Practical Classroom Implementations for Critical Pedagogy

Major Components of Critical Pedagogy

“A certain level of comfort eliminates the spark that pushes one to seek social change – among both students and teachers. But a critical education must take place among both the oppressed and the oppressor if we hope to achieve a more compassionate and just society.” (Katz, 2014, p. 1)

Once one knows about Critical Pedagogy (with respect to Critical Thinking, as was covered in the previous blog), what does one do with that knowledge? Can we implement strategies that embrace Critical Pedagogy while teaching the content we need to cover? Are there ways to build criticality in our students while maintaining our requirements for classroom rigor?

To implement the foundational aspects of Critical Pedagogy in the classroom requires some art, a lot of creativity, and a bit of luck. It also helps to discuss possible classroom implementations with someone who is practiced in Critical Pedagogy methodologies. To describe possible implementations is the goal of this blog. Each paragraph will start with a reminder of the major components of Critical Pedagogy as well as what they mean and then I’ll brainstorm pedagogical implementation ideas. The most important piece of the blog will probably be the references (a sampling of those I’ve found helpful) that help you learn more about possible implementation.

Student agency involves giving, i.e. ceding our authority, to students so they have choices in their own learning. How do we apply it in the classroom? We can employ active learning, i.e. the “flipped” classroom (1-8). We can allow the class to vote on outcomes when we don’t really care what the outcome is, thereby empowering students to make their own decisions. We can implement peer-led techniques (9-15). And/or we can require or encourage students to reflect on their own learning in blogs, on notecards, or in some other way (16-24). Lastly, we can use ungrading to give students a voice in their own grades (25-29).

Social justice is the idea that we should treat all human beings with respect, dignity, and equity (30-31). Some of the ways we apply social justice in our classroom include reflecting on our own pedagogy and our own values to understand better who we are and what we value as teachers. We could implement critical pedagogy techniques such as choosing students from underserved groups as the first sets of leaders within groupwork (32-33). We could use OER (Open Educational Resources) and reduce the cost of the materials we require in the classroom as much as possible (34-37). We could recognize that students are humans first- we must consider the entire student and their livid experience when they walk into our classroom each day (38-43).

Power and privilege involve our evolving and reflective understanding of what position we truly inhabit in the classroom. We can acknowledge it in the classroom by decentering power (authority) in the classroom and acknowledging our own (and our students’) privilege and issues such as colonialization, systemic racism, white privilege or misogyny (44-46). Using open resources and checking in with others different than us to make sure we are not offensive and model the behavior we want to see in our students (47).

Classroom implementations that empower our usage of Critical Pedagogy can be varied and can encompass something completely different than any of the methodologies outlined above. But using our creativity to build criticality in our students by modeling the idea that every student matters in our classroom, pedagogy is fundamental to our role as teachers. And hopefully this blog gives us a place to start our own critical reflection.

Article References

Katz, L. (2014). Teachers’ reflections on critical pedagogy in the classroom. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Systems, 10(2). Retrieved from

Student Agency References

Active Learning

  1. Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251–19257.

  2. Felder, R. M. (1996). Active-inductive-cooperative learning: An instructional model for chemistry? Journal of Chemical Education, 73(9), 832. Retrieved from

  3. Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. University of Oklahoma, 27. Retrieved from

  4. Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415.

  5. Mohamed, A.-R. (2008). Effects of Active Learning Variants on Student Performance and Learning Perceptions. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 2(2). Retrieved from

  6. National Research Council (U.S.), Singer, S. R., Nielsen, N., & Schweingruber, H. A. (Eds.). (2012). Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. Washington, D.C: The National Academies Press.

  7. Oliver-Hoyo, M. T., Allen, D., Hunt, W. F., Hutson, J., & Pitts, A. (2004). Effects of an active learning environment: Teaching innovations at a research I institution. Journal of Chemical Education, 81(3), 441. Retrieved from

  8. Wieman, C. E. (2014). Large-scale comparison of science teaching methods sends clear message. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8319–8320.

Peer-Led Techniques

  1. Hockings, S. C., DeAngelis, K. J., & Frey, R. F. (2008). Peer-led team learning in general chemistry: Implementation and evaluation. Journal of Chemical Education, 85(7), 990. Retrieved from

  2. Lewis, S. E. (2011). Retention and Reform: An Evaluation of Peer-Led Team Learning. Journal of Chemical Education, 88(6), 703–707.

  3. Lewis, S. E., & Lewis, J. E. (2008). Seeking effectiveness and equity in a large college chemistry course: An HLM investigation of Peer-Led Guided Inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(7), 794–811.

  4. Miller, K., Lasry, N., Lukoff, B., Schell, J., & Mazur, E. (2014). Conceptual question response times in Peer Instruction classrooms. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 10(2).

  5. Obenland, C. A., Munson, A. H., & Hutchinson, J. S. (2012). Silent Students’ Participation in a Large Active Learning Science Classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(2). Retrieved from

  6. Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions. Science, 323(5910), 122–124.

  7. Syh-Jong, J. (2007). A study of students’ construction of science knowledge: Talk and writing in a collaborative group. Educational Research, 49(1), 65–81.

Reflective Learning

  1. Boyd, E. M., & Fales, A. W. (1983). Reflective Learning: Key to Learning From Experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(2), 99–117.

  2. de Andrés Martínez, C. (2012). Developing metacognition at a distance: Sharing students’ learning strategies on a reflective blog. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 25(2), 199–212.

  3. Holotescu, C., Grosseck, G., & Danciu, E. (2014). Educational Digital Stories in 140 Characters: Towards a Typology of Micro-blog Storytelling in Academic Courses. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4301–4305.

