Enhancing Student Teacher Reflective Practice Through Poetry

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Portland State University]On: 16 October 2014, At: 22:01Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Enhancing Student Teacher ReflectivePractice Through PoetryKathleen M. Cowin aa Oregon State UniversityCascades Campus , Bend , Oregon , USAPublished online: 24 Oct 2012.

    To cite this article: Kathleen M. Cowin (2012) Enhancing Student Teacher Reflective Practice ThroughPoetry, The New Educator, 8:4, 308-320, DOI: 10.1080/1547688X.2012.726587

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  • The New Educator, 8:308320, 2012Copyright CCNY and ATEISSN: 1547-688X print/1549-9243 onlineDOI: 10.1080/1547688X.2012.726587

    Enhancing Student Teacher Reflective PracticeThrough Poetry

    KATHLEEN M. COWINOregon State UniversityCascades Campus, Bend, Oregon, USA

    This article describes a seminar process in which poetry is used withstudent teachers to provide a focal point for reflection and intro-spection. Through this reflection process, students have been ableto reflect deeply and personally on their student-teaching experi-ences, on their own personalities in the context of those experiences,and on their relationships with their own students and cooperat-ing teachers. The article includes a description and example of theseminar process used as well as examples of students reflections.The literature review includes descriptions of alternative methodsof using poetry as a reflective tool.

    INTRODUCTION

    As an elementary school principal, the part of my work that I loved mostwas working with beginning teachers. Seeking how to better help beginningteachers led me to my new position as a leader of a graduate-level teacherpreparation program. My current teaching responsibilities include leading thestudent-teaching seminar in which student teachers discuss their experiencesin their placements and seek to integrate their teacher education courseworkwith their developing practice through reflection.

    After leading the student-teaching seminar course for a year and oftenseeing my students arrive for the seminar from their student-teaching place-ments worried, upset and sometimes challenged to the point of defeat, Iwondered how I could change the focus of the seminar course to bettermeet the needs of our students. During that first year, I had worked withmy students on developing their reflective practices, but the process I used

    Address correspondence to Kathleen M. Cowin, Oregon State UniversityCascadesCampus, 2600 NW College Way, Bend, OR 97701, USA. E-mail: kathleen.cowin@osucascades.edu

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  • Enhancing Reflective Practice Through Poetry 309

    was rather formal and technical, focusing on redesign and analysis of lessonplanning and classroom management issues. Unfortunately, this process didnot stimulate a great deal of inward, self-reflection and failed to help stu-dents address the emotional and affective aspects of their practices andlives, though the need to do so was clear. Then I thought about my ownexperiences in using poetry as a part of my reflective practice.

    As a part of my new position, I have had the opportunity to participate ina group process called Courage to Lead. This process was developed by theCenter for Courage and Renewal and comes from the work of Parker Palmer(1998, 2004, 2007). The courage work, as it is called, uses poetry, stories,and other wisdom traditions, as a focus for self-reflection and discussionfor educators and other helping professionals to examine their own lives,personal and professional, and to be a source of renewal and sustainabilityin their work (Center for Courage and Renewal, 2010; Courage to Lead

    retreats, personal communications, January 2007 to present; Palmer, 1998,2004, 2007).

    The process of using poetry in reflection resonated with me and hasenhanced my own reflective practice as a teacher educator. This experienceled me to wonder whether a similar process would provide my studentswith a more personal entry point in the development of their own reflectivepractices. I thought perhaps we could continue to wrestle with the hardquestions of how to meet the challenges of teaching but with a focus onpoetry as a source of reflection, self-examination, renewal, and sustainability.

    The second year I taught the seminar course, I began using poetry bothto help our preservice teachers reflect on their lives and on their studentteaching practice and experiences, and as an entry point for discussionsabout how students might find their own methods to support their sus-tainability in the profession, before they even enter it. I have found thatin using poetry in the reflection process, students have been consistentlymore engaged and thoughtful in making connections between their ownpersonalities their selves and their many and varied experiences. Thediscussions reveal snapshots of how they are integrating their experiencesinto their budding reflective practice and understanding the hard work ofteaching.

    In this article, I discuss literature describing and supporting a variety ofother practices related to the use of poetry as a means of stimulating reflec-tion and self-discovery and helping students maintain a reflective spirit(Akbari, 2007, p. 201). I then describe the manner in which I have suc-cessfully used the reading of published poetry to stimulate reflection andintrospection in the student-teaching seminar course I teach, an approachbased on my courage work experiences. Following this description, I pro-vide a narrative example of the process in practice from one seminar. It ismy hope that other teacher educators may find this or a similar approachto reflection useful in their own work with student teachers. At the very

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  • 310 K. M. Cowin

    least, I hope that readers will take an interest in, and a deeper look into,the use of poetry to enhance students reflective practices and to con-sider the importance of helping students develop and maintain a reflectionprocess that takes into account their personalities reflection that asksthe student to consider who is the self that teaches (Palmer, 1998, 2007,p. 4).

    THE LITERATURE

    As a teacher and administrator with over 30 years of practice, and now as ateacher educator, reflection is vital to my practice and that of my students.The work of Dewey (1933) and Schn (1987) on reflection and reflectivepractice is central to the conceptual framework of the Professional Teacherand Counselor Education unit at my university.

