Critical Reflection

Critical Reflection has been given many different definitions throughout the years.  Some of these definitions include one from John Dewey (1933) which says that critical reflection is “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it includes a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of evidence and rationality”.  Another definition has been given by Jack Mezirow (1990) in which he says that critical reflection is “a process of testing the justification or validity of taken-for-granted premises”.  Although there are many definitions they seem to have some things in common.  They seem to all say something about a process of questioning our beliefs, values, and behaviors in order to justify why we do these things the way we do, and what other views or behaviors contrary to our own might be. 


Critical reflection can be used in the classroom with techniques such as journal writing, portfolios, case studies, action research, practical experience, autobiographical stories, description of critical events, action learning groups, oral interviews, structured curriculum tasks (examples could include reading fiction or non-fiction), and many others.

It has been said that it can be helpful for students because it enables them to correct distortions in their beliefs and errors in their problem solving and also make meaning of their learning. With guidance, adult students can learn to distinguish between past and present pressures and irrational and rational feelings, and to challenge distorting assumptions (Mezirow, 1990).  It is also thought that it allows students to assess the grounds for their beliefs and is a process of rationally examining their assumptions which justify their convictions (Dewey, 1933).  Because throughout life we must accommodate to continual and rapid change we must learn to problem solve. Critical reflection helps students to reflect on the content, process, and premises of problem solving (Mezirow, 1990).  Critical reflection involves more than purely cognitive activities such as logical reasoning or scrutinizing, it involves students recognizing the assumptions underlying their beliefs and behaviors.  They can begin to justify their reasons and actions and try to judge the rationality of their justifications (Brookfield, 1988).

It may be useful for you as an instructor also.  Some of the ways that it may help you in your teaching are:  1) If you are more reflective then you may be able to make better judgments about appropriate instructional approaches, accurate evaluative criteria, curricular sequencing, and responses to group problems that are more useful (Brookfield, 1988); 2) It may help you to make informed decisions in the classroom and to distinguish the dimensions of students’ actions and motivations that you can affect from those beyond your influence.  It may help you develop a rationale for your practice and you can call on this to guide you in making difficult decisions in unpredictable situations in the classroom (Brookfield, 1988); 3) It involves describing and questioning taken-for-granted feelings and actions and can be a means of developing a teaching philosophy and strategy (Walkington et al, 2001).

To get you started with Critical Reflection you could try simple things like asking any of the following questions about a subject:

  1. Ask why something did or did not happen.
  2. Ask what was good, why?  What was bad, why?  Neither good nor bad, but interesting, why?
  3. Think of alternatives; what else could have happened? Why?
  4. Look for other points of view
  5. Look for hidden assumptions in our attitudes and beliefs
  6. Look at something as a collection of parts (component) but also as a set of qualities (values and judgments)
  7. Look at the opposite viewpoint in order to challenge it
  8. Ask who might be advantaged and who might be disadvantaged by these responses and actions (Frid, et al, 1998).

Additional Resources for Critical Reflection

Brookfield, S. (1988). Developing Critically Reflective Practitioners: A Rationale for Training Educators of Adults. In Training Educators of Adults: The Theory and Practice of Graduate Adult Education, edited by S. Brookfield. New York: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think:  A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Lexington, MA:  Heath.

Frid, S., Redden,T. & Reading, C. (1998). Are teachers born or made? Critical reflection for professional growth, in The Context of Teaching, ed. T. Maxwell, Kardoorair Press, Armidale, NSW

MEZIROW J (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington DC 

Stein, D. (2000). Teaching Critical Reflection, Myths and Realities No. 7. ERIC Educational Resources Information Center.

Walkington, J. Christensen, H. P. Kock, H. (2001). Developing Critical Reflection as a Part of Teaching Training and Teaching Practice. European Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 26, Dec. 2001.

Electronic Resources


Last modified: May 04, 2007