Design-based research

Ever since I became a teacher, I have sort to improve my practice by way of further informal research into topic areas that may impact my professional effectiveness.  Early in my career I engaged in professional development on topics such as behaviour management (with Bill Rogers), project- and problem-based (with Intel), website design, webquest design, action research and so much more.  What is this type of ad hoc research strategy reminiscent of?  After doing some reading and reflection, I believe that my professional practice has seen me develop skills in design-based research, as a facilitator of professional improvement.  The image below shows the difference between traditionally adopted research and design-based research practice.

The way that I approached research was very much to figure out the exact nature of the problem I was facing in the classroom and to then do some internet research to develop solutions for these problems.  Behaviour/classroom management was of course a big issue for me in those early days and determining the main source of the problem was of course not easy, however, the students’ engagement and motivation proved to be a big factor in it.  I sort to explore more technically innovative ways to facilitate students’ learning opportunities to increase their motivation and engagement with the subject, creating Webquests and projects that would give them more autonomy and ownership over their learning.

My work towards finding a solution was not quick, and to be honest, I never mastered it of course, but I tried many different strategies and tools, both technical and pedagogical, to test and refine what might work best.  I always learned a lot from these experiences, and I still do this kind of research in the various roles I have taken since my first classroom teaching position.

I believe that no learning experience is complete without critical reflection and that is part of the design-based research paradigm, and the catalyst for it becoming a cycle that restarts based on critical reflection.

Meaningful learning experiences

It’s been an interesting week and I have felt challenged by my reading and interactions with colleagues in my university studies.  I am someone who is fortunate enough to be very metacognitive in my own learning.  I am always conscious of my thoughts and thought-processes, and how I am interacting with academic stimuli.  I can’t say that I have always been like this but when I studied educational psychology, in first year of my bachelor degrees, I learned a lot about constructivism and metacognition, how the brain works and how it develops.  It was this knowledge that drove me to understand my own learning processes at a much deeper level.  That course changed my life, and many learning experiences have continued to effect me profoundly since.  What kind of learning experience are most effective?  Meaningful learning experiences.

Reading Howland, Jonassen and Marra (2012), a lot resonated with me about the dimensions of meaningful learning that are identified.  The authors share the figure below to outline the characteristics of meaningful learning.  As a teacher in the 21st century, I have become more and more conscious of providing students with learning experiences that are authentic and ‘real-world’ relevant to them.  I believe this falls under the ‘Active’ part of these characteristics because the real-world relevance of content and activities is observable to students.  I guess its like the saying: “Seeing is believing”.  If students see the relevancy of something they are learning in the real world, then they are engaging in a meaningful learning experience.

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So, where does technology fit in with this idea of meaningful learning?  Howard, Jonassen and Marra (2012) say this: “Technologies need to engage learners in articulating and representing their understanding, not that of teachers.” (p. 4).  That’s it!  There is always so much debate about how to appropriately integrate technology with schools and classrooms, however, now is the time to ensure you are knowledgable and skilled when it comes to engaging learners in utilising ICT and be prepared to let go of the reigns a little bit more.

How I make learning experiences meaningful?

Active (manipulative/observant) – I like to get my students to manipulate their understanding of a topic and recreate/re-represent it in another form to show the depth of their understanding.  For example, the demonstrate their knowledge of orchestral instruments, I have gotten them to rewrite the information in the form of a first person introduction.  This category of meaningful learning is similar to constructive in a way.

Constructive (articulative/reflective) – I have always valued time set aside to critically reflect on what I have learned.  I always try to encourage my own students to reflect before they begin engaging in a new learning experience and then again afterward so that they can learn to understand their own learning processes and how they learn.  In this area, I have encouraged students to keep an eportfolio or diary of SMART goals in order to regularly reflect on their learning, using scaffolded apps like Tools 4 Students.

Cooperative (collaborative/conversational) – The benefit of Google Apps and an LMS like Moodle is that collaboration and conversation online can be easier set up.  Students in my classes have frequently used Google docs to write a document together and I have had a lot of experience as a student and teacher with discussion forums.  I find that students really do start thinking more critically and deeply in collaborative and conversational environments, inspired by others, and perhaps competing with others.

Authentic (complex/contextualised) – PBL units of work are a fantastic way to create learning experiences that are authentic.  In my previous school, all PBL had to be embedded in real-world relevant topics and activities.  Their PBL units of work would often culminate in a product that would be entered into a competition or be used in a public showcase.  Video products are a great way to disseminate information and have long-lasting physical evidence of the learning.

Intentional (goal directed/regulatory) – having learning outcomes explicitly stated and visible is a great way to help students become goal directed and to encourage them to regulate their learning by checking for outcomes achieved.  In online learning, I always try to include outcomes for each section of learning developed.

