Because of the complexities of teaching and learning about teaching, various approaches to pre-service teacher education have evolved over the years. However, one aspect of teacher education that continually receives attention in both curriculum and research is the way teachers think about their practice. Since at least the time of Dewey, such thinking about practice has been termed reflection and in teacher education courses there has been a focus on developing reflective practitioners. Programs designed to 'make' reflective practitioners have been vigorously pursued in pre-service and in-service education. One reason for this is the perceived common-sense link between reflection and learning, hence the value of its use in teaching and teacher education.
Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it. It is this working with experience that is important in learning. The capacity to reflect is developed to different stages in different people and it may be this ability which characterizes those who learn effectively from experience. (Boud, Keogh and Walker, 1985, p. 19)
In Dewey's (1933) revised edition of How We Think he clearly states what he defines as reflective thinking. In so doing, it becomes immediately obvious why reflection is so central to teaching and learning.
Reflective thinking, in distinction from other operations to which we apply the name of thought, involves (1) a state of doubt, hesitation, perplexity, mental difficulty, in which thinking originates, and (2) an act of searching, hunting, inquiring, to find material that will resolve the doubt, settle and dispose of the perplexity. (Dewey, 1933, p. 12)
In illustrating the utility of reflection, he describes the relationship between reflection and some of the attributes of teaching and learning. In many ways his writings could equally be an appropriate preface to some modern day studies into the enhancement of teachers' professional knowledge and student learning (e.g., Project to Enhance Effective Learning (PEEL) project, Baird and Mitchell, 1986; Baird and Northfield, 1992). Dewey has much to say about searching for a balance between teaching that is transmissive as opposed to that which is solely student-centred, and how a reasoned approach to teaching by reflecting on that balance might impact on student learning.
Dewey writes in a manner which builds an argument from opposing view points in order to demonstrate both the strengths and the weaknesses of the contrary positions. He then introduces his views in terms of a balance between the two to show that the best value is gained by considering alternatives rather than dogmatically adhering to one view or another. He therefore illustrates well how dichotomous views in relation to teaching and learning are