In the previous two posts, we have looked at the concept of Reflective Practice including the many benefits of incorporating it into your teaching practice, as well as three of the more popular reflective cycles developed by Kolb, Gibbs and Schon.
This week we will dive deeper and analyse some key features of Reflective Practice, such as:
- forms of reflection (written, spoken, visual, etc.)
- and things to be aware of
Forms of Reflection
Reflection can be formal or informal and vary in detail and depth. This may range from messaging or calling a friend after undertaking a new experience, to being written and formally recorded as part of a training program or school assessment (MIT Open Courseware, 2012a).
Some common (and less common) forms of reflection are described below.
Written Forms of Reflection
There are many forms of written reflection, including reflective diaries (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26), logbooks, reflective blogs (Heap and Minocha, 2012, p. 177) and portfolios (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, pp. 337–340). Putting ‘pen to paper’ allows for the recording of events and feelings, and for you to focus on the event in greater detail (Gibbs, 2013, p.38) and over a longer period of time.
Reflective blogging is particularly beneficial. It allows you to have a conversation with yourself, in which you informally document, analyse and reflect on your practice and other non-teaching experiences. This can continue over a considerable period, and has best results when developed into a routine.
Dialogical Forms of Reflection
Many people may consider reflection a solitary activity though social forms of reflection, especially dialogic forms have considerable benefits.
Teachers can make use of structured discussions to co-analyse problems (MIT Open Courseware, 2012c; Gibbs, 2013, p. 47). They can use formats such as “snowballing” or “pyramiding” to increase the depth of reflection (Gibbs, 2013, p. 48).
Pyramiding is a form of structured discussion in which students are divided into pairs, then grouped into 4s, then 8s, and finally reunited in an open discussion with the entire class.
Reflection can also be undertaken through storytelling (Schön, 1983, p. 160). This can help with the explanation and comparison of events.
Another more informal form of spoken reflection can be seen in the way how people often contact a friend ‘to chat’ after undertaking a new experience. This is done quite naturally and can also be considered as a dialogic form of “reflection on action” (OpenLearn from The Open University, 2011).
Finally, having company is not always necessary as many of these conversations can also be performed as an internal discussion with oneself.
Visual and Auditory Forms
There are many benefits of visually representing your reflections. This can allow you to gain a greater overview of an event and lead to a deeper level of reflection.
Reflection can be undertaken visually using timelines, posters, and charts; and can be performed individually and as a group/class activity (OpenLearn from The Open University, 2011; MIT Open Courseware, 2012b).
Reflective accounts can also be recorded via video and audio (Gibbs, 2013, pp. 44– 45; Yuan and Mak, 2018, pp. 205-214). Video can be a highly engaging form of reflection and is often used in teacher training to allow for a deeper analysis of your practice (Yuan and Mak, 2018, p. 210).
Other Factors Relating to Reflection
Context is important in the reflective process. Certain locations, institutions and roles may allow for a greater flexibility of time and means of reflection. Solomon Au (2018) states that being situated in a busy city/role may reduce this opportunity. This is especially true for teachers living in cities such as Hong Kong. To deal with this, it is wise to set aside a specific time/location for reflection, whether that be during a commute or over a post-work coffee.
Reflection should be conducted shortly after the experience in question. Gibbs (2013, p. 44) states that “much of the detail and feeling of recollection fades within 24 hours” and so later efforts may omit valuable input.
This may differ for other forms of reflection, such as ‘reflecting-in-action’ (thinking on one’s feet) which Schön (1983, p.62) states “may proceed in leisurely fashion over the course of several months” and may vary with the context and practice.
Certain times suggested for reflection, include post-event, in the evening (Gibbs, 2013, p. 44), before bed, the weekend or during a commute. Above all, time must clearly be available for the opportunity to reflect (Schön, 1983, p. 229).
Time should also be set aside for reflecting on learning as well as teaching. Being swamped in revision/assignments is clearly detrimental to one’s learning, limiting the time one has to think about, process and remember the content.
