Discovering the Value of Ticket Out of Class as Critical Reflection and Formative Assessment

Self-Study in Teacher Education
Collaborative Self-studyCritical ReflectionFormative AssessmentTicket Out of Class (TOC)
Teacher education is both complex and multi-layered and it is important that teacher educators go beyond technical models of pedagogy and open a learning space for student teachers to critically reflect and question actions in practice. We are two teacher educators at the University of Iceland who have collaborated for a decade on self-study and teaching, pausing regularly and critically reflecting on our practice, identifying pedagogic turning points and learning opportunities in our practice. The purpose of this paper is to show how student formative reflection through TOCs influences our teaching and their learning. The study is a critical collaborative self-study and is a part of our ongoing professional development. We build on data collection and analysis for ten years. The other participants were our co-teachers and students participating in a course on inclusive education and collaborative group supervision of master projects’ from 2011 to 2021. Our findings show that using TOCs constructively helped to create a space for student resources and formative assessment. It provided learning moments for us and students as we constructed a discursive space for constantly listening and responding to students’ requests. The findings point to the importance of creating responsive learning spaces for students and of analyzing learning through critical reflection and formative assessment.

Context of the Study

The multi-layered pedagogy of teacher education differs from other pedagogies in that it involves being aware of how to respond to the nature of teaching. Teacher education pedagogy is based on knowledge about teaching about teaching, needing a shared language of learning about teaching (Loughran, 2007, 2014). Technical models of teaching are often thought to solve the problems that arise in teaching. However, it is important for teacher educators to go beyond the technical models, constantly question their teaching, and instill in student teachers the fundamental importance of reflecting upon and questioning their teaching (Korthagen, 2001; Loughran, 2007). Using inquiry into practice for student teachers opens a space for them to see, reflect, and discuss so they can understand that teaching is more than rehearsed scripts and routines, or just “doing teaching.” Teaching is also about critically reflecting, questioning actions, and coming to understand how actions educate students and make learning happen. Enacting the pedagogy of teacher education means asking students to describe their learning, how the teacher educator affected their learning, and listening to them as teacher educators develop the next steps in their teaching (Russel, 2007).

We are two teacher educators at the University of Iceland who have collaborated on self-study and teaching in teacher education for a decade, pausing regularly and critically reflecting on our practice. We have co-taught several graduate-level classes. By looking back to identify pedagogic turning points that provide learning opportunities to enhance our understanding of our practice, we can begin to construct new possibilities and discourses (Hamilton et al., 2020).

At our university we send out mid-term and end-of-term evaluations to all students to assess the quality of each course. This is meant for teachers to use to make their courses better and for administrators to monitor how students evaluate different courses and the teachers´ performance. While we always scrutinize these findings, we have found that they have limited value in enabling us to improve the on-going course. This requires a more sophisticated form of assessment.

Formative assessment is a planned, ongoing process that can be used by students and teachers to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve learning outcomes (Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], 2018; Hattie, 2009). Formative assessment can improve instruction and impact the teaching-learning process by enhancing students’ understanding and control over their own learning (Brookhart, 2013). Regular feedback to students is a key (Black & Wiliam, 2009; Hattie, 2009).

Tickets out of class (TOC) are a type of formative assessment that can be used to elicit critical reflection (Marzano, 2012) by allowing teachers to collect information on what student teachers learn from lessons and respond accordingly (Brookhart, 2013). TOCs afford opportunities for students to clarify and consolidate their learning and can be a vehicle for student self-reflection and self-assessment (Brookhart, 2013). TOCs build on theories of critical reflection and formative assessment (Brookhart, 2013; Kosnik & Beck, 2008; Marzano, 2012). TOCs require students to synthesize lesson content and organization, challenging them to actively analyse their learning (Edge & Olan, 2020) rather than waiting for knowledge to be delivered (Brookhart, 2013; Danley et al., 2016; Guðjónsdóttir et al., 2017).

