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Evaluation for Excellence Toolkit: Critical Incident Analysis


The term ‘critical incident’ comes from history where it refers to some event or situation which is marked a significant turning-point or change in the life of a person or an institution. They can be both negative or positive, but are recognised through their underlying effect on you, your teaching and potentially your confidence. Recognising when one occurs, analysing what happened and how you deal with it, is the focus of the Critical Incident Analysis. A key tool in this space is the Critical Incident Questionnaire, developed by Stephen Brookfield. This resource and a range of scholarly articles on the approach is presented below.

Recipe Card Detail

What to do when something happens that makes you stop and think about your teaching approach.

Critical incident analysis is good for: Reflecting when something significantly positive or negative happens in your classroom tohelp you replicate it or avoid it happening again.

PREPARATION: Identify a critical incident and make a note to follow up shortly after.
TIMING: Spend 30-60 minutes after a class, or as soon as you can after the session.
PEOPLE: Discussing a critical incident with a colleague can also aid in reflection.
Identify a critical incident. It need not be a dramatic event: usually it is simply an incident with significance for you. It is an event that made you stop and think. It may have made you question an aspect of your approach. It is an incident that has had animpact on your teaching, either positive (e.g. students perform better than expected) or negative (e.g. class doesn’t meet outcomes).
Grab some paper and write 50-100 words against each of the following questions:
Why do I view the situation like that?
What assumptions have I made about the students or situation?
How else could I interpret the situation?
What other action could I have taken that might have been more helpful?
Use the elements you’ve written as a starting point to discuss the incident with a mentor or trusted colleague. Is this something they’ve noticed too, either with their own students or if theyhave peer observed you in your teaching?
Most critical events are one-offs, but their effects stay with us. Consider if there is anything you could do in class to make the event happen again (if it had a positive outcome) or to stop it from happening again (if it had a negative outcome). Or do you think this situation was really a one-off?
5. ACT 
Develop an action plan to tackle issues raised. An example plan should address:
What am I going to do?
What will I do to make this happen?
What obstacles exist?
How will I know I’ve done it?
When will I review my progress?
Tackling critical incidents in this way can lead to profound improvements in practice. With this in mind, once you’ve successfully acted, consider sharing with colleagues—either in informal chats over coffee or in a teaching and learning seminar—how you’ve replicated or improved a situation and what you learned from the process.
Describethe incident and use your analysis, action plan and resulting outcomes as the basis for evidencing the impact of your reflection on your practice.
Download a full colour version of the recipe cards.Recipe Card (PDF)

Links to Online Resources

  1. The Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire (Brookfield, 1990)
  2. Assessing learning, critical reflection, and quality educational outcomes: The Critical Incident Questionnaire (Gilstrap and Dupree, 2008).
  3. The Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ): From Research to Practice and Back Again ( Keefer, 2009).

Links to Papers/Books

  1. Joshi, K. (2018). Critical Incidents for Teachers’ Professional Development., Available via Journal of NELTA Surkhet
  2. Phalen, L. (2012). Interrogating students’ perceptions of their online learning experiences with Brookfield’s Critical Incident Questionnaire. Available via DU Library