This is the first post in our new ‘Interview with ptec members‘ series. This time it is my honor and pleasure to talk with Wilma Luth, who has been my friend and colleague since 2011. We met on a course for elementary school teachers in Daegu, South Korea and since then have co-run several long and short intensive courses with Wilma, both in face-to-face format and online, and we spent hours and hours reflecting on teaching and learning together. Wilma is the only colleague I know personally who is actively working on her book – so this became the topic of today’s interview.
You will see Zhenya’s questions below (marked ‘Zh’) and Wilma’s answers (‘W’). Let us begin…
Zh: Tell us a little about yourself please
W: I’m a Canadian English language teacher who taught in various contexts and institutions, including language school, company classes, junior high and senior high school, vocational college, junior college, and university during 21 years in Japan. I was very involved in JALT for 15 years as a Hokkaido chapter officer and did presentations both locally and around Japan. I’ve been a licensed teacher trainer since 2006 and have worked in Costa Rica, the USA, Korea, and Canada. I moved back to Canada in 2012 and have been working freelance as a teacher trainer and writing since then.
Zh: The book is called ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Reflective Practice’ — why this topic? What is special about this topic for you — professionally and personally? How does it integrate into your teaching and training philosophy and practice?
W: I was first introduced to reflection for teachers in my Masters program at SIT (now SIT Graduate Institute) in 1998. Reflective practice became a very important tool for me as I worked on developing and improving my teaching.
The teacher training that I’ve done has been very focused on using reflective practice as a tool for looking at one’s teaching and working through the puzzles and problems that inevitably arise for teachers. I’ve seen many teachers transform their teaching through reflective practice.
Zh: How do you imagine your potential readers? What would you like them to know about the book before reading it? What do you hope they will be able to learn or do after they read your book?
W: Reflective practice seems to have become a kind of “buzzword” in the field of language teaching. Everyone agrees that teachers should be or should want to become reflective. But in the articles that I’ve read there’s often no explanation of what it means to be reflective or how you can become reflective. I think it’s important to understand what reflective practice is in order to be able to use it to its full potential.
The readers that I’ve been keeping in mind as I write are teachers who have little knowledge or experience with reflective practice. My book uses the experiential learning cycle (ELC) as the basis for reflective practice. In preparing to write this book I’ve thought a lot about what knowledge and skills a teacher needs to effectively reflect on their teaching. I break down each stage of the ELC into the basic skills that are necessary for that stage and include activities that will help the reader develop their skills of reflection.
I would like potential readers to know that reflective practice is the most useful tool that I know to understand and resolve the problems and situations that come up in our classes.
Zh: Do you remember the moment when you first had an idea about writing a book: where were you? What were you doing? Who did you share the idea with? How did you start?
W: I don’t remember exactly when I had the idea to write this book. It had been something that I had been thinking about for some time. But I do remember the exact moment that I started on this project. It was a hot August afternoon in 2008 and I was in Canada at my parents’ house. It had been a difficult summer and I needed some time to think and regroup. I went to an office supply store and picked up what I thought were the essentials for starting a book – a bright pink 3-ring binder, colored markers, post its and lots of paper. I remember sitting there in the hot sun porch and just brainstorming and writing out everything that I wanted to include in my book.
At that time I was teaching full time and so once I got back to Japan the project was put on the back burner. I picked it up every now and again and added more notes, rearranged the structure of the book. I’m not sure how many different ways to organize the book I’ve thought through – at least five and probably close to ten.
Zh: What was the ‘official’ beginning of the writing process for you? What stage are you at now?
W: Working on this project sporadically meant that it always took some time to get back into it when I picked it up again. I tried to start writing seriously in the spring of 2011. When I look back at that draft I see that the structure and focus has changed quite a bit since then.
