Theories of Reflection in Teaching (2023)

Understand the application of theories and models of reflection and evaluation to reviewing own practice.

  • Analyse theories and models of reflection and evaluation.
  • Explain ways in which theories and models of reflection and evaluation can be applied to reviewing own practice. (use SWOT analysis if possible)


Reflecting allows the teacher to mentally process, analyse and utilise an experiential knowledge in changing and replicating an outcome. The use of reflection allows the tutor to progress in their tuition. David Berliner (1992) indicates that the tutor advances in phases going from novice to expert

Donald Schon in his book – The Reflective Practice (1983) introduced reflective practice in which he used John Dewys learning through experience notion, based on other theories of learning and development like Jean Piaget, Kurt Lewin, William James and Carl Jung. Reflection according to Donald Schon is the ability of professionals to ‘think what they are doing while they are doing it’. He states that managing the indeterminate zones of professional practice requires the ability to think on the run and use previous experience to new conditions. This is important and needs the ability to reflect-in-action. As a teacher, I try to be student-centred, understanding, evidence-based and economical all at the same time. Schon also gives insight into how the reflective professional is ‘formed’. He describes the main ideas as:

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Reflective Practicum: “A practicum is a setting created for the task of learning a practice” D. Schon (1983). This links to learners learning by doing, with the tutor’s assistance. The practicum is ‘reflective’ in two reasons: “it’s intention of helping learners becoming proficient in a type of reflection-in-action, and when it functions properly, it entails a tutor – learner dialogue of teacher taking the form of reciprocal reflection-in-action.” (Argyris and Schon 1978)

Tacit knowledge: arises from Michael Polanyi’s work where he describes the ability of picking out a familiar face in a crowd, without any thought, or a systematic features analysis. We cannot tell how this is done; hence the knowledge is ‘unspoken’ or ‘tacit’

Knowing-in-action: is also Schion’s idea which stems from the tacit knowledge concept. It is a type of knowledge that can be revealed in the manner we perform our duties and tackle problems. “The knowing is in the action. It is shown by the skilful execution of the performance – we are notably not able to make it verbally explicit.” This tacit knowledge is obtained from investigations and also from the practitioner’s own reflections and experience.

Reflection-in-action: occurs whilst a problem is being addressed, in what Schon termed the ‘action-present’. It is a response to a surprise – such that the expected outcome is out of our control. This reflective process is conscious, but may not be verbalised. Reflection-in-action is about challenging our assumptions (since knowing-in-action is the basis of assumption). It is about thinking again, in a new way, about an already encountered issue.

Reflection-on-action: is reflection after the event. Carefully carried out and recorded, willing suspension of disbelief. This phrase was made use of by Samuel Taylor Coleridge for describing the method of committing into an experience without judgement, in order to learn from it. Schon applies the term in association with the concept of learning by doing. “One cannot will oneself to ‘believe’ until one understands. But understanding often will only come from experience” D. Schon (1983). Hence there is a need for the experience to occur.

(Video) Donald Schon's Theory of Reflective practice

Operative attention: relates to the readiness to use new information. This concept is partly obtained from Wittgenstein’s contention that the meaning of an operation can only be learned through its performance. It prepares the student for feedback on that activity and builds understanding.

The Ladder of reflection:

Argyris and Schon describe a vertical dimension of analysis which occurs in the dialogue between student and tutor. In order to climb the ‘ladder’ you must reflect on an activity. In order to move down the ‘ladder’ you move from reflection to experimentation. This being a ‘ladder’, you can also reflect on the process of reflection.

From my point of view, this process assists to modify ‘stuck’ situations. Moving up or down the ladder is not essential as long as it assists tutor and learners in achieving together ‘convergence of meaning’.


Kolbs’ theory and model relies on the idea that the tutor and learner learn by experience and then modify collected information into knowledge. Kolb was encouraged by both Dewy and Piaget in the 1970’s as were many other theories.

Concrete Experience (doing/having an experience): is the ‘doing’ part which arises from the content and process of the classroom tuition together with other teaching duties and practices. Concrete experience also arises from one’s own experience of being a learner.

Reflective Observation (reviewing/reflecting on the experience): associates with analysis and judgements of events and the discussion about the learning and teaching between tutor, mentor and colleagues. Tutors reflect on their teaching experiences specifically when they are not experienced and have seen a lesson that did not progress well. This may be called ‘common-sense reflection’. It is essential to express our reflections in some systematic way in order not to forget thoughts and develop on that experience for further reference. This might be carried out through self-reflections or evaluations after the event through keeping a log or journal. It might also include learner feedback and peer observation of teaching.

(Video) Gibbs' Reflective Cycle Explained

Reflection in itself is not enough for promoting learning and professional development. Unless acted upon, reflection on its own without an action equals no development.

Abstract Conceptualisation (concluding/learning from the experience): In order to plan what could be done differently next time, one must be informed by educational theory and advancement, for example, through CPD. Reflection is therefore a middle ground that brings together theories and analysis of past experiences. It allows a conclusion referring to practice.