  4. Petko, D., Egger, N., & Graber, M. (2014). Supporting learning with weblogs in science education: A comparison of blogging and hand-written reflective writing with and without prompts. Themes in Science and Technology Education, 7(1), 3–17.

  5. Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.

  6. Sim, J. W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2010). The use of weblogs in higher education settings: A review of empirical research. Educational Research Review, 5(2), 151–163.

  7. Valkanova, Y., & Watts, M. (2007). Digital story telling in a science classroom: Reflective self‐learning (RSL) in action. Early Child Development and Care, 177(6–7), 793–807.

  8. Winters, F. I., Greene, J. A., & Costich, C. M. (2008). Self-Regulation of Learning within Computer-based Learning Environments: A Critical Analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 20(4), 429–444.

  9. Xie, Y., Ke, F., & Sharma, P. (2008). The effect of peer feedback for blogging on college students’ reflective learning processes. The Internet and Higher Education, 11(1), 18–25.


  1. Blum, S. (2017, November 14th). Ungrading. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

  2. Kohn, A. (2011, November). The Case against Grades [Blog post]. Retrieved from

  3. Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE—Life Sciences Education 13(2), 159–166.

  4. Sorensen-Unruh, C. (2019, February 10th). Ungrading: A Series [Blog post]. Retrieved from

  5. Stommel, J. (2018, March 11th). How to Ungrade [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Social Justice References

  1. United Nations. (n.d.). Human Rights. Retrieved from

  2. White, S. V. (2018, December 2nd). Lessons in Social Justice… [Blog post]. Identity, Education, and Power. Retrieved from


  1. Gannon, K. (2017, October 20th). The Progressive Stack and Standing for Inclusive Teaching [Blog post]. Retrieved from

  2. Tanner, K.D. (2013). Structure matters: twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE life sciences education, 12(3), 322–331. Retrieved from

Open Resources

  1. Open Education Commons. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  2. Educause. (n.d.). Open Education Resources (OER). Retrieved from

  3. DeRosa, R. & Jhangiani, R. Open pedagogy. In E. Mays (Ed.), A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students (pp. 7-20). Montreal, Canada: Rebus Community. Retrieved from

  4. DeRosa, R. (2017, January 22nd). Extreme Makeover: Pedagogy Edition [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Students are Humans First

  1. Goldrick-Rab, Sara. (2016). Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press.

  2. Goldrick-Rab, S. [TEDx Talks]. (2019, July 1st). College is Creating Poverty [Video file]. Retrieved from

  3. Goldrick-Rab, S. (2018, January 14th). It’s hard to study if you’re hungry. The New York Times. Retrieved from

  4. Goldrick-Rab, S., Baker-Smith, C., Coca, V., Looker, E., & Williams, T. (2019, April). College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report [PDF file]. Retrieved from

  5. Stommel, J. (2019). Building an Inclusive Campus Climate [SlideShare slides]. Retrieved from

  6. Stommel, J. (2015, December 16th). Dear Student [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Power and Privilege References

  1. Bali, Maha. (n.d.). Critical Pedagogy [Blog post category]. Retrieved from

  2. Moon, A., Stanford, C., Cole, R., Towns, M. (2017). Decentering: A Characteristic of Effective Student–Student Discourse in Inquiry-Oriented Physical Chemistry Classrooms. J. Chem. Educ., 94(7), 829-836.

  3. Tow, D. (2017, October 11th). Why I don’t have classroom rules. Edutopia. Retrieved from

  4. Spelic, Sherri. (2016, September 2nd). The Digital Pedagogy Lab 2016 Institute: An Aftermath in the Future Tense [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Extra Resources for Critical Pedagogy

Cangialosi, K. (2018, June 26th). But you can’t do that in a STEM Course! Hybrid Pedagogy. Retrieved from

Friere, P. (1970/2018). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (50th Anniversary Edition). New York City, NY: Continuum.

Giroux, Henry A. (1988). Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning. South Hadley, MA: Bergin Garvey.

hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.  New York City, NY: Routledge.

Stommel, J. & Micheal Morris, S. (2018). An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy, Inc

Join the conversation.

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Comments 3

Byungmoon Cho | Wed, 10/09/2019 - 11:24

Thank you for the great post; I found it very informative and educational!

I have a quick question: You mention "...ceding our authority, to students so they have choices in their own learning."  How do you make sure the school curricular requirements are met?  Is this something you keep your eye on so that the students cover the required content material?


Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh's picture
Clarissa Sorens... | Thu, 10/10/2019 - 07:27

If I understand your question correctly, Byungmoon, you are wondering how to let students have power in the midst of set curriculum. And here's my question(s) - the curriculum is set, but is the way you cover it set? Is every way you assess it set?

There are lots of ways to give students agency over their own learning, including something as simple as letting them choose what is covered first or letting them choose how to cover a certain section or letting them generate the questions they'd like to answer on their assessment. Ceding authority doesn't mean giving up all of the power in the classroom. It means giving students more than they have now.

Does that make sense?

Byungmoon Cho | Wed, 10/16/2019 - 06:55

Thank you for the reply, yes, it does make sense!

I have recently come across a model of teaching put forward by B. Rogoff known as the "community of learners" model (  In this approach, the participation of and corporation between the students are maximally encouraged.  It posits that learning is achieved in the process of ]"transformation by participation".  It claims it resides neither the "adult-run" (purely transmissive) nor "children-run" (purely acquisition) paradigm but in the realm where adults and children learn together which adults (including the teacher) playing a role, not as an authority of knowledge but as someone to guide towards knowledge.

I am really curious about what your thoughts on this type of teaching/learning.

Thank you,