What is 'Reflection'?
Reflection is a process of reviewing and thinking critically about our activities and the world around us. It goes beyond describing what we do, to challenging our assumptions and justifying changes. It is part of the process of researching our own teaching, and includes thinking about what teaching means to us, what our intentions are for teaching and learning, why we teach in particular ways or whether things have gone as intended and why. An important part of critical reflection is asking ourselves “why” questions about teaching and learning, considering possible reasons why we think a class, assignment etc went well, or didn’t, and considering alternatives for how and why we might do things differently. Thinking about why we do things, whether they have gone as intended, why we think they worked well or didn't and how we might do them differently next time? Recording these reflective thoughts can help us to crystallise our understanding of experiences, make connections between different aspects of our work and identify possible improvements. Recording personal reflections has the added benefit of documenting learning over time through recognising the changing nature of your reflections.
Critical reflection involves reviewing our activities and constantly testing the assumptions and actions related to our work. Brookfield (1995) describes reflective teaching in the following way:
"Critically reflective teaching happens when we identify and scrutinise the assumptions that undergird how we work. The most effective way to become aware of these assumptions is to view our practice from different perspectives. Seeing how we think and work through different lenses is the core process of reflective practice".(Brookfield 1995, p.xii-xiii)
In the case of teaching, the different 'lenses' that Brookfield refers to include that of your own prior experiences; along with looking from the different perspectives of the students, colleagues, and from reading the literature. Reflecting on the evidence that you collect from a range of different sources is an important part of scholarly learning and teaching.
Using critical reflection in your teaching
Reflective writing is different from the descriptive writing used in diaries, records of meetings or casual notes about what seemed to work well or didn’t in a class session. Kember, McKay, Sinclair & Wong (2008) provide one useful way of recognising different types of writing. They describe four levels of reflection:
- Habitual action/non-reflection
- Critical reflection
Critical reflection involves stepping back from events, exploring alternative explanations and challenging assumptions. By making more connections with a range of perspectives from the literature and other sources, and reflecting back on your earlier reflections and challenging your earlier assumptions you will gain valuable new insights about your teaching.
Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass
Kember, D, McKay, J., Sinclair, K., & Wong, F.K.Y. (2008) Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33 (4), 369-379.
Other interesting links for Reflection
- The University of South Australia's 'In a Nutshell' series includes Reflection as a Professional Skill by Virginia Hussin, Kirsten Wahlstrom
- Stephen Brookfields' site has wealth of material.
- A useful summary of Brookfield's four lenses can be found here: Brookfield's Four Lenses: Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (Ben Miller 2010 University of Sydney Arts Teaching and Learning Network).