    In our program, we continue to teach and equip our students to useformalized, technical, prescribed, reflection processes in certain aspects oftheir practice, such as with lesson planning and in analyzing classroom man-agement issues. However, this type of reflection may ignore other importantpurposes for, and benefits of, reflection. In examining reflective practicesin teacher education, Akbari (2007) cautions against reliance on an overlyacademic, technical approach to the reflection process:

    The most important downside of this academic orientation is the realloss of reflective spirit, since reflection is reduced to a set of techniques,instead of being high-order cognitive/affective/socially conscious activity(Jay & Johnson, 2002). A consequence of reducing reflection to a set oftechniques is disregard for teacher personality. . . . It is quite normal totalk of learners being introverts/extroverts, impulsive or thinking, and tohighlight the ways such traits or personality features affect their perfor-mance in the class, and at the same time treat teachers in such a way thatthey have no personality of their own to influence the way they teach.(p. 201)

    Akbaris (2007) concern aligns with Palmers (1998, 2007) focus on the whois the self that teaches (p. 4) as well as the reflective practices I have experi-enced in my courage work (Center for Courage and Renewal, 2010). Usingreflection for this purpose is supported by Gay and Kirkland (2003), who,citing Danielewicz (2001), Gay (2000), Ladson-Billings (2001), Palmer (1998),Schn (1983), Valli (1992), and Zeichner and Liston (1996), posit that teach-ers knowing who they are as people, understanding the contexts in whichthey teach, and questioning their knowledge and assumptions are as impor-tant as the mastery of techniques for instructional effectiveness (p. 181).I have found that poetry provides a way for our student teachers to develop

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  • Enhancing Reflective Practice Through Poetry 311

    and maintain the reflective spirit that Akbari (2007) spoke of and to exploretheir own personalities, the who that teaches, in the context of their ownclassroom experiences.

    The successful use of both the reading and writing of poetry to stimulatereflection and learning, to demonstrate personal and professional growth,and even as a therapeutic tool is well documented. Bercik (1999) describedher very positive experience having beginning teachers write biographicpoems, one at the beginning of the year and one at the end of the year.The poems were compared after the end-of-the-year poem was written, con-sistently illustrating the beginning teachers growth in understanding over thecourse of the year. Many of the beginning teachers indicated they would usethis technique with their own students.

    Ingram (2000) wrote about a process in which he used poetry with hispreservice teaching and counseling students to help them build a frame-work of respect, understanding and exploration (p. 9) related to culturaldifferences. Students read sociocultural poems, which Ingram himself hadwritten, and then responded in writing to a series of six specific and well-defined prompts. Ingram defines sociocultural poetry as writings thataddress the social, cultural and racial experiences of members of oppressedgroups (2000, p. 5). Gay and Kirkland (2003) also reported very effective useof poetry as pedagogy (Kirkland, 2001) [with preservice teachers] to exam-ine critical social and educational issues from the perspective of differentethnic groups (p. 186).

    To deepen their reflections about poverty, the poor, and working withthe poor, Clark (2009) successfully used poetry with her students, preserviceteachers participating in required service-learning activities in situations oragencies in which they would work with the poor. Students kept an elec-tronic journal of their service activities and their thoughts and feelings abouttheir experiences. They also wrote two required reflective poems during thesemester. The first poem, written near the beginning of the term, required aspecific form, as well as a specific repeated refrain: I am from . . . (p. 133).The second poem, with no required form, was written near the end of theterm. Poems were shared in class in a Poetry-Read-Aloud during the lastclass of the term. For many of Clarks students, both the poems and jour-nal entries demonstrated a great deal of growth in understanding of, anddeepening of empathy for, those living in poverty an understanding andempathy that should benefit the future students of these preservice teacherswhen they enter their own classrooms.

    Raingruber (2004) discusses the effective use of both the reading andwriting of poetry for therapeutic purposes and as a way for clinicians, teach-ers, students, and patients/clients to process and reflect on their experiences(p. 18). She suggests to her students and clients that they keep track ofthose experiences, feeling, and memories in writing then look for explana-tory analogies (2004, p. 18). Raingruber also uses the reading of poetry

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  • 312 K. M. Cowin

    oftentimes her own, written with a specific client concern in mind withstudents as a way to more deeply engage them in discussions about clients.

    John Fox, a poet and poetry therapist, makes a strong case for boththe writing and reading of poetry as tools for deep self-examination andreflection on experiences:

    Poetry provides guidance, revealing what you did not know you knewbefore you wrote or read the poem. This moment of surprising yourselfwith your own words of wisdom or of being surprised by the poems ofothers is at the heart of poetry as healer. (1997, p. 3; emphasis in original)

    Akhtar (2000) describes the use of poetry to ease mental pain, referring tothe cultural ointment of poetry (p. 237).

    In the following sections I will describe the poetry reflection processI use in greater detail.

    POETRY REFLECTION PROCESS OVERVIEW

    We begin each seminar with silent reflection time. I prepare copies of theselected poem and several reflection questions I have written, for all thestudents. Students may use my reflection questions if they wish, but they arealso invited to develop their own questions to guide their reflections. Duringthis time, the students read the poem silently and spend time reflecting onwhat the poem means to them. Then the poem is read aloud to the entireclass, and the students reflections are discussed.

    I was introduced to t...

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