I will continue to reflect on the model proposed as I seek to always create meaningful learning experiences for those I work with.


Howland, J. L., Jonassen, D. H., & Marra, R. M. (2012). Chapter 1: What is meaningful learning? In Meaningful learning with technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Benefits of critical reflection – what are the outcomes produced by CR?

There has been much debate, critique of research and discussion about the value and benefits of critical reflection (CR) in education and there are not very many solid ideas.  I have a very strong opinion on CR that I shared in one of the online forums today, which said:

I was stopped in my thoughts [whilst reading another entry made] to ponder your entry more when you wrote that critical reflection as a conceptual framework, cannot be tested.  I really want to try and understand more of the angle everyone (including all the researchers we have been looking at) is coming from when they say this.  How can something of such clear and explicit value and worth not be able to be tested?  I believe that there is physical and empirical evidence that supports the validity of critical reflection in educational institutes. What does that look like?  That seems to be the question, along with the valid methodology with which to test.  I may be blindly naive in my conclusion, however, critical reflection has so many strong resulting products and other things it generates, that it is perhaps just a lack of research that has yet to demonstrate what is already obvious to those who have had substantial experience with it.  I would love to do a lot more research on this and demonstrate to educators what I so passionately believe is the foundational practice for producing growth in lifelong learners.

From my research these are the benefits I believe each individual, and group, that utilises CR will receive in one way or another:

  • An indication of what assumptions govern the organisation, a clearer idea of how the organisational culture is shaped.  CR will also help inform future organisational cgange as well.  Savaya and Gardner (2012) say “critical reflection (CR) is a process by which one may identify the assumptions governing one’s actions, question them, and develop alternative behaviours” (p. 145).
  • “It generates learning (articulating questions, confronting bias, examining causality, contrasting theory with practice, pointing to systemic issues), deepens learning (challenging simplistic conclusions, inviting alternative perspectives, asking “why” iteratively), and documents learning (producing tangible expressions of new understandings for evaluation)” (Ash & Clayton, 2009, p. 27). Therefore, it makes the learning process and its outputs/outcomes more explicit doesn’t it?
  • CR makes sense of experiences.  “To make meaning means to make sense of an experience; we make an interpretation of it. When we subsequently use this interpretation to guide decision making or action, then making meaning becomes learning […] Critical reflection involves a critique of the presuppositions on which our beliefs have been built” (Mezirow, 1990, p. 1).
  • Provides are vehicle for problem solving and inquiry, addressing the changing needs of challenges that learning organisation face. “Critical reflection provides both theory and processes to make this making and remaking of knowledge to happen. Participants acknowledge that critical reflection provides a framework that enables them to manage these issues more effectively” (Fook and Gardner, 2007, p. 10).
  • CR informs behavioural intervention and “can be a more useful tool for addressing social and emotional issues, namely those pertaining to race and culture” (Howard, 2003, p. 197). Therefore, CR is a great tool for objectively handling potentially sensitive issues within organisations.

I really think there are so many fantastic benefits and organisational value to the implementation of critical reflection and its often a case that there has not yet been enough research into certain contexts as to what the benefits look like and what the full weight of them is.  I am excited to explore this issue more in coming months.



Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education1(1), 25-48.

Fook, J., & Gardner, F. (2007). Practising Critical Reflection: A Resource Handbook: A Handbook. McGraw-Hill International.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into practice42(3), 195-202.

Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.Fostering critical reflection in adulthood, 1-20.

Savaya, R., & Gardner, F. (2012). Critical reflection to identify gaps between espoused theory and theory-in-use. Social work57(2), 145-154.

The perfect combination – organisation theory and critical reflection

It turns out that I have chosen two fantastic courses to start my Masters degree with, Educational Institutions as Organisations and Critical Reflection in Practice.  With each module and each week of study I can see the connection between the two and the understanding of one needed to move forward in the other.  This was summed up perfectly at the start of ‘Smart thinking : developing reflection and metacognition‘ by Wilson & Jan (2008) when they wrote:

If schools are to develop and implement effective teaching of how to think, within student-centred, constructivist classrooms, across and within all areas of the curriculum, it is advisable that teachers acknowledge, discuss and act upon four aspects relating to school culture: beliefs and understandings, teaching choices that promote reflective practice, a shared language, and assessment. (p. 8)

My project is going to be to design a series of lessons that teach metacognitive knowledge and apply it to critically reflecting on learning in a subject for a group of students in a particular year group.  It will require students having an understanding of certain aspects of the school culture to feel it and understand it to be a valid and important task for them to complete I believe.  Therefore, I will need to address some aspects of school culture with them as I help them also understand metacognitive knowledge and how to be critical reflective thinkers.

