Tuesday, 24 July 2018

team-teaching as critical reflection

In chapter 8 Brookfield advocates for team-teaching as an incredibly insightful way to develop the critically reflective lens on our teaching. In his experience, team-teaching permits that ability to model critical dialogue between colleagues that share the same class. His sense of team-teaching is the same as mine. Team-teaching is not when a course is carved up between two colleagues but rather it is when two colleagues are present at the same time in the same class and engage with each other and with students as the course unfolds. Thus when one is in leadership mode (instructing students) the other(s) are able to monitor the interaction between students, the teachers and how both are responding to the learning that is happening. Often, Brookfield notes, when we are in the sage mode, we may be so focused on being clear and articulate in our explanations and justifications that we have difficulty seeing how students are responding, or when we do, we can become distracted from the necessary telling or facilitating that is happening. Co-teachers are able to watch for this. In addition, and more importantly, co-teachers are able to provide an alternate set of eyes to interpret how class activities unfold. Of course, they are not entirely unbiased - they are also part of the instructional team - but they will be able to affirm or realign our perspective of what occurred in the class. And this is particularly useful for avoiding the imposter syndrome that can happen when a class meeting does not go quite as well as had been planned. Affirming our perception and providing alternative interpretations are invaluable for understanding how teaching and learning are going and can provide insight into how to improve students' educational experience.

For Brookfield, what is even more powerful from team-teaching is the ability to model critical conversation for students. Co-teachers are able to discuss in front of the class their different perspectives on an issue and model for students how a critical examination of an issue does not have at its heart the desire to convert someone else to one’s own point of view, but rather to try and really get at the heart of an issue to try and distill some truth out of the different perspectives. This is the dialectical method and can be helpful in developing students from a dualistic understanding of knowledge and learning to one that is more multiplistic and relativistic and perhaps even come to a sense of commitment to a particular perspective without it becoming entrenched. Some of this section reminds me of the Perry Scheme of intellectual development in the language it uses.

For this to occur, colleagues need to cultivate trust among themselves and be sufficiently courageous to be vulnerable about their own mistakes, misperceptions and how they themselves are captive to hegemonic thinking. I like this way of being. It is where I feel most comfortable and alive. But not always, definitely not always. I think this is why my senior biology capstone course is so successful. I tend to be more transparent about myself and with my students than I am in my other courses. First-year biology is not so bad because I am sufficiently comfortable with the material that I welcome negotiating new things that students find in their own reading and sometimes research. In the past, my second-year courses (molecular cell biology and biochemistry) have been among my strongest. But over the last few years, I have become increasingly insecure as a result of implementing team-based learning in those classes. I am not sufficiently confident with the teaching strategy to allow myself to be vulnerable and transparent with my students. I am still trying to navigate what is appropriate to expect from students on reading quizzes (the two-stage readiness assurance tests) and how challenging to make the in-class applications of students' learning. I am still trying to figure this out. I think it works in the biology capstone because I have been unknowingly using some form of team-based learning since the 1990s. It works well in first-year biology because there is becoming available a wealth of resources to support this sort of teaching - I am finding good applications amongst the textbook resources. For molecular cell biology, I have developed what I think are outstanding experimental problems based on published papers but I wonder with the changes to our first-year biology curriculum (less emphasis on cell biology) if these are a little beyond what students can manage when they are trying to first master the content?

Anyways…. ! That was a big digression from this chapter.

Bottom line - team teaching can be an incredibly powerful way of incorporating the lens of our colleagues' perspectives in our quest to be critically reflective teachers.


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Team-teaching as critical reflection. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 135-152. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.

Haave, N. C. (2017). Using history and philosophy as the capstone to a biology major. Bioscene: Journal of College Biology Teaching, 43(1), 3–11.

Monday, 16 July 2018

learning from colleagues’ perceptions

Chapter 7 provides some very useful techniques for when faculty learning communities gather and I will need to regularly consult it when I set up my FLC. The reflective conversation techniques range from rather simple for FLCs that are just starting to those that have developed a relationship among themselves with trust. The critical reflection conversation techniques are designed to enable participants to uncover the assumptions of power and hegemony and to initiate a conversation without judgement on those sharing their own experiences. What Brookfield correctly identifies is that all too often faculty conversations typically degenerate into complaints about our students and administration. Students “these days” don’t know how to read, focus, work, (insert your own student stereotype here). Or we often accuse our administration that they don’t understand the demands of teaching or are expecting too much from our service and research to properly attend to our teaching. There are many additional stereotypes that faculty raise when discussing teaching. The critical reflection techniques among colleagues that Brookfield reviews in this chapter are designed to consider our assumptions and what the alternative perspective might be for a given situation or experience.

