Blog 43

November Journal Club - Teaching Reflection in Higher Education

Lisa Endersby, Educational Developer, Teaching Commons

The Teaching Commons hosted the inaugural meeting of the Journal Club on Wednesday, November 16th. Our discussion of The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education by Mary Ryan (2013) was an interesting exploration of teaching deeper levels of critical reflection using prompts and examples of student work. The article details a project that explores strategies for scaffolding what the author describes as different levels of reflection. An important theme to our discussion was that reflective analysis is not an intuitive skill; how might we as educators therefore teach this skill to our students?


Ryan’s article centres on the argument that while many educators use reflection as a pedagogical strategy, students are not being taught how to reflect or varying levels of reflection are both possible and necessary. As she states in her introduction “…unless higher education teachers attend to every level of reflection, there are specific, observable gaps in the reflections that students produce” (p. 145).

The levels of reflection Ryan discusses range from noticing aspects of an experience through to framing, analyzing, and reconstructing information with an eye toward making decisions about future behaviours. Ryan uses what Bain, Ballantyne, Mills, & Lester (2002) call the five ‘R’s’ of reflection – reporting, responding, relating, reasoning, and reconstructing to illustrate a progression from surface to deeper degrees of processing information.

Reporting & Responding – Students are taught to notice, discern, compare, and contrast the information they are taking in from their experiences.

Relating – Students are taught to make connections to their own personal skills, knowledge, and past experiences based on what they are observing and feeling.

Reasoning – Students are taught to make connections to theory, context, and social structures. This stage requires moving away from a personal response to a more intellectual exploration of the topic or experience.

Reconstructing – Students are required to develop and demonstrate new ideas and new ways of approaching an issue. Students should also be making decisions about future practice that are justified by other best practices in the field. This is described as the most difficult stage to achieve and measure.

Though an examination of a sampling of reflection artifacts, Ryan noted that students are often more likely to use personal viewpoints or opinions as ‘evidence’ in their reflections rather than relying on more intellectually rigorous information. Ryan argues, then, that students must be intentionally and “…explicitly taught how to analyse the issue using relevant literature or theory” (p. 151). This means that students will need to be familiar with key theories and literature in the field, a task for educators who are intent on promoting deeper and more rigorous reflection. Most importantly, Ryan asserts that “Critical reflection is not an intuitive skill” (p. 154), placing responsibility on us as educators to provide opportunities, information, and support to balance subject-specific knowledge dissemination in the classroom with the pedagogical work of developing more reflective learners.


Our conversation on November 16th was inspired by the exploration of how we might guide students in and through a reflective practice. The discussion also encompassed whether we are teaching our students reflection only as an academic exercise or offering value and validation for their more emotional, personal responses to learning experiences.  Notions of “good” reflection were debated; are students reflecting well only when they demonstrate deeper levels of reasoning? Our work in reflection is seemingly based on the assumption that there is room for growth and development – do we assess reflection as a final (written) product or as an ongoing process? Our group, in the end, saw value in reflection as a way for students to take some ownership of their experience, exploring the causes and contexts of the new ideas they are learning in the classroom.

We want to hear from you. After reviewing this month’s article and reading this post:

How have or how are you going to apply ideas from this article and/or our discussion to your practice?

How might your students benefit from this research?

What opportunities can you see for further research or exploration on this topic?

Please join the conversation using the comments box below.


Bain, J.D., Ballantyne, R., Mills, C. and Lester, N.C. (2002). Reflecting on practice: Student teachers’ perspectives, Flaxton: Post Pressed.

Ryan, M. (2013). The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(2), 144-155.

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