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Reflection and Learning: Characteristics, obstacles, and implications



Reflection represents an important form of human thought; from ancient to modern times, the human capacity for reflective thinking has held the imagination of various philosophers and educational theorists. Despite this interest, researchers define reflection in different ways. One of the purposes of this article is to explore the activity of reflection by examining characteristics and contextual factors associated with it. For this purpose, various philosophical and theoretical sources are considered including Socrates, Rousseau, and Bruner, among others. Following this, empirical research is examined to determine whether elements associated with reflection are consistently integrated within regular classroom instruction. Next, practical and theoretical obstacles to reflection are proposed. One of these obstacles is an over-emphasis on the technical interest, a concept described by Jürgen Habermas. Last, some implications are suggested with regard to the use of reflection as a construct for infusing new points of discussion in teacher education and practice.
Reflection and Learning: Characteristics,
obstacles, and implications
David Denton
Seattle Pacific University
Submitted: 9 January 2009; Revised: 28 April 2009; Accepted: 26 August 2009
Reflection represents an important form of human thought; from ancient to modern times, the
human capacity for reflective thinking has held the imagination of various philosophers and
educational theorists. Despite this interest, researchers define reflection in different ways. One
of the purposes of this article is to explore the activity of reflection by examining characteristics
and contextual factors associated with it. For this purpose, various philosophical and theoretical
sources are considered including Socrates, Rousseau, and Bruner, among others. Following this,
empirical research is examined to determine whether elements associated with reflection are
consistently integrated within regular classroom instruction. Next, practical and theoretical
obstacles to reflection are proposed. One of these obstacles is an over-emphasis on the technical
interest, a concept described by Jürgen Habermas. Last, some implications are suggested with
regard to the use of reflection as a construct for infusing new points of discussion in teacher
education and practice.
Keywords: reflection, metacognition, formative assessment, depth, Socrates,
In the poem The Dry Salvages, T.S. Eliot (1943) wrote, ‘We had the experience but
missed the meaning’. This line serves as a reminder that the connection between
experience and meaning is sometimes tenuous or altogether absent. Arguably, one
function of teaching is to promote connections between what students experience and
the meaning that they derive from those experiences. One way for promoting or rein-
forcing this connection is reflection (Dewey, 1997). Reflection represents the human
capacity for higher-order thinking, specifically, our ability to make connections between
thoughts and ideas. However, one difficulty with the idea of reflection is that researchers
and theorists define it differently (Grossman, 2009; Kompf & Bond, 1995; Rodgers,
2002). Nevertheless, these differences have not diminished the interest that educators
have taken in the topic. For instance, searching the Education Resources Information
Center database using the keyword reflection produces more than 8,000 results.
Additionally, professional organizations such as the National Board for Professional
Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2009
doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00600.x
© 2009 The Author
Journal compilation © 2009 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
Teaching Standards (1987), the National Council for the Social Studies (2009), and the
National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (1996) suggest that reflection is
a valuable activity for teachers and students alike.
Despite its evident popularity, research indicates that increasing learners’ capacity for
reflection is difficult, but possible (King & Kitchener, 2004; Kompf & Bond, 1995;
Spalding & Wilson, 2002). The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of
reflection by discussing some of its characteristics and factors that promote its applica-
tion in educational settings.This discussion involves multiple theoretical sources, includ-
ing Socrates (Plato 2006a, 2006b), Rousseau (2004), and Dewey (1997, 2004), among
others. Next, this article proposes that an over-emphasis on the technical interest, a
construct situated within Jürgen Habermas’s (1971) doctrine of interest, is a primary
obstacle to engaging students in reflection. Moreover, throughout this article, an attempt
has been made at connecting reflection to relevant topics such as preservice teacher
education and educational practices overall. Last, the various arguments proposed in the
first two sections are summarized by examining some implications regarding reflection
as a point of departure for organizing new discussions about teacher education and
Characteristics of Reflection
One of the difficulties encountered when discussing reflection is that there is no widely
agreed upon definition (Grossman, 2009; Kompf & Bond, 1995; Rodgers, 2002).
Rodgers suggests that this is especially problematic for educators that integrate reflection
as an instructional practice with preservice teachers. Rodgers goes on to state two
reasons for this difficulty; first, there is no common language for discussing reflection,
and second, there is no standardized method for observing its occurrence. Nevertheless,
descriptions from ancient texts may offer some general guidance about the characteris-
tics and factors that comprise and promote reflection. For example, in the Old Testa-
ment, the psalmist reports meditating on the law of the Lord by talking to himself day
and night (Psalm 1:2, The New King James Bible). Elsewhere, in one of his fables, the
Greek sage Aesop tells of an old woman who, chancing upon an empty wine bottle,
recollects the once fragrant contents of the remaining dregs (Aesop, 1992). In the Ta o Te h
Ching, the wise master Lao Tzu reminds the disciple that in order to cultivate the mind,
one must ‘know how to dive in the hidden deeps’ (1989, p. 17).Yet again, in the Bhagavad
Gita (2:41), the hero Arjuna is advised to contemplate one action at a time in order
to avoid straying onto irresolute paths and innumerable distractions. According to
these sources, reflection could include activities such as meditation, recollection, and
Gustafson and Bennett (2002) simply define reflection as thinking for an extended
period of time about recent experiences, ‘looking for commonalities, differences, and
interrelations beyond their superficial elements’ (p. 1).The key characteristic to note here
is the idea of spending extended time on one learning event and doing so in a way that
produces a thorough exploration. On the other hand, John Dewey defines reflection as
‘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 tends’
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(1997, p. 6). Dewey went on to state that reflection involves a conscious and voluntary
effort to establish belief upon a ‘firm basis of reasons’ (p. 6).What should be noted from
Dewey’s definition is the idea of reflection as active, for instance, engaging learners with
educational practices that cause them to establish their own set of beliefs by way of
reason and proof. Finally, the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke defines reflection
as, ‘that notice which the mind takes of its own operations’ (1974, p. 90). In Locke’s
definition, the important characteristic is thinking about one’s own thinking or
These three definitions seem to suggest that reflection consists of characteristics as
well as factors. That is, characteristics are defined as cognitive qualities that promote
certain kinds of mental activity, for instance, prolonged consideration of one topic.
