GP 3 Encourage critical reflection and recognise how values influence learning

In essence

Critical reflection is a purposeful activity for making considered changes and improvements to practice, knowledge and meanings made from learning. Values influence the ways in which people think and interact with the world. When students engage in critical reflection they are open to challenge and modification of values, knowledge and behavior.

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What you can do

Reflection does not necessarily ‘just happen’, though you can set up a range of conditions to nurture it. These include:

  • adequate time and space
  • facilitators of reflection
  • supportive curriculum
  • emotionally supportive environment
  • tasks that encourage reflection.

A range of strategies can be used to encourage students to learn through reflection. These include approaches and tasks that:

  • develop dialogue (journals, questioning)
  • use non-verbal techniques (drawing, concept maps, drama)
  • review and revisit learning material (summarizing, analyzing, integrating learning)
  • evaluate learning (peer and self-assessment, feedback)
  • use ill-structured material (real-life situations, challenges to assumptions and thinking, integrate new and previous learning)
  • reflect on learning
  • teach critical thinking and philosophy.

The following Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to assess critical reflective abilities:

  • Double Entry Journal
  • Course-Related Self-Confidence Surveys.

What it looks like

Students have enough time to complete reflective tasks and are given prompts that draw out affective aspects of learning and not just content-based responses (Genereux et al, 2008)

Students are able to make connections between theory and practice across disciplines and between university and the workplace. It is more effective when students are engaged in higher level cognitive skills to frame their experiences and practical real-life applications (Wills & Clerkin, 2009).

Did you know?

Tasks set to encourage reflection cannot be followed like recipes but should be applied with care and awareness to generate and nurture reflective behavior (Moon, 1999).

Reflection is an important component of experiential learning. It brings together components of experience, conceptualization and experimenting to guide learning and is particularly relevant to placement, fieldwork and work-based learning settings (Moon, 1999).

How it is applied in disciplines

Education: the Patchwork Text in a work-based teacher education setting is described. This assessment methodology enables students to explore analytical and critical aspects of academic writing by setting a series of writing tasks or ‘patches’ with critical reflection at the core. The students are encouraged to experiment with narrative, reflective and discursive modes of writing. Student perceptions’ of the innovation in this study are positive. Read more Dalrymple and Smith (2008).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

Digital storytelling: used as a reflective method for students to capture changes of perception as a result of learning experiences. Students were given guidelines and resources to engage in the activity and overwhelmingly produced outcomes with pleasing levels of reflection. The authors provide some practical suggestions to improve on their experience. Read more Genereux et al (2008).

Peer assisted learning: blogs were used in a fieldwork program and were specifically examined for the part they may play in enhancing reflective practice in students. It was found that blogs can help students to develop critically reflective professional skills as well as effectively support them to integrate theory into practice. Read more Ladyshewsky and Gardner (2008).

Reflective journaling: a number of reflection models are synthesized and four dimensions that underpin the process of reflective practice are defined. They are: to describe, analyze, make new meaning and act to change behavior. These dimensions form the basis of L&T strategies for developing reflection and the design of journaling in a course that explores self-awareness and leadership. Read more Pavlovich (2007).

Simulation game: reflective writing is incorporated into a simulation game. While the game provided students with experiences in decision-making and team experiences, the reflective component helped them recognize how team experiences and decisions occur in the workplace. Read more Wills and Clerkin (2009).

What should you think about when implementing critical reflection and recognizing how values influence learning in your teaching

Answer Yes to these

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches for encouraging critical reflection which characteristically emphasize constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt critically reflective strategies. I can incorporate critical reflection into my course.

