Developing Skills of Reflection
Many courses and programmes of study
in higher education require the reflective integration of learning which
is derived from experience or practice. This is especially true of courses
that lead to both academic awards and a professional qualification such
as nursing, teaching, social work or some areas of legal practice and
criminal justice. In some of these, for example social work, reflecting
First what is to be gained by reflection?
Reflection goes beyond just gaining knowledge, to
• exploring the foundations
of that knowledge,
It is important to remember that
reflection is a dynamic process. It is not about being passive, staying
where you are and looking back, (although time to be still may be an
important part of it) but an active engagement with knowledge and experience.
So, by reflecting, you are able to construct new and deeper understanding
and to articulate knowledge in a more meaningful way. The process of
reflection will often mean that theoretical learning is challenged by
reality of experience, where such things as diversity, value, resource
constraints and conflicts pose questions
The Reflective Process
One of the most commonly quoted models for understanding the process of reflection is a model developed by Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985). This model highlights that experiences in learning combine behaviour, ideas and feelings and all of these aspects need to be examined in the process of reflection.
The process has three stages:
Possible Barriers to Reflection
There are a number of things that
can get in the way of reflection - these have messages for both students
and teachers. Some of them may be external to the learner, (people,
environment, wider personal circumstances, social forces, including
issues that might be associated with experiences of discrimination and
oppression) and some may be internal (these might include previous negative
Such barriers might be:
• assumptions about what is/is
It is important not just to be aware of potential barriers but to acknowledge them and to work with them. It is likely that barriers and potential barriers will vary between individuals and between different situations and it may not always be possible to change some of them, but failing to acknowledge them and to own them is bound to limit the reflection processes within the experience and diminish the potential for learning. Working to reduce the potential barriers to learning is the responsibility of both students and teachers and it is worth taking time just to think about what your own barriers or possible barriers might be and what you can do, or ask others to do to minimise them.
What are the skills and qualities needed to be reflective?
Reflection requires an approach which is
• tolerant of diversity
of ideas - not everyone will think the way you do, not everyone
interprets or understands the world in the way you do
Some useful strategies that may be used in developing skills for reflection include:
• use of learning
EVENT/ACTIVITY - e.g. what happened?, what was the sequence of events?, what role did I play?, what tasks did I perform?
REFLECTION/ANALYSIS - what have I learned from this experience/activity?, what issues or questions did it raise for me?, what positive and negative feelings did it evoke?
UNDERPINNING KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING - what knowledge/theory helps me to understand this event/activity?, what source materials are useful to this?
ISSUES FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING - what else do I need to know to increase my understanding how can my knowledge /practice be improved?, are there any unresolved issues?
KEY MESSAGE - what is the main message that comes from this reflection?
Used well, learning logs can be a rich source of learning and evidence of learning.
• debriefing with colleagues or learning partner
Simply talking over events and feelings can be a valuable part of a learning process. If your reflection involves talking about work with people you may need to be careful about issues of confidentiality and boundaries.
• focus on specific incidents (critical incident analysis, process record)
There is a value in writing down in detail not just what happened, but the how, why, what, when of the process including thoughts and feelings. It can seem a laborious task, but usually worth the effort.
• work placement supervision
In a situation where reflection is part of practice learning, supervision by another (for example a practice teacher) is an opportunity for reflection and learning and used well is one where both student and teacher experience learning.
• action research
First, prepare yourself and focus your thoughts:
• think about yourself
Then, begin to think about a specific learning situation. For example, yesterday's lecture – what impact did it have on you?, how are you going to use what you learnt?
Finally, if you would like to do some further reading on this topic try the following references:
Boud, D., Cohen, R. and Walker,
D. (eds) 1993.Using Experience for Learning. Open University
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