Alternatively, factors are defined as those instructional methods or variables in
the environment that promote reflection from the outside, for instance, use of reflective
journals. In this article, these two constructs are discussed together because the defini-
tions under consideration do not seem to indicate that they are entirely separate.
Moreover, a theme throughout this discussion is that reflection consists of various
elements that are linked together. Other sources support this assertion (Brown, 1997;
Grossman, 2009; Kompf & Bond, 1995; Rodgers, 2002).
Two characteristics, or factors depending on one’s perspective, emerge from the
definition by Gustafson and Bennett (2002); these are time and thorough exploration.
Simply put, reflection involves spending significant time on one topic in order to explore
it thoroughly. One way to replicate these characteristics is by teaching through the
application of a broad range of instructional methods. For instance, in the course of
instructing on some topic, educators might include methods that represent reading,
conversing, illustrating, and modeling. In addition to this, the characteristic of conduct-
ing a thorough exploration suggests depth. Depth is a frequent topic of discussion with
regard to student achievement (Goodlad, 1984; Porter et al., 1993; Roach, Niebling, &
Kurz, 2008) and it refers to one’s sophistication of understanding and ability to apply
knowledge to new problems and environments. In summary, the definition by Gustafson
and Bennett suggests that reflection requires spending significant time on one topic in
order to explore it thoroughly. However, in terms of educational settings, this practically
translates to the application of a broad range of instructional approaches and promoting
depth of understanding.
Another characteristic, one suggested by Locke (1974), is metacognition. This is
especially evident with respect to Locke’s statement regarding reflection as the mind
observing its own procedures. Metacognition is concerned with how learners think about
their own thinking and account for their own mental processes (Bruner, 1996a; Flavell,
1979). Instances of metacognitive thinking include learner awareness regarding the
variables of a cognitive enterprise, such as personal strengths and weaknesses, attributes
of a given task, and strategy use (Flavell, 1979). Moreover, metacognitive thinking means
being aware of one’s own progress toward meeting a learning goal or completing the
requirements for a learning activity (Flavell, 1979). Grossman (2009) suggests that
metacognitive reflection is one way to conceive of the reflective process in terms of
educating preservice teachers, while Brown (1997) recommends infusing metacognitive
thinking as a regular part of the grade school experience.
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One final characteristic, or factor, suggested by Dewey (1997), is the idea that
reflection has to be about something. This may seem like a rather obvious proposition;
however, Dewey outlines requirements for the content of reflection. In Dewey’s words,
reflection depends upon the formation of a firm basis of reasons from which one’s
thoughts develop and connect. If reflection depends upon some basis of reasons then the
question arises: What is the basis? One could argue that it has multiple sources, for
instance, textbook readings, teacher talk, and videos. However, Dewey states that reflec-
tive thinking is active, persistent, and contemplative. As such, the basis for a student’s
beliefs is more likely to consist of active and not passive qualities, such as classroom
One way to conceptualize such interactions is through formative assessment, which
researchers generally define as an interactional process between student and teacher
for informally determining the content of student thinking and progress toward achiev-
ing learning goals (Bell & Cowie, 2001). Indeed, researchers have connected methods
of feedback, such as formative assessment, and reflection before (McAlpine et al.,
1999; Ruiz-Primo et al., 2004; Spalding & Wilson, 2002). More to the point, feedback
is an essential factor of reflection because it appears to facilitate and promote
meaningful correspondence between students and their teachers (Pavlovich, 2007;
Werderich, 2006).
Arguably, there are additional characteristics of reflection not included in this discus-
sion. For example, Kegan (1994) and Mezirow (1997) attach transformative and self-
authorship qualities to processes of reflection. However, the purpose of limiting the
discussion to the few characteristics outlined so far is to accomplish what Jerome Bruner
(1996a) calls the outside-in requirements of educational theories. By outside-in, Bruner
means that educationally relevant theories require careful specification of the cognitive
resources needed for their use and a description of their setting requirements. Without
these, questions of the what and where of educational theories and their implications go
unattended.With this goal in mind, the characteristics and factors of reflection proposed
in this article are limited to these: (a) applying a broad range of instructional practices,
(b) promoting depth of understanding, (c) integrating metacognition, and (c) utilizing
formative assessment.
