Description as Reflection Stage

A small task for you: can you describe what you see in the image above?

A small task for you: can you describe what you see in the image above?

In our training courses we often use David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle to structure reflective process and feedback on a lesson taught. The Experiential Learning Cycle, or ELC, is the concept I strongly believe it and practice on a daily basis.

If you can choose and name the most insightful stage of ELC, which one would it be? To me, it is Description (after experiencing something) Let’s take a closer look at it.

What does ‘describe’ mean? If we look at how a dictionary defines this word and what synonyms are offers, there would be ‘report’, ‘recount’, ‘chronicle’, ‘detail’, ‘catalog’ among those that suit my working definition used below.

How easy is it to describe what happened? How much detail is enough? How objective or subjective does our description become? Well, all not easy questions. For some course participants it takes a long time to be able to simply recall what the students were doing, how many of them were or were not doing the task, what was written on the board, or even where the teacher was sitting or standing. I have actually heard a complain that ‘One can’t separate the emotions from the experience, and even an attempt to do so is wrong’, etc. I also heard one complain that ‘you description hurt my feelings’, which happened after I put the expected timing of when a session was supposed to start, and when it actually started, and how many people were late. I did not put or call any names, at the same time it was painful for those who complained.

Now let us forget about about ELT for a moment and focus other projects or tasks in our life, such as, losing weight, training for a marathon, saving money or working out one’s financial strategy, managing one’s working time, etc. I have personally experienced doing each of the abovementioned (with more or less success!) and I sometimes like to read what experts have to say about various strategies and approaches on doing those things better. Interesting (and I am sorry if I am stating the obvious now) that in most cases the first step is to write down what exactly and how much you eat (for losing weight), how long and how fast you run in a day, week, etc (for running), how much money you spend, how long it takes you to do this or that, etc. If you are like me, this is not always an easy task to honestly write those things down, and to keep doing so day after day. Surprisingly, it is often so hard to even think about the quantity, not speaking about analyzing and making conclusions… At the same time this data is invaluable for any further steps of making a decision, choosing a plan or a strategy. The longer you do it, the more data you collect, and therefore the more precise it becomes and helps you more.

I have been thinking about this phenomenon of ‘facing the reality’ a lot recently, and mostly in relation to education and training: oftentimes the awareness of what is going in a classroom is not there simply because a teacher is not thinking in those ‘descriptions’ and relying on more general impressions and ideas like ‘most of my students did the task well’ or ‘they did not know the answer’ or ‘they felt bored’, ‘they are never motivated’, etc.

One more thing: you might have been still wondering what that image at the beginning of this post means. Some of you have probably guessed what it could be, or seen the second image below. I think many things are similar in teaching: what we think we see is not always as straightforward as it seems to be. Detailed description helps clarify and distinguish one from the other.

Check yourself: were you describing what you see?

Check yourself: were you describing what you see?

I am a passionate supporter of the ELC and strongly believe in the power of description. I think am good at describing what happened in my class, but my other aspects of life would be the ‘areas to improve’ for now. How about you? How good are you at describing?

This post was written by Zhenya

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