Active Experimentation (planning/trying out what you have learned): The conclusions formed at the ‘Abstract Conceptualisation’ phase then create the basis for planned changes – ‘Active Experimentation’. ‘Active Experimentation’ then begins the cycle again; To implement change in teaching practice, one generates further concrete experience which in turn creates reflection and review to form conclusions referent to the effectiveness of those changes.



  • Skills: Organization, interpersonal communication, problem solving, multitasking, and creative abilities.
  • Education: Postgraduate degree, Diploma in Education & Training (in view)
  • Experience: One year teaching experience
  • Networking: Have kept contact with teaching colleagues
  • Character traits: Determined, hardworking, motivated, enduring, loyal, trustworthy, thrifty, and resourceful.
  • Gaps in experience: One year teaching experience which might not be enough for senior roles in the education sector. Not yet achieved a Qualified Teacher Status
  • Gaps in networking: Need to know a wide range of key players in the education sector.



  • Technology: Online marketing, YouTube, mass communication
  • Legislation: Government favours education sector
  • Economy: May be buoyant for career growth.
  • Demographics of Population: Large population, city, lots of job opportunities.
  • Geographical: Schools and FE colleges are in the area.
  • Sectors: Much growth in high-tech and hospitality sectors.
  • Legislation: Government regulations restrict some education institution practices in pending privacy laws.
  • Social Values: Some people may discriminate against being a democrat in a republican state.
  • Economy: Current situations are terrible, unemployment is sky high.
  • Demographics of Population: because I live in a crowded area there is more competition.
  • Geographical: May have to move out of state to get a job.

In analysing Kolb’s theory model, I observed that it hugely depends on ‘trying and re-trying’ of the complete instead of the step-by-step approach preferred by Argyris and Schon, the pitfalls are in the detection of small errors that lead to the complete inefficiency that could become enormous making smaller detail to be overlooked. The impact of the above-mentioned theories, models and principles amongst others is obvious in the reflective tutor and in my own practice, reflection is an importance aspect of my practice and Schon’s Ladder of reflection is an easy means of quantifying and analysing the advances and shortcomings of my practice, paving way for assessment and re-assessment of small aspects of teaching to be analysed and modified without changing the main part of the content and delivery.


Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1978) Organisational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Berliner, D. (Ed.). (1992). Exemplary performances: Studies of expertise in teaching.

(Video) Understanding Reflective Practice

Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association.

Dewy, J. (19930 “How we think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process”. (revised edition), Boston: D. C. Heath.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) ‘Experiential Learning experience as a source of learning and development’, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London:Temple Smith

Schon, D. (1991) ‘The Reflective Practitioner How Professionals Think in Action’, London: Avebury


What are the theories of reflection in education? ›

Reflection is a deliberate and active process. It is about thinking to learn. In Dewey's words it is an “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and further conclusions to which it leads” (Dewey 1933 pg. 118).

What are the theories of reflection? ›

Reflection theory is the idea that our knowledge reflects the 'real world'. There are a variety of versions of reflection theory. Empiricist reflection theory was developed by John Locke who argued that we have knowledge of the world because our ideas resemble (or reflect) the objects that give rise to them.

What is Dewey's theory on reflection? ›

He believed that reflective thought began when we found ourselves having an experience that raised some difficulties or dilemmas, which he referred to as a "felt difficulty". From this experience, Dewey (1933) argued, we then set about reflecting on the problem — asking ourselves the question what's going on?

What are the 3 models of reflection? ›

ERA Cycle
  • Experience.
  • Reflection.
  • Action.
Aug 22, 2022

What is the theory of reflective practice in teaching? ›

Reflective practice is 'learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and practice' (Finlay, 2008). Reflection is a systematic reviewing process for all teachers which allows you to make links from one experience to the next, making sure your students make maximum progress.

What are the 5 theories? ›

The Five Learning Theories in Education

There are 5 overarching paradigms of educational learning theories; behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, design/brain-based, humanism and 21st Century skills.

What are the 3 types of theory? ›

According to Seidman, the three types of theorizing are scientific, philosophic, and moral. Scientific theorizing, also called the positivistic tradition as this refers to the use of the scientific method in order to study society, is used to describe social phenomena and behavior.

What is Kolb's reflective theory? ›

Kolb's reflective model is referred to as “experiential learning”. The basis for this model is our own experience, which is then reviewed, analysed and evaluated systematically in three stages. Once this process has been undergone completely, the new experiences will form the starting point for another cycle.

What are the 4 types of reflection? ›

Laws of Reflection. Types of Reflection of Light.
Reflection of Light
  • Regular/ Specular Reflection.
  • Diffused Reflection.
  • Multiple Reflection.

What are Dewey 5 stages of reflection? ›

Dewey's (1933/1989) five phases of reflective thought include suggestion, intellectualiza- tion, hypothesis, reasoning, and testing the hypothesis by action.

What is Driscoll theory of reflection? ›

In his research, John Driscoll posits that becoming a reflective practitioner is a deliberate activity with a focus on improving and changing the practice. This can be applied by employees of all levels and all sectors. Several skills and attributes are needed to engage in reflective practice.

