with students (Barromi Perlman, 2016; Lindroth, 2015; Clara, 2015).
H3: Self-belief will have a significant relationship with reflective thinking
Self-belief is defined as how preservice teachers perceive themselves in relation to their students and their ability to teach. According to Williams and Burden (1997), how teachers view themselves and their beliefs of what social interactions are most important will influence how students learn in the classroom. Pfitzner-Eden (2016) found that a teacher's self-belief changed most when in the classroom, due to two factors, having more professional experience, and having to teach different course content. Chesnut and Burley (2015) found in a meta-analysis that self-belief can also predict teacher commitment to their profession. Hence, preservice teachers' perceptions of themselves require reflection and reflective thought.
H4: Awareness of how one teaches will have a significant relationship to reflective thinking
Teaching awareness is defined as the ability of preservice teachers to realise the influence of their actions on students, prompting reflective thinking of the experience. According to Lee (2005), the stages of the process of reflective thinking do not indicate progress toward the solution of the problem, but rather the degree of awareness of the situation where process and progress are viewed together. Farrell (2016) noted that reflective practices by teachers will result in increased teaching awareness, which will in turn encourage self-assessment and self-evaluation. All these introspective processes can result in preservice teachers becoming more motivated, proficient, and effective in the classroom (Lindroth, 2015).
|Average age||24.50 yrs|
|Average years of teaching experience||3.46 yrs|
|Areas of teaching specialisation||Science||355||33.2|
It must be noted that the average teaching experience of the preservice teachers was 3.46 years. This arose because some of the respondents had been contract teachers employed by Malaysian schools prior to enrolling for their bachelor degree programs with the University, whilst other respondents had just returned from a six-month teaching placement in local schools.
|LLS - lifelong learning skills||8||3.74||.68||-.88||1.50|
|SA - self-assessment ability||7||3.72||.56||-.53||.92|
|SB - self-belief||4||3.50||.69||-.35||.34|
|TA - teaching awareness||5||3.73||.60||-.52||1.07|
|RT - reflective thinking||5||3.25||.77||-.12||.16|
|Estimate||90% LO||90% HI|
|Baseline model. Loadings freely estimated||2011.019||728||0.91||0.041||0.039||0.043||0.051|
|Invariant model. Factor loadings invariant||2051.842||761||0.90||0.040||0.038||0.042||0.054|
alpha (> 0.70)a
|a Indicates an acceptable level of reliability or validity.|
Fit indices: χ2/df = 4.48, RMSEA = 0.57, GFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.91, TLI = 0.90
|** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).|
* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
Diagonal in parenthesis are the square roots of the AVE extracted from observed variables.
AMOS 20.0 was used to test the model fit of the research model for this study. The literature recommended using several fit indices to measure model fit (Bentler & Bonnet 1980; Bentler 1990; Browne & Cudeck, 1993). Hair et al. (2010) classified fit indices into absolute fit indices, incremental fit indices and parsimony fit indices. Absolute fit indices provide the basic assessment of the fit of the sample data to the measurement model and indices commonly used are the chi square (χ2), the goodness-of-fit (GIF) and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA). The incremental fit indices access how well the estimated model fits other alternative baseline models and the most commonly used incremental fit indices are the adjusted goodness of fit index (AGFI), comparative fit index (CFI), and the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI). The parsimony fit index provides information on which model among a set of competing models is best, considering its fit relative to its complexity and is determined by the ratio of χ2 with the degrees of freedom (df). A ratio on the order of 5:1 or less is associated with better fitting models. In this study all the fit indices mentioned were used and summarised in Table 6. The result of the model fit as shown by the various fit indices show that the research model has a good fit.
