Good teachers are not well-oiled machines, and good teaching is not just a matter of knowing the subject matter or being able to use all the latest techniques while teaching, or even being efficient. Good teaching is an emotionally charged event where teachers connect with each
student as they passionately deliver their lesson in a pleasurable environment

(Farrell, 2019b).

Have you read this book? Maybe you can help me.

I started writing this post some months ago.

It’s just notes from Thomas S.C. Farrell’s book, Reflective Practice in Language Teaching.

I really enjoyed reading it-it was just 50 pages long.

BUT, I’m not sure I understood the writer’s conclusion. That’s why this post has been in my drafts for a while. So perhaps if you’ve read it, you can help me.

What I’ve learned

Weak vs strong form of reflection

Farrell mentions a weak and a strong form of reflection:

weakest version: Thoughtful practice which does not lead to improved teaching but can lead to unpleasant emotions.

stronger form: systematically collect data and use it to make responsible decisions about teaching. This one is associated with evidence-based reflective practice.

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Dewey and Schön

Farrell summarises the perspectives and constraints of Dewey and Schön’s approach.


  • systematic, conscious reflection for self-awareness, development and growth
  • Reflecting after/on action
  • RP is reflective inquiry
  • facing a problematic issue
  • suspending judgement , taking a step back, avoiding hasty conclusions
  • considering reasons for the problem (intellectualization)
  • initial emotional reaction is converted into an intellectual reaction, moving from problem felt to problem to be solved
  • open-mindedness, freedom from prejudice. Letting go of being right all the time.
  • hypothesis testing and observation
  • growth comes from a reconstruction of experience


  • reflecting during/in action
  • More pragmatic approach
  • practitioner-generated intuitive practice
  • professionals know more than they can articulate

Constraints’ in Dewey and Schön‘s approach

  • reflection must always begin with a problem/shock/interruption that upsets the routine and that needs to be solved
  • It excludes situations that do not create doubt
  • it’s a technical rationalist approach
  • are there always solutions or answers?
  • creates a distance between practitioner and the problem-standing outside looking at the problem.
  • the result of a top-down reflect on demand is one of compliance , hating or faking it.
  • they are both ends-based models -problems must be solved, no room for uncertainty

Farrell advises us against reflection-as-repair.

Photo by özgür özkan:

we must stand guard against intellectualizing reflection as solely a cognitive process by stepping back too far from the person as teacher who is reflecting, and instead recognize the emotional affective aspects of reflection

T.S. Farrell

The Framework

The writer introduces a five-stage approach to language teacher reflective practice.

The added dimension is: the emotional aspect of reflection.

RP should not result in technical/rational teachers but teachers who have knowledge of their

  • philosophy
  • principles
  • theory
  • practice
  • beyond practice

He invites teachers to reflect on the following:

Philosophy: their self-knowledge of the teacher as person

Principles: their assumptions and beliefs about learning/teaching English as L2

Theory: The theories they construct influenced by their philosophy and principles.

Practice: Examine what they do in class and how their practice is connected to their philosophies, principles and theory.

Beyond practice: critical reflection+exploration of language for expressing : affect, judgement and appreciation

Damien’s journey

Photo by Josh Hild:

Farrell describes the journey of a teacher (Damien) through the five stages of this framework. An interesting finding was that Damien’s use of emotive language was mostly negative including words such as:

  • frustrated
  • conflicted
  • expected
  • unfair
  • angry

However, when he mentioned his students and their rapport he used positive language such as:

  • receptive
  • caring
  • fun

Farrell writes that emotional awareness can help us consider which positive emotions we value and which ones we need to avoid.

He later discovered that Damien quit his teaching job sometime after the reflecting experience.

Some questions for you

“One moves from feeling, to observing, to thinking, to doing’

Eyler and Giles
  1. This quote makes me think that the place of emotion is at the start of the process, or merely the trigger for the intellectual work of reflection (Felten et al. 2006))Does the added emotional dimension Farrell mentions refer to teachers trying to regulate their negative emotions at the end of the reflective process?

2) Being an emotional person, I find comfort in intellectualising reflection.  Taking a ‘scientific’ approach feels less ‘threatening’, emotionally speaking. Do you feel the same way?

3) I agree that there are no simple answers and solutions. I don’t understand how uncertainty can help us though. Does that mean that we should reflect in order to just revisit the past rather than guide future action?

Could this be the answer to my questions?

Matthew Noble wrote:

This project of reflection helped me both intellectually and affectively. As for the former, I was able to clarify and consolidate more of what had been tacit teaching beliefs, turning them into more explicit, practical thinking tools. As for the latter, I was able to better and more positively appreciate the value of my early experiences as a learning teacher. As I created the transcriptions, I could recognize and value how I employed the understandings I had at the time and the sincere effort I made using what I knew. In writing the journal entries, I gave voice to confusions I remembered but also to the spirit of striving, to the sincere concern for understanding I brought with me from my very first class ever onwards and found myself truly appreciating my own path of growth.

Full article here

Perhaps I’ve failed to understand what the author ‘s trying to say. If you’ve read this book , please share your thoughts.


Farrell, T., 2022. Reflective Practice in Language Teaching. online: Cambridge University Press.

Felten, P., Gilchrist, L. Z., & Darby, A. (2006). Emotion and learning: Feeling our way
toward a new theory of reflection in service-learning . Michigan Journal of Community
Service Learning , 12(2), 38–46.

image credits

Photo by özgür özkan:

Photo by Josh Hild:

Photo by Olya Kobruseva:

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