Theoretical Basis of Reflective Thinking
Although these elements may appear unrelated, there is some historical precedent for
associating them together. For example, in Meno (Plato, 2006a) and Theaetetus (Plato,
2006b), Socrates not only appears to employ methods indicative of these, but he also
describes them as principles of philosophical thinking. For example, in Theaetetus (Plato,
2006b), Socrates suggests that philosophy requires time, stating that, ‘[philosophers]
talk at their leisure in peace ... and they do not care at all whether their talk is long or
short’ (Plato, 2006b, pp. 115–117). Similarly, Socrates proposes that the work of the
philosopher’s mind is to focus its attention toward questioning, interviewing, and
cross-examining the whole nature of things seen and unseen in order to explore various
phenomena (Plato, 2006b). One explanation for Socrates’ emphasis on taking time to
explore ideas has to do with the view that learning is recollection.
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Socrates suggested that all learning was a form of recollection; the exact word for this
is anamnesis (anamnhsiς), which literally means calling to mind (Liddell & Scott, 1996;
Plato, 2006a). By recollection, Socrates was referring to the belief that ideas existed in
the mind of the knower, preloaded as it were, and that learning was the re-collection of
unconscious knowledge through mental activity.
One of the strategies used most often by Socrates to promote mental activity was
dialogue. However, a careful examination of Meno (Plato, 2006a) suggests that Socrates
employed a wide range of methods such as summary, comparison, and illustration (in
Meno, Plato tells us that Socrates drew in the sand as a way to show geometric figures).
Additional passages suggest that Socrates integrated metacognitive thinking as well. For
instance, Socrates recommends examining one’s thoughts and identifying gaps in one’s
arguments (Plato, 2006a).
The components of formative assessment, such as evaluation and feedback, are also
present in Socrates’ method. For instance, Socrates suggests that teaching is not didac-
ticism (didaskonta), but a process of joint inquiry; Plato (2006a, p. 314) uses a phrase
(zhtwn met emou), which literally means seeking with another person. Often, Socrates
begins this process of joint inquiry with questioning, followed by an evaluation to assess
the validity of arguments. In addition, throughout this process Socrates integrates sum-
maries and examples, which he then uses as launching points for further inquiry (Plato,
2006a). In this way, Socrates interacts through dialogue, checking for understanding in
order to stir up ideas and memories.
The characteristics and factors present in Socrates’ method, used more than 2,000
years ago, continue to receive attention from modern thinkers. For example, Alfred
North Whitehead (1929) proposes two principles of effective teaching: teach less content
and teach for understanding. Whitehead follows these basic principles with the sugges-
tion that teachers introduce a few main ideas over time, putting them together into
different combinations to assist students in achieving fluent understanding. Likewise,
Rousseau (2004) recommends a similar approach. For instance, Rousseau states, ‘we
always advance slowly from one sensible idea to another, and as we give time enough to
each for ... [the student] to become really familiar with it before we go on to another’
(p. 158). Socrates,Whitehead, and Rousseau seem to have the same idea in mind, which
is to contemplate one idea or topic at a time, explore it thoroughly, and learn it well.
A number of professional organizations reiterate these principles. For instance, accord-
ing to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1990), edu-
cators should concentrate on fewer topics worthy of long-term investigation. The
purpose of this, according to the AAAS, is to provide learners with richer insights and
deeper understandings about scientific principles. The National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (2009) makes a similar suggestion, citing that an underlying principle of
effective mathematics curriculum is to build connections and skills over time in order to
deepen and expand students’ mathematics knowledge. Likewise, the National Council
for the Social Studies (2009) suggests that effective social studies teachers assist their
students in understanding a few key concepts and themes developed over time and
with depth.
In the classic educational text, The Process of Education, Jerome Bruner (1996b)
recommends a similar approach. Bruner suggests that students learn the underlying
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structures of a discipline by understanding its generalized principles. Bruner defines
generalized principles as those rules and precepts that govern a particular body of
knowledge and their related phenomena. For example, the commutative property of
Algebra is one of these generalized principles. At one level, the commutative property is
quite easy to understand; it simply means that numbers are movable in situations of
addition and multiplication. However, when numbers are replaced with variables, the
commutative property acquires a new level of sophistication. Accordingly, if mathematics
students learn the basic rules that govern the commutative property first, then this
understanding can be cultivated over time into flexible and transferable knowledge
throughout grade school and beyond. These are the building blocks of Bruner’s theory
of the spiral curriculum and the idea of transferable knowledge plays an important role
in this theory.
Bruner (1996b) defines transference as the ability to apply an understanding or skill to
a new problem or within a new environment. Moreover, transference is not limited to
content-specific knowledge. Rather, Bruner suggests that educators promote generalized
principles of the learning process itself. One of these principles is learning how to learn,
otherwise known as metacognition.
Although Flavell (1976) coined the term metacognition, philosophers and theorists
have discussed its characteristics for thousands of years. For instance, the Greek travel
author Pausanias (Book 10:24:1) wrote that each visitor to Apollo’s temple at Delphi was
greeted with a sign posted at the entrance, admonishing visitors to ‘know thyself’.