|* Hair et al. (2013); Bentler (1990)|
|H1||LLS will have a significant relationship with RT.||-0.13||-1.86||0.06||Not supported|
|H2||SA will have a significant relationship with RT.||-0.94||-3.75||<0.01||Supported|
|H3||SB will have a significant relationship with RT.||0.61||8.55||<0.01||Supported|
|H4||TA will have a significant relationship with RT.||0.72||3.92||<0.01||Supported|
Reflective thinking had a significant relationship with self-assessment ability. Self-assessment in this study is defined as the ability to discover and assess the strengths and weaknesses of one self. This construct consisted of items on using feedback from students and classroom experiences to reflect on their teaching practices. Similarly Barnhart and van Es (2015) also found in their study on reflective practices among teachers that the framing of instructional interactions by putting them into context for their students will aid in enhancing this form of thinking, because they are able to assess with greater ease what they had done in the classroom. This seems to be similar to the findings of Barromi Perlman (2016), Lindroth (2015) and Clara (2015), self-assessment enables preservice teachers to be reflective of their practices in the classrooms, and this can enhance the learning experiences of their students. In the Malaysian context, self-assessment is crucial with the implementation of the MEB (2013). This blueprint advocates the development of students who are knowledgeable and able to think critically and creatively. This implies that preservice teachers must develop these skills in themselves as well. Hence, self-assessment is crucial for developing these skills.
Self-belief had a significant relationship with reflective thinking. Self-belief in this study is defined as how preservice teachers viewed themselves in relation to their students and their ability to teach. The items in the construct were focused on the preservice teachers' perceptions of themselves and how they view experiences and events that took place during their teaching. Hence, this finding supports research by Pfitzner-Eden (2016) that when preservice teachers experienced teaching in the classroom, there was a significant change in their perceptions and self-efficacy beliefs, if they had been given an opportunity to reflect on their practices in the classroom. When preservice teachers are given opportunities to reflect on their teaching practices, it may influence their teaching skills. In Malaysia, preservice teachers who lack mastery experience in teaching skills lack self-belief when teaching in the classroom (Wong, 2007). Hence, the development of self-belief through self-reflection is important.
Teaching awareness had a significant relationship with reflective thinking. Teaching awareness is defined as the ability of teachers to realise the influence their actions have on students. The items in this construct were focused on their teaching practices, personal values, and perceptions of the students they teach. This supports research by Farrell (2016), who found that preservice teachers became more aware of their assumptions, values, and beliefs when they were allowed to reflect on their teaching practices. Similarly Lindh and Thorgren (2016) found that reflective thinking must be preceded by an awareness of the event or experiences that has occurred, resulting in an awareness of emotions and thought about the event or experience. One of the aims of the MEB is to create awareness among Malaysian teachers of the needs of students. Hence, preservice teachers need to have a certain level of awareness in order to assess students' needs. Reflective thinking is fundamental to facilitate this.
Lifelong learning skills had an insignificant relationship with reflective thinking. Lifelong learning skills in this study are defined as the ability to carry out continuous assessment and evaluations of teaching strategies and the influences they have on student learning. The items in this construct focused on reflecting on their students and the work they carried out in the classroom. The results from this study, at least, suggest that these preservice teachers were not adept in reflecting on their teaching skills. Thinking about their teaching strategies requires a degree of in depth knowledge of themselves as teachers, as well as who they are as individuals. This lack may be due to the tendency for preservice teachers to be surface and strategic thinkers, as opposed to being deep thinkers (Ismail et al, 2013), and the continued use of learning approaches commonly practised at the secondary school level, which are predominantly characterised as memorising and repeating procedures for the purpose of examinations. The stresses, tight schedules and deadlines expected of them in the schools, at home and when they are attending classes at university (Sedhu & Choy, 2016) may also explain their lack of attention to reflecting on teaching strategies.
The research model in this study suggests that the ability to self-reflect is crucial for the development of confidence and competence among teachers. For this sample of teachers at least, reflective thinking leads to self-efficacy, self-assessment and teaching awareness, all of which are traits of competent teachers (Lindh & Thorgren, 2016). Our data, however, do not show how teachers develop these traits, hence it will be necessary for future studies to investigate the factors that influence the development of such reflective traits.
This study suggests some directions for future research. The mechanism underlying reflective thinking was not explored. The questionnaire could be further expanded to include metacognitive skills, which are thought to also influence and impact reflective thinking. Another important question that needs answering is whether there are more identifiable traits for reflective and non-reflective preservice teachers. Added to this, the influence of non-reflective preservice teachers on their students' learning also needs exploring. As this study was limited to a cohort of Asian preservice teachers from one country, more insights on reflective thinking may be gained if this study is extended to include preservice teachers from other countries and contexts.