The simpler ones start with each colleagues completing a particular sentence such as “I know teaching happens when…” or “ I feel like I have not lived up to my teaching potential when…” And out of these responses, a conversation develops. The more complicated techniques involve rules and roles that different colleagues play. The one I like is where one is the storyteller and explains their experience, with another playing umpire who ensures comments are nonjudgemental with the remainder being detectives who ask questions to clarify the situation and offer alternative perspectives. Only once all perspectives are considered and the situation well understood are colleagues invited by the umpire to offer solutions.

These techniques are designed to ensure that critical reflection occurs between identifying the issue and offering solutions. Brookfield’s experience suggests that faculty tend to jump from identifying the issue to providing solutions without the intervening reflection phase. This feels like how my in-class discussions of course material unfold. I have students solve a problem and then I tend to immediately jump to explaining the solution rather than letting them explain and justify their answers to each other. I have had some success in having student teams justify their choices to each other, but I tend to get too uptight during this phase of the TBL apps. I wonder if it is because I myself do not feel comfortable with the ambiguous phase of students figuring things out for themselves? I am a problem solver - I want to solve their problem for them! But of course, this is not how learning works...

But back to the learning from colleague’s perspectives, I know that jumping from problem to solution often happens when I engage in teaching discussions with my colleagues.

So, a faculty learning community is what I think I have in mind when considering creating a venue for faculty to come and talk about their teaching. This is such a great idea. I hope I can implement it both at Augustana and on the North Campus. And I think I just have to be courageous to try it without completely knowing what I am doing. But this chapter has given me a foothold - I now have some ideas of how to start.

I am intrigued…


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Learning from colleagues’ perceptions. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 115-134. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

seeing ourselves through students’ eyes

Some very useful suggestions in chapter six for assessing how students are perceiving and coping in our classes. Brookfield advocates for doing this at the end of each week or even during class using a back channel via social media.  Using something like TodaysMeet students are able to anonymously post their questions or concerns and the instructor is able to check the commentary every quarter hour or so. He suggests that many online technologies can do this - he is not adverse to students using their smartphones to do this. I suspect that a Twitter feed or PollEverywhere could accomplish something similar to TodaysMeet. He advocates for the use of social media because it makes students’ positions and thinking public and transparent enabling introverts and students for whom English is a second language to have another venue for their voice such that it is not only public speaking that is available to them. Finally, he continually advocates throughout this book (at least for these first six chapters) the importance of democratizing the classroom. This is the basis for his other two points: social media as a back channel prevents the few students from monopolizing the classroom. I like that - give other avenues for students’ voices. Brookfield admits that there is a risk in giving students anonymous voices - it can enable crass, profane comments and risks bullying of other students and the instructor. But his experience suggests that other students will actually patrol the potential vitriol and has the benefit that the bullies or even the monopolizers may realize that their voice is not the majority opinion or viewpoint.

Clickers are also discussed. Note that he indicates that it is the discussion that debriefs the question that is most critical and useful to this technique. I still have not mastered this post-PRS question approach. I find that I am too concerned with ensuring that students understand the rationale behind the correct answer rather than having students discuss what they think. In addition, I find that students are willing to discuss the question in their teams but are reluctant to discuss their team’s thinking with the rest of the class. On the other hand, there is very robust intra-team discussion of the TBL apps (Plickers - my version of a PRS) so maybe that is sufficient.

Other suggestions made in this chapter I have heard mentioned before in other venues such as the muddiest point and the one-minute paper. The learning audit is a new one for me and is interesting. It consists of three questions:

  • What do I know now that I didn’t know this time last week?
  • What can I do now that I couldn’t do this time last week?
  • What could I teach others to know or do that I couldn’t teach them last week?

Clearly, this is something that is done on a weekly basis and helps to make explicit to students themselves that learning is occurring incrementally/developmentally. Brookfield likes to use this to circumvent students’ feeling that they are not learning anything. Sometimes they just don’t realize that the little victories are summing up to something significant.