Likewise, the ancient Greek poet Sophocles’ authored Oedipus the King with the process
of achieving self-knowledge as its major theme.
The discussion of these ideas continues today in education. For instance, Bruner
(1986) observes that ‘much of the process of education consists of being able to distance
oneself in some way from what one knows by being able to reflect on one’s own
knowledge’ (p. 127). Similarly, Dewey (2004) suggests that reflection is an intentional
examination of the details that connect one’s actions to the results that they bring about.
Alternatively, thinking which lacks characteristics of metacognition is similar to trial and
error. For example, the unreflective thinker tries different solutions to a problem without
attempting to understand why one method works and another fails (Dewey, 2004).
Thinking without some element of metacognition is random and discontinuous; it does
not lead to meaningful or thoughtful activity (Dewey, 2004). This is why Dewey (1997)
and Bruner associate reflection and metacognition together with active learning. The
focus of control shifts more toward learners as they begin examining their own thinking.
As a result, thinking becomes more strategic and focused. Learners begin to operate as
users of knowledge rather than passive receivers of it (Bruner, 1986).
With regard to passive learning, Rousseau (2004) recommends that teachers guide
students in the formation of knowledge, not simply its transmission. Rousseau put
the matter of teaching this way: instead of memorizing exact knowledge of, say,
local topography, have the learner understand the art of map making. Such knowledge
would serve the student better than exact knowledge, according to Rousseau, because it
represents the ability to access knowledge in a variety of circumstances and at just the right
time. Whitehead (1929) phrases the process somewhat differently, suggesting that the
learner’s ‘knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows’ and that the details of what one learns ‘are
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swallowed up in principles’ (p. 48). The recommendations of Rousseau and Whitehead
point back to Bruner’s (1996b) interest in teaching general principles of a discipline.
Arguably, metacognitive thinking represents one of these principles. However, metacog-
nition is distinguished from other principles because it is not tied to any particular
discipline or content. That is, learners can use it in any type of educational setting.
One of the reasons for its transferability is that metacognition distances the learner
from his or her thoughts, while also requiring an assessment of one’s abilities and
resources for the completion of a learning endeavor. However, self-assessment, whether
as a goal in teacher education or adolescent learning is difficult to achieve (Brown, 1997;
Grossman, 2009; King & Kitchener, 2004). One explanation for this is that metacogni-
tive thinking is not altogether an independent activity; it depends on elements of
interaction (Bruner, 1996a).
An example of the intersection between interaction and metacognition comes from
Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) illustration of a young child attempting to grasp some object just
out of reach. According to Vygotsky, the child points as a gesture to make persons nearby
react. To some degree, the child is metacognitively aware of his or her inability
to reach the object, but through the act of gesturing, the child summons additional
resources to solve the problem at hand. In this way, metacognitive thinking and social
interaction go together. Bruner (1986) supports this assertion when he states that
learning in most settings is a ‘communal’ activity (p. 127). In other words, learning
involves interaction and this interaction has the potential to assist learners in taking a
metacognitive-step, as it were, away from the objective at hand to evaluate their progress
(Bruner, 1986, 1996b). When teachers encounter large class loads or apply primarily
didactic teaching methods, the interactional and communal aspects of learning weaken
and so does the potential for prompting metacognition. Perhaps it is these types of
factors that interfere with the promotion of reflection among adolescent learners as well
as with preservice teachers (Gustafson & Bennett, 2002; Nielsen, Stragnell & Jester,
2007; Song et al., 2006; Spalding & Wilson, 2002).
One way to reintegrate interaction in the context of modern educational environments
is through formative assessment. The basis for this assertion is partly practical: in
classroom environments, formative assessment represents an effective instructional strat-
egy (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986). However, the theoretical basis for
this suggestion derives from Dewey’s (1997) idea that reflection uses a certain kind of
raw material, described as ‘the firm basis of reasons’ for the cognitions that a student
possesses (p. 6). Possibly, this firm basis of reasons is constructed from the social
interactions that a student experiences.
Socrates’ method seems to demonstrate this possibility; after all, Socrates’ primar y
method of teaching (although Socrates would not call it teaching) is questioning and
discussion. Similarly, Vygotsky (1978) imagined that learning depends on social inter-
action, primarily of a linguistic nature. Vygotsky identifies this process as the zone of
proximal development, which is defined as the distance between what a learner can do
independently and what a learner can do with the assistance of competent peers or
adults. Rousseau (2004) also suggests that interaction has an important role to play in
learning. Indeed, Rousseau has the same idea in mind asVygotsky when he recommends
that teachers ‘increase the difficulty of the task in proportion to [the student’s] skill’
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(p. 120). Educators could use any number of formats to promote meaningful class-
room interaction, such as cooperative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1994) and peer-
questioning (King, 2002). However, formative assessment has two qualities that seem to
set it apart. First, it involves a learner and a competent peer or adult who guides the
learner beyond their present capabilities. Second, it creates the potential for meaningful
feedback and researchers have shown that feedback is a variable that promotes reflection
(Ruiz-Primo et al., 2004; Spalding & Wilson, 2002).