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|Lifelong learning skill (LLS)||LLS1||Students learn very differently from when I was in school, I need to look into new strategies to better deliver my lessons so that I can remain relevant now as well as in the future.|
|LLS2||Whenever I am faced with a mistake that I have made I try to make corrections and learn from my experience and then use it to move forward.|
|LLS3||I try to reflect on what I do during my lessons so that I can enrich the strategies I use with new and more effective ones. Sometimes I can get inspiration by talking to my colleagues from other fields.|
|LLS4||I know how I present my classes will influence how my students will behave towards the subject. Every time I present a class I need to be cognizant that I need to reflect on how I have taught and make changes the next time if necessary.|
|LLS5||I always think that what and how I did during my lesson is an important indicator of my effectiveness.|
|LLS6||I like to take into consideration my past performance and integrate it with what I am doing in the present to help me better prepare for the future.|
|LLS7||I know I am still learning to be a better teacher and the feedback I get from students and supervisors could be helpful in improving my future performance.|
|LLS8||I know I have my strengths and weaknesses and teaching is a difficult job to carry out. I need to constantly look at my practices in order to be more effective with my lessons.|
|Self-assess- ment ability (SA)||SA1||I always think of what I had done during my lessons so that I can further improve on it.|
|SA2||I am always interested in self-discovery so that I can apply the knowledge on how I do things and perhaps hone myself to be a better teacher.|
|SA3||I know in a lesson there are many areas, like content and context that can make or break a lesson.|
|SA4||I generally get good comments from students so I think I am doing quite well overall as a teacher.|
|SA5||I feel that students' feedback is important as this would give me an indicator of the areas of my strengths and weaknesses.|
|SA6||I think students' feedback are important as it will help me understand them better.|
|SA7||I know I make assumptions about a lot of things and when others give me their opinions about how I am teaching I must put it into perspective. After all I can learn from all the feedback I get.|
|Self-belief (SB)||SB1||I believe that I need to take care of my own needs first before I can take care of other people's needs.|
|SB2||I always try to look for areas of connectivity between what and how I teach with my life experiences.|
|SB3||As a teacher I know that the mistakes I make can have an influence on the lives of my students.|
|SB4||I feel very anxious about feedback given to me by students, it is as though they are evaluating and judging me as a person.|
|Teaching awareness (TA)||TA1||I try to think of what I teach my students in terms of my own area of discipline so as to enhance my lesson.|
|TA2||I know that I am learning about my profession all the time and I have already a set of practices which I am comfortable with, although the feedback I get from students and my supervisor will help me improve those practices even more.|
|TA3||I am aware of my beliefs and know that these beliefs will influence my behaviour toward myself and others.|
|TA4||I know that what I believe about myself and others will ultimately control my behaviour.|
|Reflective thinking (RT)||RT1||I have a certain way of delivering my lessons that I am comfortable with, I do not know why I do it the way I do it. I just do.|
|RT2||I know what I am doing as a teacher and I do not spend much time reflecting on my practices.|
|RT3||When students give me feedback I do not give it much consideration because I feel that it is just their opinions anyway. I do not worry about it as long as I feel I am doing my job.|
|RT4||Sometimes the feedback I get from my students and supervisor are so confusing I do not know what to make of them, I do not think it is actually going to help me learn anything about the way I conduct my lessons.|
|RT5||I know I make mistakes but sometimes I feel I cannot do anything about it.|
|Authors: Associate Professor Choy Siew Chee holds a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Exeter. She is currently the Head of the Perak Branch Campus of Tunku Abdul Rahman University College. Her research areas include perceptions and attitudes toward issues pertinent in higher education.|
Joanne Sau-Ching Yim is a lecturer at Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, Malaysia. She holds an MPhil in social science and is currently undertaking her doctoral training. Her research areas include perceptions and attitudes of teachers and students in primary schools, secondary schools, and higher education institutions.
Dr Tan Poh Leong is a Senior Lecturer in Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, Malaysia. He holds a PhD in business administration and his research interests include consumer behaviour, education, quantitative research methodology and in particular, structural equation modelling.
Please cite as: Choy, S. C., Yim, J. S. C. & Tan, P. L. (2017). Reflective thinking among preservice teachers: A Malaysian perspective. Issues in Educational Research, 27(2), 234-251. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/choy.html