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Learning to teach: becoming a reflective practitioner
Learning to teach: becoming a reflective practitioner

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2.1 Defining reflective practice

The term ‘reflective practice’ derives from the work of Dewey and Schon. Dewey (1910, p.6) wrote that reflective practice refers to ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’. This means that you will have a questioning approach; you will consider why things are as they are, and how they might be.

Dewey went on to say that being reflective ‘enables us to direct our actions with foresight … It enables us to know what we are about when we act’. This is extremely important in teaching. What you do in the classroom and how you behave should have been carefully planned, informed by theory and experience and be purposeful.

Schon (1983) presents a slightly different view. He regards reflection as having two aspects: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.

Reflection-in-action refers to the quick thinking and reaction that occur as you are doing, for example in the classroom you may be teaching a topic which you can see the pupils are not understanding. Your reflection-in-action allows you to see this, consider why it is happening, and respond by doing it differently. This could involve reframing your explanation or approaching the topic from a different perspective.

Reflection-on-action is what occurs outside the classroom when you consider the situation again. You may think more deeply about why the pupils did not understand, what caused the situation, what options were open to you, why you chose one option and not another. Your responses will depend on your existing level of knowledge and experience, your understanding of theories and your values.

Activity 3: Reflecting

Timing: Time: 20 minutes

Using what you have read so far, list five factors that might affect your ability to reflect-in-action and five factors that might affect how you reflect-on-action.


Reflection-in-action may be influenced by factors such as: your emotional reaction to the situation as it happens, your previous experience of similar situations, the interactions you have with certain individuals at the time and what strategies you have to deal with the situation.

Reflection-on-action may also be influenced by your emotional reaction albeit after the incident, discussions you have or other people’s comments about the situation, the consequences of the events or your involvement with the individuals involved in the incident after the event.

Dewey and Schon’s ideas are manifest into a number of commonly used terms including reflection, reflective practice, critical reflection, critical analysis and critical thinking. In ITE you may be asked to produce evidence of some or all of these in conversations, written assessments or school documentation such as lesson evaluations. The following sections will explore some of these and help you understand what they mean.