But the student feedback system that Brookfield likes the most and strongly advocates is the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ). He has mentioned this a couple of times in previous chapters and I have been both interested in learning about it but have had some trepidation about what it entails and what it may solicit from students. For whatever reason collecting feedback during the course makes me uncomfortable. I think it is because solicited feedback requires a response from the instructor and I am not confident that I can respond in a way that students will appreciate. There are some things that students want (e.g. more passive learning) that I know is not in their best interests and am unwilling to acquiesce to these demands. But what Brookfield suggests is that receiving this kind of feedback allows instructors to again explain their rationale for a particular teaching strategy and why it is in their best interests to persist. Also, CIQs over a few weeks can give an instructor a forewarning about brewing revolts to a teaching strategy and thus gives instructors a heads-up to prepare a response. I guess I am not confident that I can provide a sufficiently robust response to quell a student revolt. But on the other hand, if I don’t give students a venue to voice their concerns it can boil over into distrust and disrespect of the instructor and result in class resistance to learning and worse yet appeals to administration - which has happened to me before.

However, despite my misgivings, the CIQ list of questions is quite benign and I can see how it can foster a classroom climate of communication between students and instructor. These are the questions:

  • At what moment in class, this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in class, this week were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (student or teacher) took this week did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class this week surprised you the most? (This could be about students' own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs.)

Brookfield has students write this anonymously on a paper form and has student volunteers gather them up to ensure anonymity. For large classes (>50) he has student volunteers summarize/consolidate the summaries into the top 10 comments that he then reads (e.g. 5 students each read 10 CIQs and provides their top 2 consolidated comments). For smaller classes, Brookfield simply looks at them all himself.

I like these questions. Our LMS (Moodle) has the capability to run anonymous surveys, so I think this would be a good way to collect these. Brookfield administers these CIQs during the last 5 minutes of the last class of each week. And then he changes what he can, what is reasonable, what is pedagogically sound. For the other comments, he uses those as an opportunity to again reiterate the rationale for why he teaches the way he does and how it promotes students' learning.

I can do this.


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Seeing ourselves through students’ eyes. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 97-113. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

clarifying the benefits of critical reflection

Brookfield explains in chapter five the reasons for being critically reflective. And they are many. It helps prevent burnout and boredom because examining our teaching through the four lenses (peers, students, theory, personal experience) helps us to see the variety and diversity in our classrooms that underlies the lessons and activities that we re-use year after year. The content and exercises may be the same but the different sets of students’ experiences and backgrounds breathe new life into our teaching - if we are open to viewing through the lens of students’ eyes. What this requires is constant anonymous feedback from students in what Brookfield calls a CIQ - critical incident questionnaire - which he explains in a later chapter. This enables teachers to see what is received and what is misunderstood in their teaching.

Critical reflection also helps teachers to avoid self-flagellation. One of the things that Brookfield pointed out in an earlier chapter is that the impact and influence of teachers is limited. Sometimes learning happens despite our best intentions: learning can still happen when we seriously mismanage a situation or concept. What is important, thinks Brookfield, is that teachers be honest with their students about why they are using a particular teaching strategy or assignment and why the sequence of content makes sense. This is something I have read elsewhere - that teaching and learning are enhanced when we make explicit our reasons for teaching what, why, and how we do. Brookfield makes the case that being transparent this way inculcates student trust in the teacher and this is crucial to the teacher-student relationship. If students do not trust the teacher, they will not attempt the activity or deeply consider the material. They have to believe that the table the instructor has set is worth ingesting and digesting. This requires trust in the teacher’s ability to curate both the content and available teaching strategies. One of the issues that I think students were distrustful of me in 2nd-year cell biology this past year is that they could not believe the amount I was expecting them to learn. Yet, this is what students have always learned in cell biology. This year I actually winnowed the content from previous years. I think students just have such a difficult time understanding that learning this material takes such time, focus and effort. This was true of cell biology when I was an undergrad and it is still true.

What else did Brookfield provide as a rationale for being critically reflective? Being critically reflective helps us justify our actions, our instructional choices. How we teach is based on theory, experience, and student learning. As noted above, critical reflection enables us to make informed instructional decisions.


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Clarifying the benefits of critical reflection. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 79-95. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.