In January 2014 I did a session on creating SMART objectives in the teacher training course that I was working on at the time. The example objective that I used was “By the middle of May I will finish the first draft of my book, The Beginner’s Guide to Reflective Practice (60,000 words).” That felt like a real declaration of my intention to finish this project because I wasn’t just talking about it with colleagues or friends. I did reach that objective by the end of November although the word count is lower than my original projection.
At the moment I’m revising that first draft. The sample is now in the Labs and available here.
Zh: I know the book is going to be published on the-round.com. How did you make this decision? What are the benefits/advantages of being published there?
W: I’d heard of the-round.com when it first started and was intrigued by it. What’s been interesting is that the publishing world has changed quite a bit since I started on this project. E-publishing has become more popular and that has opened up opportunities for unknown writers to publish through less traditional avenues. The-round is basically built on a self-publishing model. But it was started by two well-known authors in the ELT world – Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings, and it has published books by well-known authors like Scott Thornbury and Nicky Hockly, as well as books by first-timers. It seems like an ideal way to get my book out there with a group that people in language teaching are paying attention to.
The advantages of publishing with the-round is that I can have the benefit of the collected expertise and experience of the other authors in the group. Also, I will receive a higher cut of the profits than I would with a traditional publishing model once the book is released. The disadvantages of publishing with the-round are the same for any self-publishing venture – there are up-front costs involved which I have to cover.
Zh: So far, what is your learning about…
a) book writing process
W: It can take a long time! And all the planning and “getting organized” is almost as important as actually sitting down and writing.
b) writing in general
W: I love writing, but it’s still hard. Working to a specific target everyday (like 500 – 1000 words) works better for me than trying to “get as much done as possible” in a day. I’m still learning a lot about self-discipline and patience and enjoying the process. It might seem paradoxical to include self-discipline and patience together, but I think that they’re both equally important.
c) Reflective Practice in teaching and training
W: Fortunately, I still think that RP is really important and helpful for teachers! My understanding of RP has grown, which is one reason why the outline of this book has changed so much over the years. The book that will come out this year (knock on wood) is quite different than the one that I started planning 6 ½ years ago.
W: I’m better at having ideas than bringing them to fruition, but I’m learning a lot about that process!
Zh: So far, what has been the most challenging part of the writing process? How do/did you cope with that?
W: Writing regularly and fitting it into my schedule is really challenging. Not letting other things take priority. Writing this book has coincided with moving back to Canada, which has meant a lot of adjustments and perhaps having less time and energy than I thought I’d have at this point. My goal everyday is to write in the morning before other things take over, and although it doesn’t always happen, my happiest days are when it does!
Zh: Do you have any other writing plans for the near future?
W: My biggest priorities right now are to finish my book and get my blog going again.
One thing that I have in the back of my mind is to write some simple, short books on different aspects of reflection. (Like kindle singles that can be sold for 99 cents.) Oh, and I’m hoping to co-write a book about helping mentors help others learn about reflective practice.
Zh: If one of your friends or colleagues said they would like to write a book, what advice would you give?
W: Go for it! (but make sure there’s an audience for your book & keep the reader in mind). Make an outline (even if it changes). Get the first draft done quickly (you can’t edit a blank page). Use Scrivener – it’s the best software for writers.
Zh: If you could turn back the time, would you start writing your book? Why?
W: Yes, I’d still definitely write this book. What’s interesting to me is that over the years since I started this project there have been several times when I’ve come across a book and thought, “Oh no, this is the book I wanted to write. It’s already been done.” But each time it turned out not to be my book. It seems that my book isn’t out there yet.
Zh: If you had a chance to ask a question to your readers, what would that (or those) be?
W: Probably the most useful question would be – what do you know or want to know about reflective practice? What do you do when difficult situations come up in class? How do you solve those questions and puzzles that are a natural part of teaching?
Thank you very much Wilma for taking the time for this interview – it was a great experience to prepare it, and feels exciting to share. Looking forward to reading your book!
Visit Wilma’s blog www.teachandreflect.com