The Role of Critical Reflection in the Portfolio
Critical reflection is an important aspect of both teaching and
learning. Educational philosopher and theorist John Dewey (1933)
recognized that it is the reflection on our experiences that leads
to learning-not merely the experience itself. We learn from those
experiences that we ponder, explore, review, and question. Today
researchers are looking at the developmental or evolutionary aspects
of critical reflection in teaching. Still, it is reflection, not
experience alone that is found to be our teacher (Garmeston, 2001).
It is the reflective process of portfolio development that provides
the greatest opportunities for professional understanding and self-assessment.
Becoming a reflective practitioner is a goal of Johns Hopkins University's
Master of Arts in Teaching Program. Reflection in a narrative form
begins with the Application Essay and ends with the development
and presentation of the assessment Portfolio. Between these bookend
events there are numerous opportunities for interns to reflect upon
their teaching. All of these reflective activities can be used as
artifacts in the final portfolio. They take the form of:
Case Study Analysis
Action Research Projects
And other formal opportunities developed to allow teachers
to systematically think about who you are as a teacher and a learner
What is Reflection?
What is reflection and how is it addressed in the program? Reflection
has many definitions in the context of teacher cognition. Reflection
involves "a state of doubt, hesitation, perplexity, or mental
difficulty, in which thinking originates". This uncertainty
is followed by the act of searching to find materials that will
resolve this doubt and settle the perplexity (Dewey, 1933).
Reflection, however, is more that "just thinking hard about
what you do" (Bullough and Gitlin,1995). Reflective practitioners
give careful attention to their experiences and how meaning is made
and justified. They analyze the influence of context and how they
shape human behavior.
Critical reflection goes beyond the technical aspects of an experience
to the personal, ethical, and political dimensions of teaching.
Reflection is about social justice, equity, and change. Reflection
is inquiry into pedagogy and curriculum, the underlying assumptions
and consequences of these actions, and the moral implications of
these actions in the structure of schooling (Liston & Zeichner,
Becoming reflective requires active engagement or consciousness
in the experience, and in this case, the act of narrative writing.
Reflection requires the ability to analyze and prioritize issues,
to use tacit and resource-based knowledge, and to develop a feasible
plan of action. Clarke (1995) suggests that reflection is not about
a single event in time, but occurs over time as teachers begin to
construct meaning for themselves.
Levels of Reflection
Reflection is not an innate skill possessed by all those in
the teaching profession, nor is it uniformly achieved (Baratz-Snowden,
1995). And merely writing reflective narratives without feedback
from mentors and peers will not make you more reflective. In order
to understand and improve upon your skills in the process of reflection,
it is important to understand the levels of reflection: technical,
contextual, and critical. The Technical Level is where those reflecting
are only concerned with refining teaching strategies. Reflective
practitioners working at the Contextual Level concentrate on the
relationship between the problematic situation and their actions.
At the Critical Level narratives exhibit deep contemplation and
commitment to social justice. These levels are developmental, and
initial studies show that not every person will progress through
the levels until they reach critical reflection. But by sharing
with you the components of each level, we hope you can work to assess
your own level of reflection.
The Collaborative Nature of Reflection
The opportunity to share with colleagues and friends is important
in becoming a more reflective practitioner. Feedback, comments,
and discussion about your reflections might come from your mentor
or supervising teachers, your university supervisor/coordinator
and/or your peers in the program. Reflection, as a method of inquiry
into teaching, can be collaborative. For example, questions from
a friend can help clarify an issue for you, just as a probe or comment
from a university supervisor can help you look deeper into the situation.
Collaboration when developing a portfolio includes requesting feedback
from you mentor, university supervisor, or colleagues and peers.
It can also take the form of discussion with colleagues who will
assist you in identifying appropriate artifacts to or to help you
clarify your beliefs and dispositions. The feedback option on the
Electronic Portfolio provides opportunities for peer evaluation
and editing as part of this collaborative process.