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.