Reflection and Educational Practice
In this article, it has been suggested that reflection is composed of various elements;
however, other sources make similar claims (Grossman, 2009; Kompf & Bond, 1995;
Rodgers, 2002). Nevertheless, an effort has also been made at deriving characteristics
and factors of reflection from philosophical and theoretical sources such as Socrates
(Plato, 2006a, 2006b), Dewey (1997), and Rousseau (2004), among others. Although
these elements are not intended to be comprehensive, they are consistent with the
definitions of reflection established by Gustafson and Bennett (2002), Dewey (1997),
and Locke (1974). As mentioned, these components include (a) applying a broad range
of instructional practices, (b) promoting depth of understanding, (c) integrating meta-
cognition, and (c) utilizing formative assessment.
Despite the theoretical basis for these elements in the writings of various philosophers
and educational theorists, the question remains as to whether or not these characteristics
and factors describe educational practice in American schools. Evidence suggests that
these are not common principles upon which instructional methods depend (Faulkner
and Cook, 2006; Jackson, 1990; Leming, Ellington & Schug, 2006; Porter et al., 1993).
The seminal study by Goodlad (1984) is one source that supports this assertion.
Goodlad (1984) collected data and observations from 38 schools, 1,000 classrooms
and 17,000 students. Interestingly, Goodlad’s study ranks as one of the largest and most
comprehensive studies ever conducted in American schools. According to Goodlad,
students in primary and secondary classrooms had the tendency to cover too much
content, rarely taking time to sort out the most important principles from the minutia of
specifics. Additionally, Goodlad reported that students at primary and secondary levels
often did not have enough time to complete their lessons or were confused about what
the teacher wanted them to do. Finally, Goodlad found that students frequently engaged
in a narrow range of classroom activities that were mostly expositive in nature. For
instance, students spent most of their time listening to teachers, writing answers to
questions, and taking quizzes and tests.
In another seminal study, Jackson (1990) observed primary school classrooms and
described findings similar to those of Goodlad’s (1984). Jackson found that teachers
moved students from one activity to the next based on a time schedule, not because
students were finished with their work. For example, math begins at 10:00 and ends at
10:42; this is followed by spelling at 10:47, and so on. As a result, Jackson stated that
students often left lessons incomplete. Another finding was that the instructional
methods teachers chose were influenced not by their perceived effectiveness for learning,
but by their ability to facilitate crowd control. Indeed, Jackson suggested that crowd
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control was a governing theme in primary classrooms. As an example, Jackson writes
that, ‘teaching commonly involves talking and the teacher acts as a gatekeeper who
manages the flow of the classroom dialogue’ (p. 11).
Despite their insights, the studies by Goodlad (1984) and Jackson (1990) are 20 years
old. One could argue that these findings are outdated and maybe educational practices,
as a whole, have changed. However, there is further evidence to suggest that the
classrooms Goodlad and Jackson described 20 years ago are much the same today. For
instance, Porter et al. (1993) examined 18 different schools, made 116 classroom obser-
vations, and interviewed 44 district administrators with regard to secondary mathematics
and science education. According to Porter et al., science and mathematics students
rarely engaged in developing deep conceptual understanding of content material.That is,
they did not understand the underlying principles or structure of science and mathemat-
ics but attended more to the superficial details of each discipline. In addition, like the
findings reported by Goodlad, Porter et al. found that students engaged in the repetitive
use of a finite number of instructional practices, which were primarily expositive in
More recently, Leming et al. (2006) surveyed 1,051 elementary and secondary social
studies teachers and found that teachers rated student-centered instruction as their
preferred style. Nevertheless, when asked about their use of instructional methods, 90%
of teachers indicated that they used teacher presentation and discussion most often.
Similarly, Bolinger and Warren, (2007) surveyed 140 primary and secondary social
studies teachers and found that lecture was the most used method of instruction at all
levels, especially in the secondary grades. Other frequently employed practices included
text readings and worksheets.
Finally, Faulkner and Cook (2006) surveyed 146 middle school teachers with regard
to their use of instructional approaches. Similar to the results found by Leming et al.
(2006), teachers acknowledged the importance of using a wide variety of instructional
strategies (Faulkner & Cook). However, when asked, most teachers stated that the
instructional strategies they used most often were discussion, lecture, and worksheets.
The least used strategies, according to Faulkner and Cook, were hands-on experimen-
tation, reflective writing, inquiry, and integrated units.
The research cited in this section is by no means exhaustive; nevertheless, it does seem
to suggest that teachers have the tendency to emphasize content coverage while employ-
ing didactic and expositive methods. Perhaps teachers feel pressure to cover content as
a way to demonstrate progress; this would partly explain the consistent use of direct
teaching practices. Although this conclusion is only speculative, there is some evidence
for its validity. For example, Goodlad (1984) summarizes one of the central problems of
secondary education by stating: ‘At no academic level is the need one of cramming more
into the curriculum and into each lesson. Indeed, a sorting out of principles from the
clutter of specifics would be beneficial. A few concepts should be learned through a
variety of approaches’ (p. 128). Goodlad’s observation brings to mind the advice of
Whitehead (1929) and Rousseau (2004): teach less content, teach for understanding.
However, it appears as though this advice has gone unheeded.