Things to be aware of
There are a number of criticisms to be aware of. For some, spending time re-visiting an embarrassing and/or emotionally painful event may be problematic and stressful (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, p. 51). Reflection may also be less fruitful if the practitioner does not have the opportunity to repeat the reflective cycle in order to test new theories (Gibbs, 2013, p. 68).
Memory also plays an important part in the reflective process and an event may not have taken place exactly as recalled (MIT Open Courseware, 2012b). Reflecting in practice (thinking on one’s feet) also requires a clear head (Schön, 1983, pp. 227– 228) and is surely more difficult if you are overworked, stressed or tired. In contrast, Brockbank and McGill (2007, p. 340) state that the process of writing a journal is better in the evening when the brain is tired, allowing for more creativity.
Reflective practice may also be conducted better by experienced teachers (Osmanović-Zajić and Maksimović, 2020, p.363) and may require training (Gibbs, 2013, pp. 8–9).
Reflective practice is an essential tool for teachers. This process of self-assessment can lead to better learning from experience, and so to better teaching and better learning for our students.
If you have never tried this, the simplest technique would be to make a routine out of the following task:
1. Write up after each lesson ‘what worked’ and ‘what didn’t work’.
2. Think about this, asking the all-important question ‘why?’.
3. Discuss the events with a friend, colleague or yourself (if no one is available).
4. Try to reach some kind of conclusion.
5. Decide what you will do differently next time.
6. Put this new learning into practice.
This can be a major driver in your professional development and can help to retain your interest in teaching.
- Graham Gibbs’ Learning by Doing has a wide range of practical methods to help one implement and improve on the reflective process, these include listening exercises and demonstrations.
- Reflective Practice: An Approach for Expanding Your Learning Frontiers is a series of video lectures freely available from MIT Open Courseware. The content is theoretical and based on the work of Donald Schön.
Brockbank, A. and McGill, I. (2007) Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education. 2nd edition. Society for Research Into Higher Education and Open University Press.
Dewey, J. (2014) Democracy in America: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Aakar Books.
Gibbs, G. (2007) Analyzing Qualitative Data. Edited by U. Flick. SAGE Publications Ltd.
Gibbs, G. (2013) Learning by Doing, A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods, Encyclopedia of Health Economics. Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.
Heap, T. and Minocha, S. (2012) ‘An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging for digital scholarship’, Research in Learning Technology.
Kolb, D. A. (2015) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. 2nd edn. Pearson Education Limited.
MIT Open Courseware (2012a) 1. Introduction to Reflective Practice. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/hk/podcast/1-introduction-to-reflective- practice/id533799372?i=1000116498162&l=en (Accessed: 1 March 2021).
MIT Open Courseware (2012b) 2. The Practice of Reflection. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/hk/podcast/2-the-practice-of- reflection/id533799372?i=1000116498169&l=en (Accessed: 3 March 2021).
MIT Open Courseware (2012c) 3. Ways of Knowledge Generation. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/hk/podcast/3-ways-of-knowledge- generation/id533799372?i=1000116498190 (Accessed: 7 March 2021).
MIT Open Courseware (2012d) 5. Virtual Worlds and Their Role in Creative Work. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/hk/podcast/5-virtual-worlds-and-their-role-in-creative-work/id533799372?i=1000116498163&l=en (Accessed: 12 March 2021).
OpenLearn from The Open University (2011) Reflective Practice - Working and Learning In Sport and Fitness (5/8). Available at: https://youtu.be/EDQP-5oh6IM (Accessed: 15 February 2021).
Osmanović-Zajić, J. and Maksimović, J. (2020) ‘Contemporary teachers’ action research: Basis for the development of reflective practice in education’, Research in Pedagogy.
Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books.
Solomon Au, Y. (2018) Reflective Teaching: an Element of Life-Long Learning - TEDxEdUHK. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9OSBpiwofk (Accessed: 25 February 2021).
Yuan, R. and Mak, P. (2018) ‘Reflective learning and identity construction in practice, discourse and activity: Experiences of pre-service language teachers in Hong Kong’, Teaching and Teacher Education.