All of this supports my strong belief that teachers need to be seen to actively model habits/activities they want their students to be utilising as well.  Our school places a high value on independent learning and developing lifelong learners, and our school motto/goal for the year has incorporated that element within it very strongly.  It is also part of our culture that teachers be always actively engaged in lifelong learning activities and students are often able to visibly observe these occasions due to their location within the school. This is a great example of the culture of our school and how it can positively influence the students’ learning habits.

My passion is to help students find the value in employing critical reflection as a habit in helping them develop their metacognition and self-regulation in order to become more effective lifelong learners.  I think one step towards that will be for me to model it for students, talk and think aloud about what I am doing and learning to model metacognition and self-regulation as critical reflection.

Exciting opportunities await and I am keen to start working towards this goal and critically reflecting on its effectiveness as it progresses.


Wilson, J., & Jan, L. W. (2008). Smart thinking: Developing reflection and metacognition. Curriculum Press.

Metacognition and cognitive self-regulation – Developing student prompts

In working on my project ideas and study for my critical reflection subject, I have been exploring the idea of how to facilitate greater depths of critical reflection in my own students and I have been questioning what it takes to facilitate the development of this. What scaffolds and curriculum structures are required to increase metacognition and self-regulated cognition?

Metacognition is one of those terms that has had one theorist after another proceed to try and provide a succinct definition for it without success when it comes to the succinctness of such as definition.  Kitchener (1983) points out in her article ‘Cognition, Metacognition, and Epistemic Cognition: A Three-Level Model of Cognitive Processing’ that metacognition definitions can include any combination of and inclusion of such words as: “‘cognitive monitoring’, ‘executive processes’, ‘self-communication’, and ‘knowledge about knowledge'” (p. 222).  Kitchener (1983) included the word ‘monitoring’ in much of her article, which guides my direction somewhat in considering the kinds of prompts I might need to think about in terms of facilitating metacognition in my own students.

On the Tools of the Mind website, they define self-regulation like this:

“Self-regulation is a critical competency that underlies the mindful, intentional, and thoughtful behaviors of younger and older children alike. The term self-regulation (sometimes also called executive function) refers to the capacity to control one’s impulses, both to stop doing something, if needed (even if one wants to continue doing it) and to start doing something, if needed (even if one doesn’t want to do it).” (Tools of the Mind, 2014)


So more than being able to monitor one’s own cognitive processes, it is essential that students learn the skills to make adjustments when they are needed as well.  Just like in the book I recently finished, including a experience-based account of The Choice Map, I want students to be able to recognise when their learning processes and thoughts are not on track to goal and outcome success and be able to adjust it accordingly.  The question on how to do this is what I am pondering and reflecting on as I read further into metacognitive prompts and critical reflection.

Metacognitive knowledge is defined as:

“[…]one’s stored knowledge or beliefs about oneself and others as cognitive agents, about tasks, about actions or strategies, and about how all these interact to affect the outcomes of any sort of intellectual enterprise.” (Flavell, 1979, p. 906)

I’ll also consider what part metacognitive knowledge will play in the overall facilitation of critical reflection and metacognition.


Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American psychologist34(10), 906.

Kitchner, K. S. (1983). Cognition, metacognition, and epistemic cognitionHuman development26(4), 222-232.

Tools of the Mind. (2014, ). Self-Regulation. Retrieved April 16, 2014, from Tools of the Mind:

My Modes and Models of Reflection – Modelling for others

In order to facilitate greater levels of critical reflection in my colleagues and students, I’m aware that I may need to model it in a highly explicit way that is both transparent and effective in the outputs it produces, e.g. clear goals for moving forward.  My critical reflections are currently in the mode of blog posts on this very blog and don’t particularly take any one set format for how write or why but tend to be very informal reflections on what I am learning and thinking about and how I could use it in my future teaching and learning.  What if I were to adopt a particular scaffold, model or format for my blog posts that are intended to be critical reflections on something?  What would that look like?

Curating lots of research and resources over the last few weeks on critical reflection and models of reflection has culminated in a Pinterest board of many different diagrams that outline the work of such researchers as Gibbs (1988), Kolb (1984), Dewey (1938), Schon (1983), Eby (1992) and many more adaptions from work of other educators and philosophers.  Reflecting on these models, I might adapt one or more to help shape my blog posts more effectively.

Gibbs’ (1988) model of reflective practice initiates the following 6 steps: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and a question about future iterations.  To expand on these steps, the description is specifically based on an event or episode so it could be that I might reflect on a particular lesson at school or professional development session.  The second step is to reflect on the feelings generated during said event or episode, as well as to consider the thoughts that went with those feelings.  If it was a particularly difficult lesson where everything went wrong then I would probably be feeling frustrated and thinking ‘there has to be a more effective way of doing this’.  The process would continue to be scaffolded by this model and the questions it poses, but my question is, does it prompt my thinking and critical reflection enough?

