Reflective Writing - some initial guidance for students.
Jenny Moon, University of Exeter
Introduction - reflection and reflective writing
Reflection lies somewhere around the notion of learning and thinking. We reflect in order to learn something, or we learn as a result of reflecting.
Reflective writing is the expression on paper/screen of some of the mental processes of reflection. Other forms of expressing reflection are in speech, in film, in graphic portrayal, music etc. The expression of reflection is not, however, a direct mirror of what happens in the head. It is a representation of that process within the chosen medium and reflection represented in writing, for example, will be different to that encompassed in a drawing. In other words, in making a representation of reflection, we shape and model the content of our reflection according to many influences. Factors that could shape your reflection into reflective writing might include:
. the reason why you are writing reflectively (personal reasons – e.g. in a diary or for academic purposes etc) . whether others are going to see what you have written and who they are (e.g. no-one else; a tutor who will mark it; a tutor who will not mark it, friends etc.); . your emotional state at the time of writing, and emotional reaction to what you are writing (e.g. - a disturbing event that you do not want to think about or something you did well and want to enjoy in the rethinking process); . related to the above, how safe you feel about the material and anyone seeing it; . what you know about reflective writing and how able you are to engage in it (see below) – and so on. It is also worth noting that you will learn not only from the ‘in the head’ reflection but from the process of representing the reflection itself. Also, you will learn different things according to the manner in which you represent your reflection. For example, what you would learn from drawing a picture to represent reflections will differ from what you will learn in writing about the same content. It is a part of the process of writing reflectively to be as aware as possible of the influences that are shaping the writing that you actually do.
What is Reflective Writing?
We will start from what reflective writing is not. It is not:
. conveyance of information, instruction or argument in a report, essay or ‘recipe’; . straight-forward description, though there may be descriptive elements; . a straight-forward decision e.g. about whether something is right or wrong, good or bad etc. . simple problem solving like recalling how to get to the nearest station. In the context of your higher education programme, reflective writing will usually have a purpose (e.g. you will be writing reflectively about something that you have to do or have done). It will usually involve the sorting out of bits of knowledge, ideas, feelings, awareness of how you are behaving and so on. It could be seen as a melting pot into which you put a number of thoughts, feelings, other forms of awareness, and perhaps new information. In the process of sorting it out in your head, and representing the sortings out on paper, you may either recognise that you have learnt something new or that you need to reflect more with, perhaps further input. Your reflections need to come to some sort of end point, even if that is a statement of what you need to consider next.
It is also worth recognising that reflective writing may be a means of becoming clearer about something. For example, you might use reflective writing to consider the kind of career direction that you might take. Into the ‘melting pot’ you might then ‘put’ ideas, information, feelings, other people’s perspectives and advice. A metaphor for reflection or its expression in reflective writing in this context is ‘cognitive housekeeping’ to imply its nature as a sorting out, clarifying process.
From what has been said above, it...
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