Mr Kemp NZ

Being Critically Reflective – What does it mean?

As educators we are always reminded to be reflective and we discuss reflections regularly with our students. But what does it truly mean to be critically reflective and how does it help us become better learners?

The terms ‘critical’ and ‘reflection’ are sorely misunderstood in education. Being critical is often misinterpreted as being negative. Reflection‘ is also frequently distorted to mean “reflect on what you are doing wrong”. Too often the students that we teach give negative feedback when asked to be critical. So to counter act this, educators initiate strategies such as ‘2 stars and a wish’ and SWNI (strengths, weaknesses, new ideas). These strategies are designed to make reflective practices a more positive experience for students. It teaches them that being critically reflective is not just a negative activity, that it is important to be positive and give feedback to help improve or make something better.
Being critical is about understanding how social structures, systems and processes work, in order to be able to change them at a deep level to achieve lasting and greater good.
As an educator, I blog to be reflective about my practices and to post my thoughts and feelings about areas of my teaching that I am passionate about. We ask students to critically reflect on their practices as well through reflective diaries, blog posts, mentoring sessions, student conferences and more. The question I always ask myself is “How is this making my practice better?”. I believe that everything we do in our profession should be to make our practice better, with the lasting intention of making the learning experiences better for the students in our care. Student learning should always be in the forefront’s of our minds and all decisions made within educational organisations should reflect this.
We need to educate our students how to be critically reflective and how to take critically reflective feedback. In the reality of the 21st century we live in, I have learnt not to take critical reflection negatively, however to look at it, think positively and think ‘how can I make this better / how can I turn this into a positive to improve my practice?’
How do you teach students to be critically reflective? How do you ensure they understand the true meaning of critical reflection? What examples of activities can you share that demonstrates this understanding? I can’t wait to read more about the practice taking place in your educational institution and your professional life and how you ensure it is not a negative experience ….

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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  • At the moment I teach a class of Y1 – Y6 children (5 – 10 year olds) I begin to teach children to be critically reflective by modelling this myself, by basically having a conversation with myself (out loud) questioning how/what I’m doing, what I can do better, where I’m going, what’s next etc. Also, I encourage children to give “2 positives and one to grow on” comments to the writer during “sharing of writing” sessions. Again this needs careful modelling by me initially. Tana Klaricich

  • Part of what is needed is to make the “default” condition one that always leaves us short of our intended goal. Illuminating the gap between what we hoped to accomplish vs. what we really accomplished is where feedback can be very helpful. In reality, our essays are never finished, the lessons we teach never reach all students equally well, and there is always this gap. If we accepted that, the feedback would be less negative and more helpful to us in improving (aka, closing the gap). John D’Auria

  • Hey Craig, this is a great blog post and holds a lot of truth. Being critically reflective requires so much more than simply saying what needs to be done to improve. A critically reflective learner must analyze their own thought processes, identify potential biases in thinking, think of choices they have made and the reasons for making them, look at all options before making decisions, and consistently evaluate and monitor their mindset. This holds true for both teachers and students as we are all learners. Although I always considered myself to be a reflective educator, a near death experience while teaching internationally in Cambodia (3 years ago) truly shaped who I am as an educator and a person. Much of this journey was a result of deep reflection about what is important in LIFE. I blogged about the experience here: . You are so right when you say that being critically reflective means so much more. I always stress this with the students I teach. Again, great post Craig. I connected with what you were writing about. Andy Vasily

  • Andy – what a truly powerful reflective comment – thank you. Just read your blog post and it is truly inspiring. I had no idea! Thanks for the insight and thanks for being such a critical member of my PLN!

  • Our school district uses an online assessment. We, the teachers, ask the students to reflect on their scores in math and reading before and after they take the online assessment. The students are asked to consider their previous score and set a target score. They are asked to reflect on their own learning and which areas they need to work on. We give the students ownership of their education and make them partners in their learning. My hope is that teachers will begin to or continue to reflect on their own learning and how we deliver content.

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