Reflective Teaching Research Paper Starter

Reflective Teaching

Reflective teaching or practice is defined as "the thoughtful consideration and questioning of what [teachers] do, what works and what doesn't, and what premises and rationales underlie our teaching and that of others" (Hubball, Collins, and Pratt, 2005, p. 60). McApline and Weston (2000) state that expanding one's knowledge through reflection increases one's ability to develop as a teacher. Dewey identified three attitudes that facilitate reflection: open-mindedness, responsibility, and wholeheartedness. Teachers can use a variety of methods to promote reflection both in their professional lives and in their classrooms.

Keywords Academic Consequences of Reflection; Blogs; Dewey, John; Formative Assessment; Journaling; Personal Consequences of Reflection; Reflective Teaching; Reflective Practice; Rubrics; Self-Discovery; Socio/Political Consequences of Reflection; Teaching Logs

Teaching Methods: Reflective Teaching


Reflective teaching has become a focus of interest and a powerful movement in teacher education. The complexity of teaching requires teachers to question their practices for their own professional development in order to improve and to increase learner performance (Taole, 2012). The ability to reflect correlates with a person's ability to reason logically (Ostorga, 2006). Parsons and Stephenson (2005) see critical reflection as a crucial part of the complex activity of teaching. Teachers can make sound pedagogical decisions, "if reflective thinking becomes a habit of the mind based on specific epistemic views that promote its development" (p. 19). One's epistemological worldview, or an individual's system of values and beliefs about the nature and acquisition of knowledge, defines attitudes about teaching (Ostoga, 2006; Schraw & Olafson, 2002). Through reflection, teachers can examine the how and what of their teaching "by examining the underlying premises on which they base their work" (Hubball, Collins, & Pratt, 2005, p. 59). They can "reconstruct experiences," attending to features of a situation and assigning new significance to them" to make sense out of that which may no longer work within the classroom (Yusko, 2004). As Brookfield (1995) points out, "We can stand outside ourselves and come to a clearer understanding of what we do and who we are by freeing ourselves of distorted ways of reasoning and acting" (p. 214).


Reflective teaching or practice has its roots in the Enlightenment era. John Dewey, an early-20th century educational philosopher, was one of the first theorists in the United States to see teachers as reflective practitioners who could reform education (Zeichner & Liston, 1996). For Dewey, the purpose of reflective practice is to change teachers' classroom practices or actions. Teachers begin the process of reflection when they experience "a difficult, troublesome event or experience that cannot be immediately resolved" (Zeichner & Liston, 1996, p. 8). Because of teachers' concern about their practice, they analyze the experience.

In the early 1980's, reflective practice began to appear in literature about teaching and learning (Eryaman, 2007). Donald Schon (1983) wrote widely about reflective practice, highlighting its use in fields besides education, such as architecture and medicine. Education theorist David Kolb (1984) promotes reflection, viewing it as a necessary part of engaging the learner. Psychotherapist Carl Rogers (1982) states that reflection is appropriate to enhance self-discovery; he views self-discovery as the only learning which significantly influences behavior. In 1986, educational philosopher Lev Vygotsky promoted reflection, as reflection helps students make connections between themselves and the world around them. Sociologist C. Wright Mills describes the three types of teachers who do or do not promote reflection.

• Vulgar believers are not invested in reflection and are not interested in listening to opposing views or analyzing their own beliefs in any reflective way.

• Sophisticated believers are interested in knowing about opposing viewpoints, but only so they can argue against others' positions. They do not see that their belief systems may be flawed.

• Critical believers are open to opposing views, understanding that they may have weaknesses in their own thinking, and are strengthened by different beliefs (as cited in Valli, 1993).

