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Professional Reflection Tools

Why is this important?

Akerlind (2007, p23) proposes that there are three different ways in which academics understand their own development as a university teacher: (1) as an increased comfort with teaching(2) as expanded knowledge and skills in terms of content knowledge and/or teaching strategies(3) as an increased focus on “learning outcomes for students, in terms of improving their students’ learning and development”. Regardless of perspective, reflection allows teachers to turn experience into knowledge about teaching and learning.

Guidance for informed reflection When to reflectAccording to McAlpine and Weston (2000) reflection can occur before instruction - reflection-for-action; during instruction - reflection-in-action; and/or after instruction - reflection-on-action. Planning new teaching strategies, deciding how to modify a teaching session in response to student cues and evaluating what were effective or ineffective strategies and deciding what could be done differently are all assisted by increased knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning. Kreber and Cranton (2000, p.477-478) argue that this “wisdom of practice is developed through a combination of reflection on theory and research and experience-based knowledge on teaching”.

A framework for reflection - The Triangle of Effective LearningBiggs (2003) argues that effective instruction is the result of the alignment of Learning Activities and Assessment with the intended Learning Outcomes or Objectives.


The Triangle of Effective Learning Biggs (2003)   


Regardless of when staff members choose to reflect upon their teaching experience, the following questions can be considered:

(1) Do the learning outcomes flow from the previous session and do they progress students’ knowledge, understanding and skills?

(2) Do the planned and enacted learning activities move students’ learning towards the intended outcomes?

(3) Do the planned and enacted assessment activities allow students to demonstrate the knowledge, understanding and skills highlighted in the learning outcomes?

A useful tool for planning and reflecting upon the nature and challenge of the learning outcomes is Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy (1956, 1972). Bloom’s classification consists of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, with ‘the relationship along the continuum … presumed to constitute a cumulative hierarchy’ (Higgins et al., 2005, p7).

Below are a range of examples of applications of Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy:

Overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Writing Objectives Using Bloom's Taxonomy

Examples of cognitive activities expressed as verbs and a useful blank chart

Revising Bloom’s Taxonomy with regard to Engineering Education

Study skills and Bloom’s Taxonomy

As explained by McAlpine and Weston (2000, p368) “the monitoring of cues in the environment provides information about what is happening during teaching”. Observing students’ verbal and non-verbal clues allows the teacher to adapt the pace and pitch of the class, revisiting content and introducing new concepts when appropriate. This requires teachers to be flexible, have confidence in their content knowledge and have a range of teaching strategies at their disposal.

It is also essential to have assessment strategies which allow students to demonstrate the knowledge, understanding and skills that the session has been planned to communicate and nurture.  Formative and summative assessments provide indicative data on student progress, gaps and potential. They can also reveal which teaching strategies facilitated effective student learning.

A framework for reflection - Content, Process, Premise

The table below, complied from Kreber and Cranton (2000) and Kreber and Castleden (2009) invites a holistic reflection on practice that includes the “what”, “how well” and “why” reflective questions.



Example of Reflection Activity   

Content Reflection   What do you know about ....    (1) teaching and assessment?  Discuss course design and teaching materials with colleagues and students. Read articles on ‘how to teach’. Keep a journal of strategies used.
(2) learning and student development?    Use learning styles or other inventories with students. Read articles on learning theory, thinking skills, autonomous learners.
(3) educational goals and purposes?  Review learning outcomes of a session, course or degree. Read articles and engage in debates on the goals of higher education.
Process Reflection     How do you determine whether or not you are effective in your practice?   (1) teaching and assessment   Collecting data on students’ perceptions of methods. Ask peers to review course outline.
(2) learning and student development Conduct an action research project on student learning. Compare classroom experience to research results on student learning.  
(3) educational goals and purposes  Read books on the goals of higher education and compare them to the goals of your department.
Premise Reflection    Why do you go about your practice the way you do?   (1) teaching and assessment Experimenting with alternative strategies. Challenging the departmental or institutional norms re teaching methods.   
(2) learning and student development  Seeking out literature which critiques theory on learning styles, self-directed learning etc. Participate in philosophical discussion on students’ learning.  
(3) educational goals and purposes  Join a committee on programme goal review. Check with employers to see what their expectations are in hiring graduates from your discipline.


Reflection Activities

Being a Reflective Professional requires active, intentional engagement in activities which provide data, evidence and insight about teaching experience. This knowledge can come from activities which:

(1) Utilise the scientific methods approach (instrumental) e.g. using questionnaires with students

(2) Facilitate dialogue with peers and students to interpret practical experiences and assumptions (communicative) e.g. peer observation of teaching

(3) Allow critical reflection on core beliefs, e.g. keeping a narrative journal account of teaching sessions and considering the roles of teacher and students in each setting.  (Kreber and Cranton, 2000, p482)

The following resources provide more detailed examples of reflection activities:

Peer observation of teaching

Student evaluation of teaching and learning

Reviewing curriculum provision

My Teaching Their Learning - using video to reflect on student participation

Baume, D. (2011)  ‘First Words’   An online guide to help teachers plan, run and evaluate effective teaching sessions.

Biggs, J.B. (2002) ‘Aligning the curriculum to promote good learning’ (pdf, 53KB)

HEA Engineering Subject Centre    ‘Constructive Alignment and why it is important to the learning process’

University of Waterloo, Toronto, Canada   A collection of tools to collect feedback on teaching


Akerlind, G.S. (2007) ‘Constraints on academics’ potential for developing as a teacher’, Studies in Higher Education, 32, No.1, pp.21-37

Biggs, J.B. (2003, 2nd ed) ‘Teaching for quality learning at university’, Buckingham: Open University Press/Society for Research into Higher Education

Bloom, B.S. (1956, 1972 edition) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Book 1Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc

Higgins, S., Hall, E., Baumfield, V. and Moseley, D. (2005) ‘A Meta-analysis of the impact of the implementation of Thinking Skills Approaches on Pupils’ in Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre

Kreber, C. and Cranton, P. (2000) ‘Exploring the Scholarship of Teaching’, The Journal of Higher Education, 71, No.4, pp.476-495

Kreber, C. and Castleden, H. (2009) ‘Reflection on teaching and the epistemological structure: reflective and critically reflective processes in ‘pure/soft’ and ‘pure/hard’ fields’, Higher Education, 57, pp.509-531

McAlpine, L. and Weston, C. (2000) ‘Reflection: Issues related to improving professors’ teaching and students’ learning’, Instructional Science, 28, pp.363-385

For further details of Professional Reflection Tools contact:

Linda Carey