However, while reflection is widely used in teacher education, it does not always lead to optimal learning or intended professional development outcomes (Korthagen & Vasalos, 2010). Various epistemological challenges, including reasoning and sense-making, are often overlooked (Russell & Martin, 2017). Reflection is more complex than a linear process of identifying challenges and responding to them (Korthagen & Vasalos, 2010). This is because teachers are not only guided by cognitive thinking, but also by emotions and personal views (Korthagen et al., 2013; Russell & Martin, 2017), which are often overlooked (Korthagen et al., 2013; Zembylas & Schutz, 2009). Analyzing and critically reflecting on one's feelings in practice offers teachers new insights and paves the way for recognizing the transformative power of emotion for personal transformation and professional development (Zembylas & Schutz, 2009). Failing to consider the complexity of reflection can reduce reflective practice to a mere technical tool to achieve quick solutions to problems that are defined only superficially (Russell & Martin, 2017).

The purpose of this study is to show how student formative reflection in the form of TOCs influences teaching and learning. The research question is: How do we use TOCs to understand and develop our practice in teacher education? Answering this question will help us generate constructive and interactive ways to make teaching more student-centered.


This is a critical collaborative self-study and is a part of our ongoing professional development as teacher educators (Schuck & Brandenburg, 2020). The self-study methodology helps us examine our work and implications of our experience; to think about and discuss our practice (Tidwell & Staples, 2017). Through data collection and analysis for ten years in different courses we noticed the special contribution TOCs made in supporting students’ learning. The other participants were our co-teachers and students participating in a course on inclusive education and collaborative group supervision of master projects´ from 2011 to 2021. All students signed a consent form allowing data collection.

Both Hafdís and Svanborg were general classroom teachers for almost 30 years before moving into teacher education. Hafdís’s main fields are inclusive pedagogy, responsive practice and learner-centered education; Svanborg’s are innovation and entrepreneurial education, curriculum theory and school change. We both believe in a pedagogy that emphasizes student resources and education that empowers students to participate in society.

Data sources consist of anonymous TOCs collected after each lesson in the inclusive education course and group supervisory meeting. We used index cards in the beginning, but switched to on-line programs three years ago. Students are asked to respond to two questions: what they take with them from the lesson, and what they would like to focus on during the next lesson. Other data sources include our research journals, which contain our emotional responses and personal reflections, and notes from planning meetings. We each noted down concerns, issues and activities related to the attributes the TOCs provided.

Analysis was ongoing alongside data gathering. Reading the TOCs regularly, we used the findings to respond to students’ voices. After each meeting or lesson, we collect the TOCs, read them, and group them according to how we plan to respond to them in our teaching: respond right away, explain our reaction, or respond to later. Content consists of both what is working well but also things we need to consider. At the beginning of the next meeting or lesson, we go through the groups and tell students how we will respond to their requests. We present our analyses of the TOCs to the students on slides, and the teacher team members take turns introducing our findings from each lesson. For this research we grouped and analyzed our ten years of accumulated data according to themes. At the same time, we also looked through our research journals to find a deeper understanding of what was going on. We explored the reflection the process afforded us and students, using the TOCs to understand students' learning needs. We also regularly discussed our understandings and interpretations. We focused on the needs, attitudes and views expressed by students, tried to understand the messages in a larger context, and examined our own feelings and attitudes and how they influenced our responses.

Constructive criticism is important in self-study to inform the researchers and help them assess their practice (Schuck and Russell, 2005). Working on the research collaboratively, we were each other's critical friends, using our different experiences and views to discover issues and understandings the other one missed. We seek to honestly express what we learned from our experiences and acknowledge that we are always "becoming" as professionals in teacher education (Hamilton et al., 2020).

