A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals (Part 1)

My approach to staff development (and teaching) borrows from the thinking of Donald Finkel who believed that teaching should be thought of as “providing experience, provoking reflection.” He goes on to write,

… to reflectively experience is to make connections within the details of the work of the problem, to see it through the lens of abstraction or theory, to generate one’s own questions about it, to take more active and conscious control over understanding. ~ From Teaching With Your Mouth Shut

Over the last few years I’ve led many teachers and administrators on classroom walkthroughs designed to foster a collegial conversation about teaching and learning. The walkthroughs served as roving Socratic seminars and a catalyst for reflection. But reflection can be a challenging endeavor. It’s not something that’s fostered in school – typically someone else tells you how you’re doing! At best, students can narrate what they did, but have trouble thinking abstractly about their learning – patterns, connections and progress. Likewise teachers and principals need encouragement and opportunities to think more reflectively about their craft.

In an effort to help schools become more reflective learning environments, I’ve developed this “Taxonomy of Reflection.” – modeled on Bloom’s approach.  It’s posted in four installments:

1.  A Taxonomy of  Reflection
2. The Reflective Student
3. The Reflective Teacher
4. The Reflective Principal

Taxonomy of Reflection by Peter Pappas

Educator Larry Ferlazzo writes: “I think Peter Pappas’ Taxonomy of Student Reflection is a brilliant way of looking at developing higher-order thinking skills through a new “lens.” It makes Bloom’s Taxonomy much more relevant and engaging to students than so many other Bloom’s strategies that are out there. And it can be an invaluable and simple tool for formative assessment — something that any teacher can regularly use in their classroom that only takes a few minutes. My students and I have used it for the past three years, I’ve strongly recommended it in two books, and prominently highlight Peter’s work in my blog.”

A Taxonomy of Lower to Higher Order Reflection

Assume an individual has just completed a task. What types of questions might they use to reflect on the experience? How might those questions parallel Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from short- or long-term memory.
Reflection: What did I do?

Bloom’s Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, or graphic messages.
Reflection: What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?

Bloom’s Applying: Carrying out or using a procedure through executing, or implementing. Extending the procedure to a new setting.
Reflection: When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?

Bloom’s Analyzing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose.
Reflection: Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?

Bloom’s Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards.
Reflection: How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve?

Bloom’s Creating: Combining or reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure.
Reflection: What should I do next? What’s my plan / design?


Note: A thanks to dear friend and colleague Patricia Martin, for sharing her thoughts on this idea.

 Take my Prezi tour of the Taxonomy

52 Replies to “A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals (Part 1)”

  1. Wow Peter, thank you
    I’m passing this site and it’s information on to some people, educator, managers I know – it’s invaluable.
    Best to you in 2010 and beyond…

    Julie Scott Day

  2. I like the concept and some of the questions. I wonder about the question for evaluation “How well did I do? presumably the person would back this up by justifying their thoughts. There are lots of assumptions that would lead to deeper questioning if prompted. What about some other questions such as “What worked and why? What would I change/improve on?” This could then lead onto the Create question and ask them to stretch further from What should I do next to What are the next possibilities? Which ones will stretch me and the work that I do? There could be lots of ideas generated and the reflection is about which one would be most catalytic in leading to next steps.
    Just some thoughts – your work is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Excellent suggestion Cheryl!
      But keep it up! I love this parallel connection here to Bloom’s taxonomy and reflective practice. I’ve been working on similar research myself! I found this very helpful.

  3. Peter,

    This is a great way to add structure to the reflective process. Students (myself included) often struggle when we tell them to “reflect” on their work because reflection can be a very nebulous thing. Your method provides enough structure for students to be able to grasp the process while allowing them the freedom to self-evaluate effectively. Thanks!

  4. Cory,

    You raise on an excellent point. We frequently ask student to do something – reflect, summarize, analyze without giving them the necessary scaffolding to be successful.

    Let’s hope we can work together to provide clearer prompts for our students.


  5. Peter,
    This is very interesting. I appreciate the structure to invite learners to reflect. In the analysis, I wonder if it might be helpful to encourage learners to look at how others approached/ solved/ tackled the same task in a different way and then look for patterns/ connections/ trends across methods? Ruth Parker encourages us to always be asking, “Who thought about it in a different way?”

  6. Lucy,

    You raise an excellent point. That’s why it’s critical that at some point we stop modeling for students and let them try their own approaches. That way they’ll have a variety of content, processes and products to compare.

    Thanks for reminding us of that dimension of reflection.

  7. I believe this model is applicable to teacher education where we expect pre-professionals to reflect on their classroom experiences. When I read professional intern portfolios, however, I rarely find the depth for which I’m looking and expecting. Great job! I will be passing this along to others in my College of Education.

  8. I have reflected on your model and applied it to financial reporting here. I hope my take will not detract from what is a very useful framework that could benefit so many businesses that tend to forget how much value ‘reflective practitioning’ can add.

  9. I was pleasantly surprised to see my model which was framed in an educational context neatly transformed into a context of financial reporting. http://blog.rivetsoftware.com/?p=1035

    Clearly you followed the reflective model and made a creative decision about what to do next! (perhaps you want to do a makeover to my retirement portfolio next?)