Commitment: I can identify a ‘critical reflection’ champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

One broad aim of higher education is for learners to develop a sense of ‘critical being’ that incorporates not just knowledge, but action and self-reflection in order to be accomplished individuals in the twenty-first century (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). Learners need to be critical about what they know and the values they hold and to be reflexive about their learning (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). They also need to be able to assess how well they manage the unfamiliar and to determine what they may need to do to improve their practice and understanding, not just in their immediate studies but for their future professional careers (Biggs, 2003).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

The beliefs and values we hold influence what and how we learn (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). Reflection involves systematic processes for making considered changes and improvements that transform existing practice, knowledge and meanings made from learning (Biggs, 2003; Moon, 1999).

Reflection is a purposeful activity that ideally is active, social and challenging (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). It can be “a means of transcending more usual patterns of thought to enable the taking of a critical stance or an overview” (Moon, 1999, p 5). Critical reflection can deepen learning by encouraging the application of abstract concepts to everyday life (Grossman, 2009) as well as challenging existing paradigms or values (Brockbank & McGill, 2007).

Students approach learning with a cognitive framework of ideas and knowledge that has been shaped by previous learning and experiences and is open to challenge and modification from new learning (Moon, 1999). Reflection is one way to promote such learning and to enable a learner to make transformational changes (Moon, 1999). The activity requires learners to have strong meta-cognitive abilities and an abstract body of theory to draw on to successfully transcend previous meanings and understandings (Biggs, 2003; Brockbank & McGill, 2007). By engaging in the process of reflection, learners can expect to enhance their practice as well as enrich their understanding of experiences and professional theory (Biggs, 2003).

Schön (1983) describes two processes of reflection that can support the development of professional practice by contextualizing professional knowledge in the social setting of a profession. ‘Reflection in action’ uses existing knowledge to guide actions that are underway in situations where outcomes are unexpected while ‘reflection on action’ refers to retrospective thinking about an action to inform learning and future action (Schön, 1983).

Recent research shows that critical reflection contributes to more effective learning and it is best achieved in constructivist learning environments which privilege learning as a social process and value agency of the learner (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). Ideally, learners and teachers (as facilitators of learning) engage in active dialogue to reflect on issues and learning material in order to co-construct meaning and knowledge (Brockbank & McGill, 2007).

Students can find it difficult to engage in reflective activities and will often need to be coached to develop their capacity to purposefully reflect (Moon, 1999). Grossman (2009) finds the difficulty to reflect is present because students often do not understand the difference between inference and evidence. He presents some models that can assist students to develop essential abilities and levels of awareness for reflection. He also usefully defines reflection in four categories, namely content-based, metacognitive, self-authorship and transformational.

Willans (2008) found that skills in critical self-reflection can enhance the life-long learning potential of adult learners by helping remove hindering emotional and cognitive assumptions about personal abilities and, as a result, increase learner self-confidence.


Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Brockbank, A. & McGill, I. (2007). Facilitating reflective learning in higher education. (2nd ed). Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Dalrymple, R., & Smith, P. (2008). The Patchwork Text: Enabling Discursive Writing and Reflective Practice on a Foundation Module in Work-Based Learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(1), 47-54.

Genereux, A. P., & Thompson, W. A. (2008). Lights, Camera, Reflection! Digital Movies: A Tool for Reflective Learning. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(6), 21-25.

Grossman, R. (2009). Structures for Facilitating Student Reflection. College Teaching, 57(1), 15-22.

Ladyshewsky, R. K., & Gardner, P. (2008). Peer Assisted Learning and Blogging: A Strategy to Promote Reflective Practice during Clinical Fieldwork. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 24(3), 241-257

Moon, J. A. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. London: Kogan Page.

Pavlovich, K. (2007). The development of reflective practice through student journals. Higher Education Research and Development, 26(3), 281-295.

Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Willans, J. (2008). Embracing critical self-reflection : a necessity for lifelong learning. Paper presented at the Lifelong learning : reflecting on successes and framing futures : keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference, Yeppoon, Central Queensland, Australia, 16 - 19 June 2008.

Wills, K. V., & Clerkin, T. A. (2009). Incorporating Reflective Practice into Team Simulation Projects for Improved Learning Outcomes. Business Communication Quarterly, 72(2), 221-227.