Creating Responsive Learning Spaces for Students

Through the years the TOCs have influenced our teaching. We made sure to ask the students to fill out the TOCs at the end of each lesson. We are usually enthusiastic about reading what the students learn from each lesson and what they want to understand better. Often, we manage to sit down right after lessons and read through the TOCs together. At the next planning meeting, we read them carefully to see how we can adapt our teaching according to how students evaluate their learning and learning needs. We ask students to analyze their own learning rather than focusing on our performance as teachers. This way we get useful information to evaluate our own teaching and to identify how we can adjust teaching towards deeper student learning and reflection.

Discursive Space for Formative Assessment

Using the TOCs has opened up a discursive space where students reflect on their learning, share what they are learning in each lesson, and ask us questions. In response, we regularly start lessons by presenting to students the main learning they shared and the core of what they want to be covered next time, providing direct quotes from their TOCs. We sometimes respond directly to their requests in these response sessions or tell them how we plan to respond. Most often we accede to their wishes, but sometimes we determine it is not pedagogically appropriate to meet their requests -- for example, when they express that they prefer small group work to be with students form the same school level. In that case, we explain that we want them to be grouped with teachers or students from different school levels to get to know a wider variety of viewpoints.

Often, we were quite pleased after reading the TOCs, but sometimes they leave us with lingering doubts. For example, in our second lesson in 2019 in the inclusive practice course, Svanborg had given a workshop on innovation education (IE) approaches. After reading the TOCs, Svanborg wrote in her journal:

I was pleased to read the TOCs. Some students expressed surprise about IE, many are interested, and some want clarifications. I can gladly meet those responses next time. A few expressed bewilderment over using IE in a course on inclusive education. I hope that they will gradually learn how constructive this approach is.

We discussed Svanborg´s concerns about what the TOCs revealed about students’ attitudes toward IE at the next planning meeting. As the course progressed, we saw how creative ways of working helped students get out of the rut of seeing only “more money” or “more assistants” as solutions to offer inclusive education. Gradually we have become more at ease when we get TOCs that express doubts about IE early in the course, as we have seen that many students need time to connect with their own conditions and explore how the IE process can help them approach inclusive education with creative and solution-oriented thinking.

As we scrutinized the TOCs from students, we realized that using this channel to monitor students’ understanding and questions helped us in responding to their learning. It opens a learning space for students to reflect on their learning, a space for them to reflect and try to understand what they are learning and how. It has become a way to engage in formative assessment to inform and influence both students’ learning process and our own teaching. The TOCs have thus become a sort of a “sounding board” where we listen to students’ voices and respond by strengthening their learning and empowering them to become agents in their profession.

By using this discursive space to listen to students’ voices, we have identified an effective process and made progress in the inclusive course. In the beginning of each course, many students expressed doubts about the inclusive policy and found it unrealistic to put into practice (TOCs). We discussed the issues that emerged in students TOCs after each lesson and agreed that the development of pedagogical expertise is a learning process that combines theory and practice in ways that help build knowledge. We wanted to emphasize that teaching is not just about doing, but also about informing practice by reflecting on actions in the effort to learn from the experience. In a preparation meeting (2017), we realized that this kind of empowerment required many of the students to take several steps, and that they were at different levels of readiness to embrace the inclusive pedagogy and to reflect and develop a deep understanding of their practice.

As the course progresses each year, students show signs of a developing professionalism that embraces the role of the inclusive teacher. The TOCs show that students often expressed a thirst for acquiring more tools and methods for teaching. Many examples emerged of such wishes, including:

Evidence based methods to respond to learners with ADHD and other learning challenges.
How to meet learning needs of gifted children. 
Get more tools for teaching in inclusive education.
I want the tools, the methods, not just the theories.
I would like to learn more about “special education in inclusive education. (TOCs, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019)