Moreover, the pressures exerted by the perceived need for content coverage and the
use of direct teaching methods may explain some of the difficulty that older students
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and preservice teachers have in generating meaningful reflections (Gustafson & Bennett,
2002; Pavlovich, 2007; Spalding & Wilson, 2002). Possibly, after multiple years in an
educational system that emphasizes content coverage and passive learning, students have
neither practiced nor cultivated their capacity for reflection. Arguably, reflective capacity
is a function of developmental level (King & Kitchener, 2004); however, this does not
exclude the possibility that educators can assist their students in reflecting in age
appropriate ways (Brown, 1997; Choi, Land & Turgeon, 2005; Ruiz-Primo et al., 2004;
Song et al., 2006). Indeed, Brown (1997) argues that educational researchers should
be doing more to understand and develop students’ capacity for reflection in age-
appropriate ways.
Obstacles to Reflection
The question, then, is why this occurs.Why do educators in primary and secondary levels
of education seem to emphasize content coverage and direct instruction methods?
Possibly, these are the best methods for coping with large crowds, as Jackson (1990)
asserts. In other words, content coverage and direct teaching methods make learning
environments more manageable.This systematization and organization of learning envi-
ronments is demonstrative of the institutional qualities of education. Indeed, these
qualities are discussed by both Goodlad (1984) and Jackson. In comparison, the ele-
ments necessary for reflection seem out of place. For example, if a teacher were to give
meaningful feedback through formative assessment processes to students on individual
reflections, this would consist of additional hours of work each day. Then again, indi-
vidual student reflections would also demonstrate a good deal of diversity. How would
teachers score such an assignment in an efficient manner, especially when every student
is expressing a different line of thinking? Maybe this is one reason why direct teaching
methods are frequently used: they standardize student output. Arguably, practical con-
cerns serve as one category of obstacles to reflection. However, they do not necessarily
tell us much about underlying causes.
One way to discuss obstacles of reflection at a theoretical level is through Jürgen
Habermas’s (1971) doctrine of interest. The doctrine of interest is a theory in which
Habermas suggests that humans construct knowledge according to three fundamental
interests. In these terms, interest means a fundamental orientation of human thinking by
which humans develop means and methods for promoting life. These interests are
practical, technical, and emancipatory. Although Habermas originally intended the
doctrine of interest as a critique of the dominance of positivism in Western thought
life, educational theorists have used Habermas’s doctrine as a way to organize
discussions about curriculum, instruction, and other topics relating to education
(Grundy, 1987; Ellis, 2005).
The technical interest represents the fundamental human desire to control the envi-
ronment through principles of positivism (Habermas, 1971). Because of its positivistic
nature, the technical interest requires careful definitions, set criteria, and verification
(Habermas). Moreover, the overall purpose of these methods is to produce predictable
outcomes. An accompanying dynamic associated with predicting outcomes is the careful
monitoring of input and output mechanisms (Habermas, 1971, 1973). Despite its
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Journal compilation © 2009 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
mechanical description, Habermas does not suggest that the technical interest is nega-
tive. The problem, however, is when humans use the technical interest as their primary
orientation for the constitution of knowledge. An overemphasis of the technical interest
is particularly problematic in terms of educational practice (Ellis, 2005) because
methods indicative of the technical interest limit or exclude certain types of human
behavior such as discussion, consensus building, and reflection (Grundy, 1987).
Alternatively, the practical interest represents the fundamental human desire to under-
stand the surrounding environment through social interaction (Grundy, 1987). Charac-
teristics of the practical interest include communication, mutual understanding, and
argumentation (Habermas, 1971). One of the purposes of the practical interest is to
achieve consensus among participants (Habermas). As such, the relationship between
humans and the practical interest is one of working within the environment, unlike the
technical interest, which seeks to shape the environment. In terms of education, the
practical interest is demonstrated when learners participate in various forms of interac-
tion, such as discussion and collaboration (Grundy).
The last interest, emancipatory, describes the fundamental human desire for
autonomy and responsibility, primarily achieved through self-reflection. Unlike the
other two interests, the emancipatory interest is less an inclination than an orientation
grounded in rationality, or at least, the potential for humans to think and act rationally
(Grundy, 1987). However, as the name suggests, the emancipatory interest frees
humans from something. This something is the tendency of the technical interest to
objectify other humans and their activities. The primary process by which humans
experience emancipation is self-reflection. This is because self-reflective individuals
consider the meaning and consequences of their actions. Additionally, self-reflection
refocuses responsibility back toward the individual and away from the authority of
external experts (Habermas, 1971). The proposition that one can be self-reflective
points back to the idea of metacognition and the theoretical sources that surround it,
such as Socrates’ suggestion to examine one’s thoughts, or more directly, the Greek
aphorism to ‘know thyself’, as well as Locke’s (1974) definition of reflection as the
mind examining its own operations.
