Reflecting on practice
What is ‘reflection’?
‘Reflection is a means of working on what we know already, and it generates new knowledge…’ (Moon, 2005, p.1)
‘Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfill a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome. It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.’ (Moon, 2005, p.1)
“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience” (Dewey, 1933, p. 78)
- Encourages deep thinking
- Progresses thinking beyond working with norms and known protocols
- Enables processing of ideas as time is taken to think systematically through approaches
- Shape your own development as a teacher
- Think through complex problems
- Integrate research/theory with reality of practice
- Provides evidence of improvement over time – [with evaluation]
Models of reflection:
Although the basic aims of the reflective process remain the same, it is worth investigating and understanding a few different models for yourself. You might find a different approach helpful in providing new angles for your reflection.
The three models below are some of the most commonly discussed:
Kolb’s Cycles of Reflection
Kolb’s model identifies the stages by which you can move from practice, then develop new understanding through reflection on practice. Learning takes place when the lessons learned and reflected on from practice help create a new understanding or ‘theory’, which can then be applied further in practice. In this way, experience informs next steps, and leads to improved practice.
Cycles of Reflection from Gibbs
This model gives structure to learning from experiences and offers a framework for systematising reflections and isolating feelings.
It covers 6 stages during which you are required to answer several questions in order to go as deep as possible with your reflections.
- Description of the experience
- Feelings and thoughts about the experience
- Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
- Analysis to make sense of the situation
- Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
- Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.
Reflecting on practice: Brookfield’s lenses
According to Brookfield: “critically reflective teaching happens when we identify and scrutinize assumptions that undergird how we work. The most effective way to become aware of these assumptions is to view our practice from different perspectives. Seeing how we think and work through different lenses is the core process of reflective practice.” (Brookfield 1995, p.xii-xiii)
Brookfield points out that few of us can critically reflect very effectively on our own. Each lens provides a different perspective from which to examine our practice. These can operate in multiple directions, allowing us to make sense of and ‘name’ what we do, as well as providing mirrors to reflect back different versions of how our actions are received and interpreted by others.
Brookfield argues that the personal assumptions that underpin our actions are often too close for us to see and examine. The whole process is underpinned by our own implicit values and explicit values of the UKPSF.
Schön (1991) presented the concepts of 'reflection in action' and 'reflection on action' making a distinction between reflection during the event and reflection after the event.
It may be helpful to take account of the distinction between the two during your own reflective practice.
Reflection in action (during)
Reflection on action (after)
Example of using Schön's model
Reflection in action
- You are in a lecture and keep being distracted by thinking about what to have for lunch!
- You want to get the most from the lecture so need to find a way to help you focus.
- You decide to start making some notes of the key points.
Reflection on action
- You notice that sometimes after a lecture you can’t remember what was covered.
- You find out about the lecture topic in advance and write down some questions you want answered.
- You make notes during the lecture to help you focus.
- You arrange to go for a coffee after the lecture and talk with your peers about what was presented, to help you understand and form your own opinions.
- You file your lecture notes and any handouts.
You can put these models into practice through your reflective writing.
‘Reflective writing is the expression on paper/screen of some of the mental processes of reflection.’ Jenny Moon (1999, p.1)
Jenny Moon (2004) developed a framework for reflective writing, which outlines key differences between descriptive and reflective writing:
- Descriptive writing: A description of what has happened. It may tell a story but from only one perspective. Generally, only one point is made at a time.
- + elements of reflection: As above, with little addition of ideas from outside the event and no references to alternative viewpoints or the attitudes of others. There is recognition of the worth of further exploration, but it does not go very far.
- Reflective writing: There is description, but certain aspects are emphasised for reflective comment. There may be a sense that the role of self is being thought about. The account shows some analysis and there is recognition of the worth of exploring the motives and reasons for behaviour.
- Deeper reflective writing: Description now only serves the process of reflection, covering the issues for reflection and noting their context. There is clear evidence of standing back from an event and conducting a deep, thoughtful internal dialogue. The account shows deep reflection, and it incorporates recognition that the frame of reference (the ‘lens’ through which an event is viewed) can change.
Reflective writing and Fellowship application (UKPSF)
Tell your story as a teacher or supporter of learning
Write autobiographically: ‘I’
- Discuss teaching dilemmas/challenges – rationale for change?
- Any other obstacles you faced and overcame?
- What helped you to solve them (literature sources?)
- How I solved them and why I chose that particular course of action
- Final positive outcome: ‘successful, effective’, with evidence, for example improved student outcomes, favourable evaluation, mails or comments from participants and/or colleagues
- What have you learned as a teacher over time?
Brookfield, S. D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. Boston: DC Heath.
Gibbs, G (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further. Oxford: Oxford Polytechnic.
Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs: New Jersey.
Moon, J. (2005) Guide for Busy Academics No. 4: Learning Through Reflection. Higher Education Academy.
Moon, J. (2004) A handbook of reflective and experiential learning. Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.
Moon, J. (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. London: Kogan Page.
Moon, J. (1999a) Learning Journals: a Handbook for Academics, Students and Professional 1. London: Kogan Page.
Schön, D. (1991) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Schön, D. A. (1983) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.