Schon (1983) is even more simplified than Gibbs (1988) so I’m not sure that it would be sufficient enough as a scaffold for myself or my students, however, it is possible that it may work as a foundational stepping stone in developing more detailed consideration of stages in critical reflection.  I could utilise the three stages emphasised in Schon’s model in the first few lessons on critical reflection with students and then progress to another model that facilitates more depth in the reflections.

Healey and Jenkins (2000) outline how Kolb’s experiential learning theory can be applied as a model for critical reflection and what I found particularly useful and practically applying the model was the set of questions for each stage that the authors used in their discussion paper.  The summary of this can be seen in Figure 4 of the discussion paper and it is especially effective in its breakdown of pre-experience, within experiences, post-experience and consideration of substitute experiences.  I think this is a model I would love to use when doing action research cycles or critical reflection for a very specific purpose but it may be too much for the classroom.

There is still much work to be done in order to assist my colleague and students in becoming reflective practitioners and learners, however, studying critical reflection alongside organisational theories is proving very valuable in equipping me with the skills to integrate more scaffolds and plans for reflective practice.


Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2000) Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and Its Application in Geography in Higher EducationJournal of Geography, 99, pp.185-195

Kodesia, S. (2013, August 16). JCU Workplace Educators Resource Package: Reflective Practice. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from James Cook Univeristy Australia:

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books

Facilitating student metacognition and reflection

A question I’ve asked myself often since becoming a teacher, but even more so since I became a critical reflector, is “how do I assist students to recognise their thoughts processes and harness it to their own learning benefit?”.  It’s not easy when they are still developing cognitively and are still developing their awareness of how their brain works but I think if I keep that in mind it is a great place to start, understanding how the brain works in different situations, but particularly when learning.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading into the facilitation of student metacognition and critical reflection and come across many different ideas from a range of researchers.

Jenson (2011) wrote an article entitled Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio’ and she researched critical reflection in first-year writing courses that utilised an electronic portfolio system.  The study was very in-depth and thorough in the sample of students used and its methods. The author identified that the depth of critical reflection demonstrated by first-year students showed a great deficiency in self-regulation, therefore, the aim of her research was to identify ways to facilitate increased depth reached within written reflections.  A series of surveys designed by the author, “designed to explicitly reveal to students what they were and were not doing to reach their writing goals; they were intended to help create self-regulated learners” (p.53) were implemented as activities to be completed on the day of handing in an assessment task.  I love this idea and would very much love to implement this in my own school.

Analysis conducted on the word count of student reflections focused on six categories that pertained to their depth level.  These categories ranged from reflections that only identified a task by name to reflections demonstrating self-regulation and real-life application within multiple contexts.  I’m not sure that looking at word count is very helpful in the overall study but what the author also looked at was the depth of the reflections and she rated them based on links they made to learning outcomes and different contexts, as well as the language of self-regulation they used.  I found it very helpful and would definitely utilise the method myself.

“[Excellent reflective statements] …relate practice or experience to an understanding of learning; demonstrate an ability to link course work to practice; give insight, with examples, as to how learning has taken place or standards have been met; and demonstrate an ability to project future short-term and long-term goals.” ~ Jill Jenson


Quinten and Smallbone (2010) had a different approach also related, however, to assessment.  Their idea of how to best facilitate student reflection looked at the quality and types of feedback provided to students as a catalyst for their critical reflection.  They had this to say about reflective students: “A reflective student will practise and demonstrate transferable self-knowledge, based on a questioning approach to themselves, their situation and the roles of others, in order to create a new and different frame of reference” (p.126).  They looked at Gibbs (1988) model which looked a like the image below, taken from page 126).

Gibbs 1988When the authors implemented their methodology with students to look at the impact of feedback on critical reflection for students they asked the questions: “What do I feel about this feedback?”; “What do I think about this feedback?”; and, “Based on this feedback what actions could I take to improve my work for another assignment?”.  I think this is a great idea as students often get feedback on assignments and don’t do anything with it but if they are encouraged to use it they may make more intentional goals towards improving.

There is a lot more research on methods and strategies for implementing student critical reflection so I will make an effort to summarise it more in a visual way.


Jenson, J. (2011). Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio. International Journal of ePortfolio,1(1), 49-60.

Quinton, S., & Smallbone, T. (2010). Feeding forward: using feedback to promote student reflection and learning–a teaching modelInnovations in Education and Teaching International47(1), 125-135.