We discussed these requests from students for technical solutions in inclusive education and concluded that we did not want the course to become a toolbox of ready-made recipes. We decided to make our own teaching methods more clearly visible by ending each lesson by asking the students to identify and name the teaching methods we had applied that day. To do so, they needed to understand what kind of pedagogy each of our approaches reflected. We learnt that by identifying them, students became more aware of the versatile methods and approaches we used in our teaching of their diverse group (preparation meeting, October 2016). We continued to present different methods as a part of our practice in action; we also created a space for students themselves to apply the teaching and learning methods in different projects and tasks. This seemed to work, and we saw many cases in TOCs where students expressed their appreciation of this emphasis, such as this example from 2013: “I believe it was good for us to actually try cooperative learning and participate collaborating in the lesson. I like it when we try things out instead of just hearing about them.” We discussed this repeatedly, concluding that by giving students an opportunity to experience first-hand what we were presenting and applying, and by giving them a space to analyze what they were learning, we would strengthen the core of their professionalism rather than merely adding to “toolbox” of instruments and methods that can be applied in teaching.

Developing the use of TOCs – acknowledging emotions

We had recently started using TOCs (in 2012) when I came to a turning point as I overheard a student’s comment at a group supervision session: “I don't see a point in doing this task because the teachers never do anything about it.” The student had been used to the university's midterm and final-term on-line evaluations, but this kind of regular reflective evaluations as the TOCs offered were new to her. When I [Hafdís] overheard her comment, I could feel my tensions, how upset I became, or even hurt that the student assumed I would not listen to them.

At the next planning meeting Hafdís suggested we would begin each lesson by discussing the TOCs. Little by little we learned that giving ourselves and the students space to discuss the learning, we began to develop both deeper and more critical reflections on learning.

In the course on inclusive education, we tried out different approaches. One such approach was to offer students opportunities to use artistic and hands-on methods to scrutinize and interpret readings or overall learning in the course. Among these creative tasks were watching films they chose about teachers and teaching and then critically reflecting on discussing in groups the main messages of their chosen film. After these discussions, they were to select recyclable materials and make a 3-D artifact that represented their understanding of the film. Initially some of the students had reservations, but they on it anyway. When presenting their artifacts and in the TOCs many of them shared that the process had been surprisingly enjoyable and constructive. We were always very excited to read the TOCs and students’ analysis of their learning in each lesson, not least when we had experimented with creative approaches. A few times we got messages in TOCs that indicated that students found these methods to be “childish” and beneath their intellectual maturity. One student shared in autumn 2016: “I am disappointed in having to stoop to pre-school level work. I expected to do graduate level work where I would gain theoretical and serious knowledge.” However, we mostly received constructive responses in TOCs and other conversations with students in which they shared that the artistic work often helped them make sense of that “theoretical and serious knowledge.”

In a TOC in autumn 2018, a student expressed hurt feelings, describing how the experienced teachers in the course talked down to the inexperienced student teachers and belittled them. At our preparation meeting we read this TOC with the other responses from the lesson that had just finished. Our reaction was at first emotional. Hafdís said, “I cannot stand this; they are working against everything the course stands for. We are teaching about inclusion and then our group is excluding their classmates and talking down to them.” We decided to react to this behavior, and at the beginning of the next lesson we discussed this with the students. Hafdís gave an inspired brief talk, without anger or judgment, but pointing out the ethical component such behavior entailed. Then students had an opportunity to discuss the matter. At the end of the course that fall, we received a TOC expressing that the behavior had disappeared.

In the course on inclusive education, we emphasize how theory is used to understand or strengthen our beliefs or our practice. Through the years we have learnt that many of our students find this challenging or view it as unnecessary and would rather spend time to learn something “just practical.” We have developed our course accordingly, giving practice and theory a space for discussion and critical reflections while also looking for innovative ways for students to understand the relationship of theory and practice. Analyzing the TOCs, we found many occasions where students reflected on how theory was redundant and that knowledge about practical topics matters more. Sometimes we felt quite emotional reading students’ reflections as our experience has shown us the value of being able to reflect our practice in theories. At the end of one lesson in fall 2021, one student wrote: “As for teaching methods, they are often just natural to you, probably due to influences from your childhood, there are so many things that you just know without being able to connect them to any theory.” Another student was irritated and even angry in the discussions on theory and practice and wrote:

Are we teachers really not professionals if we do not remember exactly which scholar said what, and don't know exactly where the basis of what we are working with comes from? I think it is sad because I do not have these qualities to remember what came from where and let alone have the time to look for articles to figure it out. So, I am not a professional in my job? I'm a good teacher.