What is Gibbs model of reflection in teaching? ›

One of the most famous cyclical models of reflection leading you through six stages exploring an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan.

What are the 3 key components of the reflection process? ›

Reflective thinking essentially involves three processes: experiencing something, thinking (reflecting) on the experience, and learning from the experience.

What is the theory and practice of reflection? ›

The underlying premise of reflective practice is that any reflection requires thought which leads to action that is dependent on the result of the thinking that occurred. Mewborn (1999) suggested that action (practice) and reflection can be seen as a 'bridge across the chasm between educational theory and practice' (p.

Why is reflective theory important? ›

Reflection allows you to identify and appreciate positive experiences and better identify ways that you can improve your practice and service delivery. It can also be useful when you have had more challenging experiences; helping you to process and learn from them.

What is Vygotsky's theory? ›

Vygotsky's social development theory asserts that a child's cognitive development and learning ability can be guided and mediated by their social interactions. His theory (also called Vygotsky's Sociocultural theory) states that learning is a crucially social process as opposed to an independent journey of discovery.

Which learning theory is best for teaching? ›

Transformative learning theory is a great approach for adult education and young adult learning. Also referred to as transformation learning, transformative learning theory focuses on the idea that learners can adjust their thinking based on new information.

What are the 4 major theories? ›

Four Major Sociological Theories. The four main theoretical perspectives are symbolic interactionism theory, social conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and feminist theory.

What are theories of teaching? ›

There are five primary educational learning theories: behaviorism, cognitive, constructivism, humanism, and connectivism. Additional learning theories include transformative, social, and experiential.

How is Bruner's theory used in the classroom? ›

In Bruner's Theory learners go from a tangible, action-oriented stage of learning to a symbolic and abstract stage of learning. By using this theory, learners can build new knowledge upon knowledge they've previously learned. This can lead to a better understanding of what students are learning.

What are two important learning theories? ›

Some of the main theories of learning include: Behavioral learning theory. Cognitive learning theory.

What was Jerome Bruner theory? ›

Jerome Bruner's Theory of Development is based on the assumption that we learn best when we go from concrete to abstract in a three-step process: First comes hands-on “Action”, then learning with “Images” and finally students transform what they've learned into “Language”.

What is Brookfield reflective model? ›

The Brookfield Model of Reflection is a tool that helps teachers discover the value of their lessons through critical self-reflection. Brookfield indicates that critically reflective teachers make excellent teachers that are able to convey their own voice to others in an authentic way.

What is Honey and Mumford learning styles theory? ›

These are Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. In this model Mumford and Honey describe the learning styles as a continuum that one moves through over time. However, over time, people usually come to prefer and rely on one, or more, style(s) above the others.

What are the different techniques of reflection in teaching? ›

10 ways to become a reflective teacher
  • Get student feedback. Getting feedback from your students is invaluable. ...
  • Photographs. ...
  • Observation by your Director of Studies (DoS) ...
  • Peer Observation. ...
  • Micro-teaching. ...
  • Personal teaching diary. ...
  • Hot notes. ...
  • Video Recording.
Sep 3, 2018

What are the two models of reflection? ›

Two main types of reflection are often referred to – reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. The most obvious difference is in terms of when they happen.

What are the 3 educational theories? ›

Although there are many different approaches to learning, there are three basic types of learning theory: behaviorist, cognitive constructivist, and social constructivist.

What are the five main educational learning theories? ›

The 5 Educational Learning Theories
  • Cognitive.
  • Behaviorism.
  • Constructivism.
  • Humanism.
  • Connectivism.

What are the 5 R's of reflection? ›

The 5R framework for reflection will guide you through Reporting, Responding, Relating, Reasoning, and Reconstructing to make sense of a learning experience.

Which theory is best for teaching? ›

Generally, there are five widely accepted learning theories teachers rely on:
  • Behaviorism learning theory.
  • Cognitive learning theory.
  • Constructivism learning theory.
  • Humanism learning theory.
  • Connectivism learning theory.
Sep 9, 2021

What is the most popular learning theory? ›

1. Behaviorist Learning Theory. Behaviorism is one of the classic learning theories; it predates cognitivism and most of the other theories we'll explore in this post. Behaviorism suggests that the learner is a 'blank slate' and that all human behavior can be caused or explained by external stimuli.

How do you apply learning theories in the classroom? ›

Make Learning Meaningful and Relevant
  1. Ask meaningful questions that focus on the deeper meaning instead of the minor details.
  2. Give students opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
  3. Create meaningful activities that give students the opportunity to apply new knowledge.


1. 5 min definitions for teachers in a hurry: REFLECTIVE TEACHING
(Everything English Language Teaching!)
2. Theories on Reflection: Gibbs Cycle of Reflection
(Galton College)
3. REFLECTIVE TEACHING - Part 1 | Help Line for ELT Teachers
(INGED Türkiye)
4. A Brief History Of Reflective Practice
(Graham Wilson)
5. Critically Reflective Practice
(University of Liverpool Online Centre for Student Success)
6. The Art of Reflection
(Student Life CU)
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