    BTW to clarify the point you raise about the placement of applying … I put it there because I was using applying in the sense of say a spreadsheet which applies new data to a formula. But I think your version works just as well.

  10. To avoid limiting students by narrow modeling of teacher only, as you suggest, Peter, I find mind mapping tools useful as follows…

    Students can work in threes and create a mind map about a theme or topic.

    They then present their creation to the class.

    Several things happen here…

    In small groups they learn critical thinking skills as they think aloud with others. During the presentation, they get a visual of how others approached the same theme or topic.

    Developed and used over time, this tool becomes invaluable in my opinion.

  11. Hi Dallas,
    A great suggestion – adds more layers of reflection – sharing one’s thinking via mapping with both small and then large group.

  12. Dear Peter,

    Interesting way of reusing Bloom’s Taxonomy. But I would advise you to take a look at the “table of learning”, a taxonomy developed by Lee Shulman. I guess (t)his taxonomy has all the right ingredients for a reflective approach of learning.

  13. Peter, I enjoyed your workshop in Milwaukee. I have walked in both worlds with students in public schools and now with my children while homeschooling. I’m doing a lot of thinking about your taxonomy and how it applies to life, as I was also an Outward Bound Instructor a long time ago. Outward Bound is ALL about reflecting on the experience of the course and applying the current experience to our daily lives after leaving the course. I’m thinking about your approach for students/ teachers in a school setting, and Outward Bound and how they blend together. Your ideas can be applied to anyone, anywhere and I’d like to write about how homeschoolers can also reflect on learning. I’ll let you know when I post that to my blog. Thanks Peter for your continued inspiration and thoughts.

  14. Angie,

    It was great to meet you at the PBL conference and talk “shop” over dinner. I look forward to reading your ideas on reflection in the homeschool setting. Be sure to let me know when you post. If you’re interested we could include it on Copy/Paste as a guest post.

  15. Peter, I just posted my notes from John Taylor Gatto’s speech at the AERO conference from this past June. Jamie is thinking about a future blog comparing Harry Potter and Hogwarts to authentic experiential learning. It might be a good one for a guest post.

  16. Hi Angie,

    Just read your post on John Taylor Gatto – you’re right he is a “pretty radical dude.” He gives us much to reflect on regarding the purpose of schools.

    Yes, I’ll be interested in reading Jamie’s “Potter post” – might be a good fit for Copy / Paste. Let me know when it’s online.
    ~ Cheers

  17. I really enjoyed this post and am looking forward to reading the next 3 installments. Reflecting on their work is something that I really want my students to do well this school year and using the questions above will help them formulate their thoughts. Thank you.

  18. I think this is a wonderful taxonomy, but I miss ‘synthesis’ in the new Bloom. I think it might add this dimension to your Taxonomy of Reflection: How does this fit in/conflict with, augment, expand, or give an entirely new dimension to my previous learning and understandings?

    1. Hi Sue,

      I go way back with the original Bloom. One advantage to synthesis (in the “old” version) is that it avoids the misconception that creating is reliant on “creativity” – a term we generally associate with the fine arts. Creating (or synthesis) extends across the entire curriculum and can be thought of as “a new (and improved) combination of existing components.” I was interested in helping people reflect at more deeply than simply narrating what they did. Most younger educators are taught Bloom’s new model and I think it offers a recognizable foundation for more reflective prompts.

      I really like your prompt “How does this fit in/conflict with, augment, expand, or give an entirely new dimension to my previous learning and understandings?” It nicely “synthesizes” elements from analysis, evaluation and creating into one question. Well done! I hope other teachers give it a try with their students.

  19. Peter,
    I really liked how you laid out a clear and concise tool for teachers and administrators to use when reflecting back on any event. I think that teachers and administrators get really comfortable in what they are used to doing and stop reflecting. Your tool would be helpful for a forward thinking administrator to use to re-engergize the “reflection” muscle and get it back into shape.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Barbara. My Taxonomy evolved after much dialogue with teachers and admins on what’s going on in the classroom. It’s nice to think it’s put to good use by others.
      ~ BTW – I checked out your blog and think that your “life on the water” would foster some great reflections on what really matters in life.

  20. Important resource for reflective learning process!
    Peter, have you thought about a taxonomy for the parent constituent?

  21. Peter this is an excellent article about reflection and the importance of it. I have just finished writing a Bera blog about teaching and learning being a CPD and not something that can be trained for. I iwsh I had had this article to refere to but I have spoken about reflection and that if we do it as part of a selfcritical analysis it shows autonomy and can be an example to students to question and show autonomy in their learning.
    I am on twitter as Challendr@
    Thanks Peter I am looking forward to the next installments

  22. Developing students’s high level of thinking is something all teachers and educators should build up their way of teaching on it.
    These Taxonomy are required for 21st Century skills and the traditional way of learning is no more helping our students to compete in the international market after they graduate. Thanks for sharing the taxonomy of reflection, I will definitely try to implement in my classroom

      1. I really like your Taxonomy of Reflection and would like to post it in my classroom. I teach Spanish Language Arts in a Spanish Immersion Program, so I need to post it in Spanish. Is it alright with you if I translated it into Spanish and post it?

        1. Elma, Great idea. Any chance you could share it back so others could see? You could post it in text form in this comment section. Or if you have a website, provide a link. Anyway .. best of luck with your students

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