When one interest dominates an environment, human activity in all its forms, becomes
unbalanced (Habermas, 1971). The implications for educational practice where the
technical interest dominates are many. For instance, instructional methods tend to focus
on controlling the learning environment through careful monitoring of input and output
processes (Grundy, 1987). Moreover, an orientation toward the technical interest
focuses on making student learning more efficient and objective. One particular example
of this is the learning objective, popularized by Franklin Bobbitt (2004) in 1918. Bobbitt
proposed to define and quantify every skill, behavior, and cognition of which humans
were capable in order to assemble a comprehensive list of what students should know and
be able to do. Similarly, in 1962, Robert Mager (1984) followed Bobbitt’s lead by
detailing methods for preparing instructional objectives. Perhaps the standards and testing
movement observed in American schools today is yet another manifestation of these
This is not to suggest that learning objectives or standards are obstacles to reflection
in and of themselves. Arguably, there must be some systems for organizing educational
Reflection and Learning 11
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Journal compilation © 2009 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
practice (Tyler, 2004). However, when the technical interest dominates, then it is
reasonable to say that essential dimensions of human learning remain uncultivated,
specifically, the characteristics and factors associated with reflection. Arguably, engaging
students in the emancipatory interest requires more effort, resources, and time. Perhaps
this is why researchers state that keeping a reflective journal is more problematic, at least
in the context of educational environments, with regard to grading, feedback, and
administration (Pavlovich, 2007; Spalding & Wilson, 2002; Surbeck, Han, & Moyer,
1991). Reflection simply requires additional resources and effort. More importantly,
engaging students in reflection may require that educators examine their beliefs about
knowledge and the ways in which students acquire it, arguably a difficult undertaking in
its own right.
Implications for Educational Practice
However, one way to begin such an examination is through theoretical sources, like those
presented in this discussion. For instance, teacher educators could use Habermas’s
(1971) doctrine of interest as an alternative or supplementary rationale for reflective
practice, beyond those presented by Schön (1987) and Brookfield (1995). In addition,
perhaps teachers working in the field would benefit by classifying their own practice as
technical, practical, and emancipatory in order to determine whether they address each
category in reasonable proportions over the course of conducting a lesson or unit.
Another implication relates to teachers’ beliefs about the relationship between reflec-
tion and students’ ability to develop reflective thinking.There is some evidence to suggest
that learners can improve their reflective thinking in post-secondary environments as well
as grade school (Brown, 1997; Choi, Land, & Turgeon, 2005; King & Kitchener, 2004,
Song et al., 2006). At the same time, it should be acknowledged that developmental level
and contextual support play a role in this process (King & Kitchener, 2004; Song et al.,
2006, Spalding & Wilson, 2002). Moreover, questions remain about the steps that are
necessary for teaching students about reflection and its related constructs (Brown, 1997;
King & Kitchener, 2004; Zimmerman, 2002). Possibly, the theoretical backdrop for
beginning a discussion of such questions could come from sources cited here, such as
Socrates, Bruner, and others.
Finally, there are implications that relate to the discussions that educators are having
about educational practice overall. Arguably, conversations relating to the standards
movement have occupied a large portion of this discussion (Parkison, 2009; Ravitch &
Chubb, 2009). Perhaps, further investigations relating to reflection will assist in realign-
ing the content of these conversations toward significant ideas about teaching and
learning. Arguably, the construct of reflection has the potential to assist in this process
because it represents the human capacity for higher-level thinking and our ability to
assign meaning to our experiences.
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Reflection and Learning 15
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... Writing practices such as these, in which students are able to draw connections between learning in and out of school, while reflecting upon oppressive instructional practices associated with traditional schooling, have the potential to empower Black students to more deeply understand themselves as intellectuals and writers (Johnson & Sullivan, 2020). Reflecting on experience leads to learning as it provides the learner an opportunity to solidify connection between experience and meaning derived from it (Denton, 2011). This assignment also gives students space to evaluate the course utilizing holistic criteria that truly matter. ...
... Critical reflection is rooted in critical theories (Freire, 1970, Habermas, 1971, and is characterized by reflection with social and political goals. Based on critical theories, critical reflection aims to reveal the underlining power dynamics and relationships; it is frequently used for raising new points of discussion (Denton, 2011;Kreber, 2012). ...
Transformative learning has been widely discussed in the literature for challenging and reshaping learners' assumptions and beliefs. However, there is a gap in the practical demonstration of how transformative learning can be effectively designed and implemented in real‐world contexts. This design‐based study fills this gap by designing a mock training workshop for transforming learners' assumptions about poverty. Drawing on theoretical concepts of transformative learning, this study translates abstract theoretical points into practical activities. The study incorporates a comprehensive review of existing literature to identify the main components and phases of transformative learning and to gather practical strategies for designing learning activities. The resulting framework may guide scholars and practitioners interested in turning transformative learning theory into actionable interventions. The mock training workshop designed in this study centers around four main components: engaging in the experience, critical reflection, critical discourse analysis, and action taken. These components are strategically woven together to create a transformative learning journey for participants. By actively engaging participants in experiential activities, promoting critical reflection on their assumptions, analyzing the underlying discourses, and encouraging action‐oriented outcomes, the workshop seeks to challenge and reshape deeply held beliefs about poverty and other societal issues. The insights and strategies in this study can inform those interested in promoting social change and challenging long‐held assumptions through transformative learning interventions. Such insights and strategies can also be extended to other social issues, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, or tobacco use, offering practitioners a versatile framework for facilitating transformative learning in various contexts.
... Given this, introverts bring many benefits and assets to leadership roles. Because introverts are characterised as reflective, their willingness to engage in the critical exploration of connections, differences, and interrelatedness among ideas (Denton, 2011) may make them more effective decision-makers when compared to their extraverted counterparts (Blevins et al., 2022). More attention needs to be given to shifting the idea of what constitutes an effective leader's personality, providing more opportunities to those who have introverted qualities (Blevins et al., 2022;Kozyrov, 2019). ...
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This literature review explores the role of personality types in the workplace with a specific focus on the misconceptions surrounding introverted leaders. It includes a summary of the traits and qualities that comprise an effective leader and compares introverts and extroverts in leadership roles. It also addresses how organizations can utilize hiring practices and leadership development processes to be more inclusive of introverts when identifying prospective and emerging leaders. By addressing misconceptions about introverted leaders, organizations can better understand their strengths, talents, perspectives, and values. Future research ideas are presented, and implications for workplace interventions are discussed.
... The methods (or trajectories) to access the epistemology of knowledge within the School context coexist permanently. This engenders an inevitable social mediation that can only be regulated, from the teacher's perspective, by reflection on educational practice and, from the learner's perspective, by the construct they create about the meaning of knowledge [50]. ...
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This paper analyzes a cohort of 128 pre-service educators teaching the concept of numbers to 4–5 year old children. Through a professional practice report, which educators elaborate on during the last year of teaching training, we have constructed a dichotomous guide to examine content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, curricular content knowledge, and reflective practice categories in their teaching practice. A Bernoulli statistical analysis and the k-means algorithm applied to a sample of 51 lesson plans collected from practice reports leads us to conclude that there is a weak integration of knowledge categories in educators’ practice and suggests how to improve their teaching–learning process.
... This traces back to Dewey's (1933) proposal of reflection as a cognitive process encompassing prior knowledge or experience and interconnection of ideas. In other words, reflection in Dewey's concept requires a firm ground of reasons from which one's thinking arises, and this thinking develops a constant deliberate examination of the connection between one's actions and the consequences (Rogers 2002, Denton 2011, Thorsen and DeVore 2013. Schon (1987, cited in Thomas 2008 continues with more detailed work about reflection and distinguishes between reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. ...
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Transition is hardly a simple phase in any individual’s life, particularly from education to labour market. For professions such as teaching, the transition from being a student to a teacher is even ‘bumpier’ compared with other jobs unless it is cushioned by supports. The reason is beginning teachers are faced with numerous obstacles during this transition, including practice shock, identity conflicts, low self-efficacy, to name a few. Mentoring program henceforth is believed to assist novices in this critical professional turning point. The qualitative case study in this article was conducted to investigate how a mentoring program, seen as a reflective learning process in which the newly-qualified teachers are learners, facilitate the transition of two beginning teachers working in a higher education institution. The results yielded are changes in the teachers’ teaching beliefs, self-efficacy, teaching performance and professional development; and the socialisation process into the profession of the two participants, which is perceived to smooth their transition process.
... First, it is an evidence-based technique that helps students deepen, critique, and document their learning. 42,43 It allows students to reflect on how their project helped them to learn physics and to better understand its role in their everyday lives. Second, it provides feedback to the teacher. ...
This research is focused on the necessity to determine the impact of reflective practice on the quality of teaching conducted by means of various network platforms since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim of this research was to examine teachers’ attitudes towards the applicative potentials of reflective practice considering the improvement of online teaching and learning. These attitudes were studied by means of the empirical method, i.e. the quantitative research method and the scaling technique. The sample comprised Serbian primary school teachers and was voluntary. The results of the research showed that teachers’ reflective practice influenced the quality of online teaching during the pandemic. The findings proved that the influence of reflective practice on the quality of online teaching was recognized by primary school teachers, but that it was not applied consistently and accordingly by all teachers. The obtained results confirmed that for the reflective practice to become an inherent attribute of contemporary teachers, it would be necessary that it be acquired both as part of teachers’ university education and their continuous professional training. There has been little research on reflective practice and its impact on the quality of teaching. Therefore, this study contributes to a further understanding of the reflective practice aspects that directly influence online teaching within the framework of the Serbian educational system. Keywords: contemporary teacher, Covid-19 pandemic, quality of online teaching, reflective practice
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En la diversidad de temáticas compiladas en este documento, se encuentran tres elementos que se entretejen formando una unidad. La visión de los autores de observar sus fenómenos desde la transformación y el cambio, ya sea porque se utilizan marcos de referencia que iluminan ese dinamismo, o por el surgimiento de campos de estudio que requieren mover las concepciones con que se observaron esas temáticas anteriormente. El uso de la metodología cualitativa coherente con dicha visión, en la medida que su enfoque considera que la realidad es una construcción social, donde los seres humanos somos quienes creamos y transformamos ese entorno. Y la conjugación de lo anterior, lleva a los autores a hallazgos que son pistas de realidades emergentes que son dignas para tener en cuenta en la comprensión de esas nuevas realidades y en cualquier intervención social que aborde esos fenómenos estudiados. Esperamos que disfruten los trabajos expuestos y que puedan replicar muchos elementos de los mismos, en sus investigaciones particulares. Cualquier pedazo de realidad contiene signos que merecen ser leídos con seriedad para transformar positivamente nuestro alrededor. Esa es la apuesta.