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Lesson 3: Confronting discomfort and subjectivity 

Identifying priorities for your practice

Now that you have a working knowledge of critical reflection, we would like to invite you to deepen your understanding. One of the ways that we do this as academics or educators is to acknowledge some of the tensions, scholarly debates, or controversies inherent to the topic of critical reflection. In this contested space, you can identify what you would like to prioritize in your practice. In articulating what matters most to your instructional purview, you may proceed more confidently when providing rationale and making decisions that impact others.

Discomfort and subjectivity

You may be going through this learning module and confronting thoughts about how the subjectivity or introspection of critical reflection can be discomforting or unsettling for you, or for others; perhaps you call to mind the discomfort of students of whom you have first-hand knowledge. There can be discomfort too in reflecting on what went wrong or not ideally. 

  • So far, we’ve learned that we may feel an element of discomfort with the introspection that critical reflection can elicit (Head, 2020).  

  • Others may have reservations about including critical reflection for the purposes of assessing student mastery because it is a largely subjective undertaking (Danvers, 2019). 

Do these qualms or inherent problems with critical reflection resonate with you?

The introspection involved in critical reflection makes me (or my students) uncomfortable


The subjectivity involved in critical reflection makes me (or my students) uncomfortable


Tending to what went wrong in critical reflection makes me uncomfortable


Other ideas?

Make note of any other thoughts that resonate.

Identifying priorities in critical reflection

There are approaches that can help to mitigate discomfort and reconcile with subjectivity. We will examine one strategy in this module. 

You may be in charge of decisions about the ways in which you choose to include, communicate value, and signal to students what/how/to what extent these or other qualities of critical reflection hold value in your instructional context. To design critical reflection opportunities intentionally, you must assess which qualities of critical reflection you are expecting from students and which you prioritize over others.

For example: 

1. Regarding theory in critical reflection, do you value when students:

  • Draw on relevant theoretical standpoints,
  • relate their reflection to prior scholarship or practice, and/or
  • evoke broader social and political implications?

2. Regarding experience in critical reflection, do you value when students draw on personal and specific experience?  

Are these two qualities (theory and experience) ones you seek to elicit from students in their critical reflections? Are these dimensions you encourage and feel like you can prepare to assess (where warranted)? 

This may not be an either/or scenario, you may find some aspects are more important than others but that most have value.


Qualities of critical reflection worksheet

Consider to what degree you prioritize each of the qualities of learning that are reflected in the table developed by Stella Cottrell (2011). Try ranking these qualities of critical reflection from most to least important to your practice from 1-10, 1 being the most important and 10 being the least.

Download worksheet

Lesson checklist

  • Identify personal discomfort with subjective aspects of critical reflection
  • Select or rank the qualities of students’ critical reflection that you prioritize when designing critical reflection opportunities 
  • Using a template, choose qualities of critical reflection to include in a teaching or co-curricular learning activity


Cottrell, S. (2011). Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. Palgrave 

Head, N., (2020). A “pedagogy of discomfort”? Experiential learning and conflict analysis in Israel-Palestine. International Studies Perspectives, 21. 78-96. 

Danvers, E., (2019). Individualised and instrumentalised? Critical thinking, students and the optics of possibility within neoliberal higher education. Critical Studies in Education. DOI:10.1080/17508487.2019.1592003 

More lessons

Graphic of a male sitting in a chair, working on a laptop.

Lesson 4: Critical reflection prompts

Graphic of a Black woman working at a desk with a laptop and a notebook.

Lesson 5: Critical reflection assessment

Graphic of a woman sitting at a desk with a laptop open.

Lesson 6: Digital critical reflection