As she read this TOC, Hafdís felt her emotions come to the surface, feeling both surprised and sad. She knew she had to respond and discuss this sensitive topic, but also that she had to do that very carefully. She assumed that this TOC came from an experienced teacher working on the master's degree. This kind of expression is common among teachers. Hafdís wrote in her journal autumn 2021:

As I read the message on the TOC, I can feel how the blood pressure rises, relating to my own experience when I believed it was only about practice and then little by little, I came to understand the importance of theories behind the practice, understand there is a reason behind everything, and nothing is created in a vacuum. Learning how important in many ways theories and research is for teachers and education. We need to respond to this.

At the beginning of the next lesson, we made time for conversation about theories and teacher practice. We shared with students:

We want to correct that theory is not about knowing the names of academics by heart - but that it is being respectful to and recognize those who have influenced our profession, who have impacted us, refer to their ideas and work by referring to them. No one is tested or assessed on their knowledge of scholars or the lack of it but asked for references and a reference list to show that what they present is not based on mere feelings or experience, but on research.

The third example of student response to theory-practice discussions was practical rather than emotional, not as emotional and just needed more time: “I would have liked more time or focus on the discussions about connecting my practice to the theory”. Often students have come across the theory behind what they are doing and become surprised and happy when they can relate their practice to theory. Hafdís wrote in her journal:

For me rejecting theory calls for frustration. I have for more than two decades worked on this with my students and it confuses me why it still challenges me and makes me feel sad for the profession that teachers reject theories. We want to respect their beliefs but at the same time we find it very important to know the theories behind their professional work.

Although we allowed ourselves to express our feelings at our preparation meetings, we did not show our disappointment to students. We often allowed ourselves to express our enthusiasm in lessons for our work and the knowledge we shared but had a practical component to our responses to the TOCS by letting students experience themselves what we were presenting and applying, and by giving them a space to analyze what they were learning we would strengthen the core of their professionalism.

Discussion and Conclusions

Self-study has been the foundation for our determination to enact reflective and critical pedagogy in teacher education by looking at our teaching as more complex than a simple technical endeavor (Korthagen, 2001; Loughran, 2007, 2014; Russel, 2007). This collaborative self-study has helped us to look critically at our own professional development as teacher educators (Schuck & Brandenburg, 2020) and specifically to elicit the affordances of using TOCs to enhance students´ reflexivity (Brookhart, 2013) and channel our responsiveness. Our study indicates that using the TOCs constructively shows how a simple task can be effective to create a space for student resources and formative assessment (Kosnik & Beck, 2008; Marzano, 2012). TOCs provided learning moments for us and students as we constructed a discursive space for constantly listening and responding to students’ requests. Through this self-study, we realized how our data analysis methods translated to our teaching methods. We also realized how the TOCs and the information they contained could be emotional for us, even as they channeled students’ emotions and attitudes. We realized that emotions are an important element in teachers' work. Giving them space to emerge helped us realize their power (Korthagen et al., 2013; Zembylas & Schutz, 2009). Analyzing and critically reflecting on our feelings in practice offered us new insights, and instead of repressing them or minimizing their power, we saw that they were an important element for us personally and for our professional growth (Zembylas & Schutz, 2009).

This self-study provides insights significant to the larger field of scholarship. The findings point to the importance of creating responsive learning spaces for students (Dalmau & Guðjónsdóttir, 2017), of analyzing learning through critical reflection and formative assessment (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009), and of creating opportunities for teacher educators to adapt their teaching based on data from students (Guðjónsdóttir et al., 2017).


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Hafdís Guðjónsdóttir

University of Iceland

Svanborg Rannveig Jónsdóttir

University of Iceland

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