Critical Incident Questionnaires

What is it?

Critical incidents are incidents that people remember as being significant for reasons personal to them (Tripp, 1994). They inspire reflection and usually a change in practice attitude, understanding or belief, hence are key to learning. For students, these moments as they apply to the classroom are crucial for learning so it is useful for teachers to know when these occur.

The critical incident questionnaire (CIQ) is a single page form that can either be physically handed out or put on KEATS for students to complete. This can occur as frequently as you think necessary. It consists of five questions, each of which asks students to write down some details about events that happened in the class that week. It is NOT about getting feedback from students about what they liked or didn’t like about you or the class but is to help them focus on specific, concrete events that will aid their ability to self-regulate.

Why would I use it?

  • It is part of a critical reflective tradition in education (Mezirow, 1991) which fosters reflection and metacognition in students about their learning and their shared responsibility for it.
  • It can be anonymous or not and can take place in any medium of mutual convenience.
  • It can highlight problems and miscommunications early in the module before they affect learning or your relationship with your students (and hence your module feedback!) It can also highlight any misunderstandings of your teaching style and rationale, which you can then discuss with students.  Dialogue can foster mutual trust by giving students and voice, and allow students and teachers to see each other as human beings beyond their roles in the university.
  • It can be used as part of a reflective journal or portfolio in modules where critical reflective practice is explicitly foregrounded, such as placements, internships or service-learning.

Known issues:

  • This is a mutual reflective tool, not primarily a means of gaining feedback from your students. Students must keep a copy for their own records and be encouraged throughout the term to revisit it.
  • Because it is part of a critically reflective tradition of practice, it requires you, the teacher, to be quite thick-skinned, receptive to change and open to constructive criticism. However, if you feel students are not being constructive, or personally attacking you, this is something to address with them immediately.
  • You should avoid the temptation to immediately have to change your teaching based on things students ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ if there are sound educational or disciplinary reasons for it.

How has it been used?

The seminal work on CIQs is:

Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

The typical form has five questions with space beneath each question for the student to write a response.

  1. At what moment in the class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  2. At what moment in the class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?
  3. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class this week did you find most affirming and helpful?
  4. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class this week did you did most puzzling or confusing?
  5. What about the class this week surprised you the most? (This could be something about your own reactions to what went on, or something that someone did, or anything else that occurs to you.)

These are the recommended questions but it can be tailored to the class or context.

 Keefer (2009) provides an overview of its uses in education. It has fluctuated in popularity since its origins, but more recent concerns with student participation, access and voice have triggered a resurgence.

CIQs are currently used by the King’s Library Services Skills Team as a means of gathering feedback on courses to implement for the next course. You can contact for details and an example:    

How can I use CIQs?