Over the last 20 years there has been a shift in how evidence of skill is recorded. Instead of providing official certificates it is common to document how both formal and experiential learning impact changes in practice. (Jasper & Rolfe 2011) The aim of this text is to analyze the process of reflective practice and offer suggestions on how you can use it your own work and education.
Reflective practice means looking at what you did within a project, thinking about why you did it and about if it works the way you imagine. It is a process of self observation and self-evaluation. Therefore, by collecting information about what goes on with your work it is possible to identify your own practices and underlying believes. This may lead to changes or improvements in your practice. Basically you are learning from action. (Jasper & Rolfe 2011, Schön 1983)
Personal reflection is a very useful process in itself, but the real value is in transforming that experience into reflexive action. Those are actions that adapt to the reflection in real-time. Reflection and self-development is a continuous process. Therefore, sharing your reflections can be a useful process. Also, receiving feedback from peers is a good way to gain further insight into your process. Putting your evaluations into writing is not just about finishing up a project or reporting to a customer or teacher. Also, it offer a chance to collect further data from discourse.
Early examples of reflective practice can be found in Buddhist teachings (Winter 2003) and stoic philosophy (Suibhne 2009). Both ideologies value the process of revisiting past invents either in your mind or in discussion. Bolton (1970) describes a circle of 3 questions to analyze a situation. Those questions are: What? So What? and Now What? Later adaptions a more detailed reflective circle. (Gibbs 1988)
Management researcher Donald Schön challenges practitioners to reconsider the role of technical knowledge against artistry in developing professional excellence. He describes 3 types of reflective practice: Knowing-in-action, reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. (Schön 1983)
- Knowing-in-action: When you behave in a certain way based on your prior experience. This is unconscious reflective practice. You know how to ride a bike. You don’t have to sit down and reflect on how to do it.
- Reflection-in-action: You reflect on why you are doing a certain action, but you do this very very quickly. Child misbehaves in a class. You think about what to do but make a quick decision.
- Reflection-on-action: All the reflective practice you do after the event. This is the most conscious type of reflective practice. Also, reflection-on-action is what becomes a cyclical process. A typical example would be a student handing in a paper. Afterwards he receives feedback from a teacher and re-evaluates his work based on this feedback. Many people, when they speak about reflective practice, they primarily talk about reflection-on-action.
The process of reflective practice
Effective reflection starts with doubt. Therefore, you should ask yourself following questions:
Writing a reflective report falls under what Schön describes as reflection-on-action. It is important to realize that this kind of reflective practice is not something that can be done in one afternoon. In this case the reflective process involves constantly collecting data (probably in form of notes), analyzing and re-evaluating it. Therefore, this kind of reflective practice is a cyclic process.
Reflective report can be written during different stages of a project. The most common places to reflect are after you finish a milestone or after you hand in the project.
The perfect time to revisit a project or a milestone is right when you finish. You might want to take a short break, if the project or the session was a longer one, but don’t let too much time pass! It is better to work with a fresh memory. Ask yourself questions like this:
- What purpose has this project?
- Which objectives and what goals did I set?
- What problems did I encounter and how did I solve them?
- How did I organize the project? Is there something I can, or want to improve?
- How can I connect this project with my greater body of work?
- What resources did I prepare? What did I actually need?
Writing Book Excerpts
Books, especially in academia, contain a lot of information. Only very few people are able to grasp the whole scope of a book the first time the read it. To really understand a text, and retain this knowledge it is often necessary to read a book multiple times. Especially if you are working on a longer project it might happen, that you can’t really remember some information you read a few months ago.
One way to make this process more effective is to write excerpts. Excerpts are short summaries of the texts you read containing the most important information as well as quotations you might want to use or connections to other bodies of work that come to your mind. The process of writing excerpts is also reflective practice. You should write an excerpt as soon as possible after you finished reading the book or the article. With larger texts, some people even prefer to summarize single chapters as soon as they finish them.
Reflective Practice with the Bullet Journal
A reflective journal is not just a way to keep an organized record of your work, it can also be a tool for reflection in and of itself. Writing down what happens during a meeting or a work session lets you more easily revisit an event, than from memory alone. Also, the writing process itself can act as a form of structuring information.
Ryder Caroll, who invented the bullet journal method, was diagnosed with learning disabilities at a very early age. Productivity and focus did not come easy to him, so he had to figure out a new system to order his thoughts. Over many years he developed what he considers not just a productivity system but a lifestyle. The Bullet Journal has become one of, if not the best known journal system with a huge community using and improving the system.
The bullet journal is based on intentionality. In his TED talk, Caroll mentions that his ideology is based on reflective practice. He describes how valuable it is to form a habit of keeping your mental inventory, your list of projects and priorities updated. To do this you need to track and record data on what you do, but also evaluate that data. Therefore the bullet journal method does not only consist of specific tracking system, it also encourages you to revisit your old pages, read through your notes, and develop your future plans according to your analysis. This is reflective practice: Looking at the past, planning for the future. In his method Caroll calls this process migration.
If you are interested in Caroll and the bullet journal method you can find more information on the Bullet Journal website.
So what is the essence of reflective practice? As mentioned above the most important aspect is to focus on your own development. The idea is to provide feedback to yourself and, if you are working with others, to your team members. A reflective report is not a document you write to impress anyone. Keep the style as simple as possible and focus on the content. Treat the report as scholarly work. This means try to put your work into context and be transparent when using outside sources (quotations!).
Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, and teach: student concerns and process education. New York: McGraw-Hill
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. London: Further Education Unit. ISBN978-1853380716
Jasper, M., Rolfe, G. (2011). Critical reflection and emergence of professional knowledge. In G. Rolfe, M. Jasper, & D. Freshwater (Eds.),Critical reflection in practice. Generating knowledge for care. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Schön, Donald A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. ISBN978-0465068746. OCLC8709452.
Suibhne, Seamus Mac (September 2009). “‘Wrestle to be the man philosophy wished to make you’: Marcus Aurelius, reflective practitioner”. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 10 (4): 429–436. doi:10.1080/14623940903138266.
Winter, Richard (March 2003). “Buddhism and action research: towards an appropriate model of inquiry for the caring professions”. Educational Action Research. 11 (1): 141–160. doi:10.1080/09650790300200208.