Exploring the Use of Critical Incident Analysis and the Professional Learning Conversation in an Initial Teacher Education Programme

May. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 37, No. 2, May 2011, 199–217.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article aims to explore how critical reflective practice within a (pre-service) initial teacher education (ITE) programme in England is supported through a required course task for student teachers and an associated professional learning conversation with a designated school teacher–mentor.

In studying the effectiveness of this school-based task, this research aimed:
(1) to investigate the student teachers’ experiences of critical incidents and their analyses;
and (2) to explore how they responded to this course requirement at different stages of the year.

A critical incident was envisaged as any observable experience or activity that presents itself as an important or significant personal episode, and affords analysis.

The task was both open-ended, with its freedom to ‘choose’ critical events, and constrained, by a national training agenda and course requirements. The discourse of the ‘reflective practitioner’ dominates much of the literature on teaching in the post-compulsory and higher education sectors internationally.

For the analyses in this study, the Ward and McCotter rubric was adjusted to take account of wider professional practices both in and beyond classrooms.
The study included a student teacher’s actual teaching practices in the classroom, and also reflections on working with others in the broader context of the whole school.


In the target higher education institution the student teachers were all enrolled on a one-year post-graduate ITE course, learning to teach in one of eight curriculum areas for secondary education.

Phase 1: teacher–mentors were also given an introduction to the required task and the part they were expected to play in it at a mentoring event earlier in phase 1 (November).
In order to capture a picture of all student teachers’ participation and experiences of this task in the first half year, immediately following their first school placements a mid-year questionnaire was issued to 180 student teachers.
At the same time, a separate questionnaire was posted to 59 teacher–mentors in the first placement schools.

At the end of the academic year (June), student teachers from the phase 1 sample were followed up in their second placement school (end of phase 2).

One-to-one semi-structured interviews were conducted (as in phase 1).
Written narratives on the chosen phase 2 critical incidents were collated as before.

Drawing on the purposive sample, multiple perspectives on a shared experience (the task) were gained by collecting interview and narrative data over the two phases and also by providing opportunity for a longitudinal analysis for those few students who could be tracked in both phases of the course.


Professional learning through critical incident analysis
Critical moments emerge as professional turning points for many student teachers, particularly when professional conversations with another, or within a peer group, also take place.
Almost all student teachers seem concerned with finding solutions to their problems or resolving dilemmas, and they value supportive discussion, advice and solutions provided by others, including supervising teachers.

Crucially, the task is highly valued by the great majority of student teachers throughout the ITE year. Research data from most teacher–mentor interviews in phase 2 indicate that they, too, feel positive about the usefulness of the task in supporting reflective practice.

The importance of the reflective skills of the teacher–mentor is pertinent to the present study.
This research highlights the fact that the ‘person’ in the student teacher and their use of feelings and emotions are central to the process of unlocking reflective practice and developing deeper critical reflection on practice.
There is clearly a significant role for the teacher–mentors in assisting this process towards deeper reflection on practice.

Updated: Jul. 30, 2012