This article will look at the model of reflection developed by Stephen Brookfield, including a brief look at his life and academic work, as part of a series of articles relating to reflective practice. It will then examine his four lens model of reflection, offering its advantages and disadvantages. Three alternatives to this model will be presented and discussed briefly. Finally, an example of Brookfield’s model in use will be offered.
About Stephen Brookfield
Stephen Brookfield, PhD, was born in 1949 in Liverpool, England. He began his educational career in 1970 and has worked in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. He has written, co-written or edited more than nineteen books, six of which won the Cyril O. Houle World Award for Literature in Adult Education.
His book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher was published in 1995 and is considered a landmark guide in critical reflection. Brookfield has held academic positions at Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Teachers College Columbia University in New York. Currently, he is Antioch University’s Distinguished Scholar.
An adult education specialist, Brookfield developed a learning technique that is different from other reflection models. This involves not just observing and reflecting on one’s own experiences, but also those of students and engaging in the reflection of one’s peers. Critical reading of theoretical literature is also required to build lifelong engagement with one’s teaching practice, according to Brookfield.
One of the well-known tools that Brookfield used in adult education was the critical incident questionnaire that he presented to his students as part of his reflection practice. The answers to the questions formed a central part of his feedback from students and informed his own teaching experience.
Brookfield’s Model of Reflection
Brookfield’s model uses the concept of looking through four different lenses in order to engage in reflective practice for teaching.
Lens 1: The autobiographical lens
The first lens is one’s own experiences and life lessons, which is also called the autobiographical view. Brookfield considered this central to any valid approach to reflection.
This self-reflection takes the form of recollecting not just current experiences, but experiences from which teachers can draw insight going back to their time as trainees and learners. Brookfield believes that these experiences can influence how a teacher engages with their practice and reveal elements that may need re-working or re-appraisal.
Lens 2: The client lens
The second lens through which a teacher can engage in reflective practice is via a student’s/client’s perspective.
Reviewing a situation through a student’s eyes can give a teacher fresh insight not just into a particular situation, but also into their own teaching practices. This reflection could take the form of written or verbal feedback from students, through grades or tutorial records.
Student-oriented reflection offers a view the teacher may not have considered if focused on their own experience or reaction to a particular situation. The benefit of a learner’s personal perspective is of ‘utmost importance’ to teaching, according to Brookfield.
Lens 3: The co-worker lens
Peer review or colleague’s experiences forms the third lens of Brookfield’s model of reflection.
Feedback, advice and mentoring from colleagues can call attention to teaching habits, biases or problems and offer creative solutions. Taking a colleague’s perceptions into account opens a teacher up to deeper reflection of their own teaching practice.
Lens 4: The theoretical lens
The fourth and final lens of Brookfield’s model is the lifelong engagement with their teaching practice through scholarly or theoretical literature.
According to Brookfield, a teacher’s learning does not end at their final training assessment. Ongoing critical reading, research as well as presenting and publishing scholarly articles all foster critical reflective teaching. Engaging with theoretical literature supports teachers and combined with peer review clarifies the context of their teaching.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Brookfield’s Model
The goal of Brookfield’s model of reflection is to gain awareness of teaching practices from a variety of perspectives, and not rely simply on self-reflection. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
The main advantage of this reflective practice is its holistic approach to teaching. Taking into consideration the student’s perspective, colleagues’ observations and scholarly literature give a teacher far-ranging insight into their teaching practice.
Outside viewpoints can clarify a situation that may be otherwise clouded by a teacher’s subjective mood or well-being. Personal perspectives can be skewed by habits, bias or just the ordinary everyday things that get in the way of critical thinking.
By engaging with the student’s viewpoint, a teacher can gauge if the desired outcome that was intended has been perceived the same way by the learners. It can also help teachers focus their attention on the aspects of the students’ behaviour that they can influence, as opposed to those they cannot.
Peer review for teachers can re-energize their teaching practice, particularly for those who are in their mid to late-career and may have fallen into certain habits or routines. Often, the observations of colleagues can shock or surprise the teacher, who may have become unaware of these practices.
Of course, there are also disadvantages to Brookfield’s model of reflection. One criticism is that this reflective practice is that it is not one that can be immediately drawn upon and requires time and effort to engage in. Time is not often a commodity that teachers have in abundance, so this could be considered a drawback.
Another disadvantage may be that with the perspective and observation of three different entities added to the engagement with relevant scholarly literature, the model cannot be applied to reflection in action and is more practical for summative use.
Alternatives to Brookfield’s model
Here, we will explore some possible alternatives to Brookfield’s approach to reflective practice.
As the name suggests, Gibbs’ model is cyclic in nature and encourages ongoing and continuous reflection. It thus lends itself to repeated experiences such as those that teachers have on a daily or weekly basis. The framework allows the user to learn from situations that did or did not go well and plan accordingly for the future.
Gibbs’ reflective cycle consists of six stages of an experience:
- Description – describing the experience
- Feelings – emotions and thoughts about the experience
- Evaluation – both good and bad aspects of the experience
- Analysis – in order to make sense of the experience
- Conclusion – what was learned as a result and what could be improved
- Action Plan – how similar situations can be addressed in the future
Like Brookfield’s model, Gibbs’ reflective cycle was developed for use in educational settings.
Schön’s model works as an immediate reflection and also as a retrospective reflection. He proposes the concept of ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’. This allows the user to reflect on events as they are happening and adapt immediately if needed. For teachers, this means ‘thinking on one’s feet’.
Reflection in action: reflecting on the experience as it is happening, deciding how to act, and acting immediately. This is an excellent model not only for teachers but also for nurses who need to respond to events in real time.
Reflection on action: reflecting on something that has already happened and analysing how you would act differently in a similar situation. This includes any new perspective gained that could inform experience and help process emotions.
Kolb’s model is a four-stage learning cycle and provides a framework for learning whereby knowledge is created through experience. According to Kolb the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied in different situations is necessary for learning.
So by going through the four stages of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, students can transform their experiences into knowledge.
The four stages are: Concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation.
These steps are all mutually supportive. Concrete experiences and abstract conceptualization allow the student to grasp knowledge, while reflective observation and active experimentation help them to transform experiences into knowledge.
An Example of Brookfield’s Model of Reflection
A useful example of Brookfield’s model of reflection is a situation in which a teacher is confronted with a new or difficult situation. For example, they are teaching a group of students for whom English is not their first language.
The teacher needs to first assess their own assumptions or previous experiences about this particular group of students or their first language. Next, the experiences and perspectives of the student group should be reflected upon. This could be done through Brookfield’s favourite medium, the questionnaire, or a student forum. A good understanding of their limits and expectations can be achieved this way and inform the teaching experience.
Next, the teacher should seek any advice or mentoring from peers. This can include observations by colleagues on how the teacher conducts his teaching practice with this particular group of students. A fresh perspective can highlight both positive and negative developments or changes that need to be made.
Finally, the teacher should engage in critical reading and research in order to fully develop their knowledge. This allows them to optimise and adapt all aspects of their teaching practice.
- Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass.