Reflection is defined as an ability to revisit experience or analyse an event from different angles. This process can be applied at anywhere, across any disciplines and represents an explicit way in gaining new insights to make us better. Some of us may argue that this is what we do usually unwittingly if we go through a bad experience, then how is it different from reflection? Or is it just a hype word? Well, if we recall our experience in a systematic and formal way for learning purpose, it is known as reflection. Reflection is a good method of learning and improving our performance and character. The evidence is overwhelming on the capacity of reflective practice in the success of a person or an institution.
Reflective practice or learning encompasses the process of thinking and engaging in the professional learning. The fact of the matter is going through an experience alone is worthless if there is no room for reflection and personal development. Reflective writing which crystallises the initial vague thoughts and perception is pivotal in maximising the learning behaviour. Besides, reflective writing is a personal form of writing and distinct from academic writing. Despite the contrary, reflective writing is a skill that need to be developed for personal development and career growth.
There are many principles that are closely associated with reflection and many types of learning models have been devised to facilitate reflection. Ethical elements play a major role in exploring personal insights during reflection. The common values within reflective practice are building trust, self-respect, responsibility for our action and thoughts, generosity and ability to channel feelings through writing instead of towards the individuals (positive regard).
Two prominent people were instrumental in the success of reflective learning. Dr David Kolb, a Harvard psychologist introduced the learning cycle known as Kolb cycle. The learning process can begin at any time and will go through experiences, reflection, learning from the lessons and changing the practice.
Dr Donald Schon, a Harvard philosopher described two types of reflection; reflection-in-action when the reflection occurs during the event and reflection-on-action where the reflection takes place after the event. One of the well-studied method in reflective practice is through-the-mirror method. It is a process where we see ourselves in different lenses in a true way. We communicate to our own selves in the writing form and try to be unassuming and modest.
Before we wrap up reflective learning, let’s go through on how to produce a reflective writing. There are three main parts in reflective writing: introduction, expansion and outcome. The introduction contains brief description of the event and expansion will further analyse the event from multiple perspective e.g. personal effect, interpersonal relationship, psychosocial element, cultural context and others. Finally, the outcome will discern the lessons that are learnt and how will it affect our future behaviour or practice. So, if you are a beginner in reflective writing, just think about an experience and start to write.
The following is the famous quotation by Gibbs (1988) on reflection:
“It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.”
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall
Schön D A (1982). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action New York: Harper Collins
Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.
Gillie Bolton. Reflective Practice, Writing & Professional Development, Third Edition, 2010.