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

» 04 January 2010 » In Commentary, How To, Leadership, Literacy, Reflection, Strategies »

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 


Take my Prezi tour of the Taxonomy



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. 

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

  1. peter
    Julie Scott Day
    04/01/2010 at 5:32 pm Permalink

    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. peter
    Mike Gwaltney
    04/01/2010 at 5:51 pm Permalink

    Looks great so far, Peter. I’m looking forward to reading the installments this week.

  3. peter
    Peter Pappas
    04/01/2010 at 6:04 pm Permalink

    Julie and Mike,

    Glad to hear you like the model. Look for a new post for the next 3 days at noon eastern – reflective student, teacher and principal.


  4. peter
    Cheryl Doig
    04/01/2010 at 11:09 pm Permalink

    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.

  5. peter
    05/01/2010 at 12:08 pm Permalink


    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!

  6. peter
    Peter Pappas
    05/01/2010 at 7:27 pm Permalink


    I kept things brief for the sake of the post. Your comment adds some excellent extensions to the model.

    Thanks for your contribution!

  7. peter
    Peter Pappas
    05/01/2010 at 7:30 pm Permalink


    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.


  8. peter
    06/01/2010 at 1:46 am Permalink

    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?”

  9. peter
    Rob Jacobs
    06/01/2010 at 10:24 pm Permalink

    I love it. I think it is genius.

  10. peter
    Peter Pappas
    06/01/2010 at 10:51 pm Permalink


    Thanks. I’m going to forward your comment to my mother!

  11. peter
    Peter Pappas
    08/01/2010 at 5:38 pm Permalink


    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.

  12. peter
    09/01/2010 at 9:15 am Permalink

    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.

  13. peter
    09/01/2010 at 6:05 pm Permalink

    Thanks, Peter. Was just planning a student assessment of our in class Macbeth essay–this is a great form for their judgment and our discussion.

  14. peter
    Peter Pappas
    10/01/2010 at 6:20 pm Permalink


    I’m glad the model gets your endorsement. I’d be interested to hear how you folks put it to use.

  15. peter
    Peter Pappas
    10/01/2010 at 6:20 pm Permalink


    Glad to hear its a good fit – let us know how it goes!

  16. peter
    Stewart McKie
    11/01/2010 at 1:02 pm Permalink

    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.

  17. peter
    Peter Pappas
    12/01/2010 at 2:11 pm Permalink

    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.

  18. 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.

  19. peter
    Peter Pappas
    07/07/2010 at 2:44 pm Permalink

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

  20. peter
    Paulo Moekotte
    21/07/2010 at 12:44 pm Permalink

    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.

  21. peter
    Peter Pappas
    21/07/2010 at 4:29 pm Permalink

    Paulo, Thanks for the suggestion. I look forward to reading Shulman.

  22. peter
    Angie Tenebrini
    19/08/2010 at 1:25 pm Permalink

    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.

  23. peter
    Peter Pappas
    19/08/2010 at 4:05 pm Permalink


    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.

  24. peter
    Angie Tenebrini
    27/08/2010 at 11:42 am Permalink

    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.

  25. peter
    Peter Pappas
    27/08/2010 at 5:37 pm Permalink

    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

  26. peter
    18/07/2011 at 10:12 am Permalink

    Thanks for your contribution! iDidactic share it in our blog
    From Spain!
    Ferran Gandol

    i-Didactic cofounder

  27. peter
    Peter Pappas
    18/07/2011 at 10:55 am Permalink

    Glad you like the taxonomy. Let me know when you post it at iDidactic.

  28. peter
    Michelle Reagan
    24/07/2011 at 10:50 am Permalink

    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.

  29. peter
    Sue Hellman
    13/11/2011 at 8:11 am Permalink

    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?

  30. peter
    Peter Pappas
    13/11/2011 at 12:03 pm Permalink

    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.

  31. peter
    26/01/2012 at 5:25 am Permalink

    thanks for the clear essential questions aligned with Bloom’s concept.

  32. peter
    29/01/2012 at 12:08 pm Permalink

    Thanks so much Peter – so interesting. Looking forward to reading more …

  33. peter
    06/03/2012 at 9:17 am Permalink

    This is SO helpful! Thank you. I will be citing you as a source in my next paper and presentation!

  34. peter
    Peter Pappas
    06/03/2012 at 11:09 am Permalink

    Shona ~ don’t forget to add a reflection – practice what you preach!
    Best of luck with the project.

  35. peter
    Tadeusz Lemańczyk
    06/05/2012 at 2:17 am Permalink

    Greetings from as great a Socratic seminars fan ( http://fedcba.ning.com/group/sd/forum/topics/debata-sokratejska ) as you are.


  36. peter
    Barbra Donachy
    04/11/2012 at 6:35 pm Permalink

    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.

  37. peter
    Peter Pappas
    04/11/2012 at 7:09 pm Permalink

    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.

  38. peter
    Betsy McKenna
    28/02/2013 at 6:50 am Permalink

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

  39. peter
    Peter Pappas
    28/02/2013 at 9:40 am Permalink

    Hi Betsy,
    Yes I did plan on that when initially developing the model. But decide not to add it – I felt like I was getting into sensitive area.

  40. peter
    Mark Carter
    20/02/2014 at 5:33 am Permalink

    Good article.
    Here’s how we are teaching our children to self-reflect and learn to be better learners:

  41. peter
    Dr Christine Challen
    30/01/2016 at 11:52 am Permalink

    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


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