Reasons for Reflection

McApline and Weston (2000) state that expanding one's knowledge through reflection increases one's ability to develop as a teacher. Schon (1983) promotes the idea of reflection by explaining that the time when reflection occurs can have an impact on the level of reflection. Teachers who regularly reflect do so for many reasons. They reflect on:

• The assumptions underlying teaching and learning;

• The appropriateness of their instructional decisions;

• Improving actions in a particular course;

• Generalized knowledge or approaches to teaching; and/or

• Cognitive awareness of their reflective processes (McAlpine, Weston, Bethiaume, & Fairbank-Roch, 2004, p. 342).

Dewey's Attitudes Promoting Reflection

Dewey (1933) states that the function of reflection is "to transform a situation in which there is experienced obscurity, doubt, conflict, disturbance of some sort, into a situation that is clear, coherent, settled [and] harmonious (p. 100-101). He proposes three attitudes that promote reflection:

• Open-mindedness,

• Responsibility, and

• Wholeheartedness.


Open-mindedness is the most important attitude of reflection and is defined as the ability to remain open to multiple, alternative ideas (Parsons & Stephenson, 2005). While teachers may have certain values and beliefs about how students learn, those who are open-minded are aware that there is no one right way to teach. Schon (1983) states that professionals need the "capacity to hold several ways of looking at things at once without disrupting the flow of inquiry" as they experiment with different problems (p. 130). Open-mindedness leads "to a plurality of ways of noticing, understanding and working towards improving practice and policy" (Ghaye, 2005, p. 182). Teachers are also open-minded when they can listen to and accept strengths and weaknesses of their perspectives (Zeichner & Liston, 1996).


Another attitude that promotes reflection is responsibility. To Dewey (1933), being a responsible teacher means intentionally reflecting upon one's actions to bring about improvements in practice. Before they act, teachers reflect carefully about the consequences to which action might lead them (Zeichner and Liston, 1996). They realize that there are consequences to teaching - personal consequences, academic consequences, and socio/political consequences (Valli, 1993). Ideally, students learn that the best leaders inspire trust among followers by listening to them, understanding them, and serving as mentors and role models (Chih-ling, 2013).


Wholeheartedness, the third attitude proposed by Dewey (1933), is the commitment to pursuing something worthwhile -- in this case, reflection (Ghaye, 2005). Teachers who are wholehearted in their reflection have attitudes that include the desire to learn something new through their reflections (Valli, 1993).

Mezirow's Qualitative Aspects of Reflection

Mezirow (1991) has categorized reflective thinking into qualitative aspects of reflection; this leveling of reflection is called the taxonomy of reflective thought. One category is non-reflective action, which is considered superficial in nature. Within the category of non-reflective action is habitual action. In habitual action, a learned action is performed automatically, with little or no reflective or conscious thought involved. Thoughtful action includes prior knowledge, but there is no reflective appraisal of this prior knowledge. Through introspection, one is aware of feelings about learned actions (Parsons & Stephenson, 2005).

The second category of qualitative aspects of reflection is reflective action. Here, reflection begins through content reflection, process reflection and content/process reflection. Through content reflection, the person reflects upon perceptions, thoughts, feelings or actions. Through process reflection, reflection is on the processes of perceiving, thinking, feeling, or acting. Content/process reflection is a combination of both types of reflective action (Meziron, 1991; Parsons and Stephenson, 2005). Premise reflection is one's awareness of the reasons behind one's perceptions, thoughts, feelings and actions. Often called critical reflection, this is the highest level of reflective thought.

Ganor's Problematizing Model

Ganor (2005) proposes yet another reflective model that includes problematizing, to ask questions and critique more deeply the issue at hand, whatever that issue might be. By problematizing, teachers respond "to the complexity of teaching and place value on the way in which teachers reflect upon the questions they have about their teaching" (p. 52). Ganor (2005) has outlined several patterns of reflection:

• Unproblemized reflection: This type of reflection focuses only on the practical strategies in which teachers engage, with only superficial discussion about issues and assumptions about teaching.

• Problematized reflection: This type of reflection...

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