The Learning Centre • http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au
A great deal of your time university will be spent thinking; thinking about what people have said, what you have read, what you yourself are thinking and how your thinking has changed. It is generally believed that the thinking process involves two aspects: reflective thinking and critical thinking. They are not separate processes; rather, they are closely connected (Brookfield 1987). Justify actions • Solve problems Deeper meaning • Changes Assumptions • Attitudes Values • Beliefs Revisit experiences
Figure 1: The Thinking Process (adapted from Mezirow 1990, Schon 1987, Brookfield 1987)
Reflection is a form of personal response to experiences, situations, events or new information. It is a ‘processing’ phase where thinking and learning take place. There is neither a right nor a wrong way of reflective thinking, there are just questions to explore. Figure 1 shows that the reflective thinking process starts with you. Before you can begin to assess the words and ideas of others, you need to pause and identify and examine your own thoughts. This involves revisiting your prior experience and knowledge of the topic you are exploring. It also involves considering how and why you think the way you do. The examination of your beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions forms the foundation of your understanding. Reflective thinking demands that you recognise that you bring valuable knowledge to every experience. It helps you therefore to recognise and clarify the important connections between what you already know and what you are learning. It is a way of helping you to become an active, aware and critical learner.
What is reflective writing?
Reflective writing is: • • • • • • • • • • • • • your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information your response to thoughts and feelings a way of thinking to explore your learning an opportunity to gain self-knowledge a way to achieve clarity and better understanding of what you are learning a chance to develop and reinforce writing skills a way of making meaning out of what you study just conveying information, instruction or argument pure description, though there may be descriptive elements straightforward decision or judgement (e.g. about whether something is right or wrong, good or bad) simple problem-solving a summary of course notes a standard university essay
Reflective writing is not:
Why are we asked to do this type of assignment?
• To make connections
The idea behind reflective writing is that what you learn at university builds on your prior knowledge, whether it is formal (e.g. education) or informal (e.g. gained through experience). Reflective writing helps you develop and clarify the connections between what you already know and what you are learning, between theory and practice and between what you are doing and how and why you do it.
As it concerns your thoughts, reflective writing is mostly subjective. Therefore in addition to being reflective and logical, you can be personal, hypothetical, critical and creative. You can comment based on your experience, rather than limiting yourself to academic evidence. • Reflective writing is an activity that includes description (what, when, who) and analysis (how, why, what if). It is an explorative tool often resulting in more questions than answers. A reflective task may allow you to use different modes of writing and language:
• To examine your learning processes
Reflective writing encourages you to consider and comment on your learning experiences—not only WHAT you’ve learned, but HOW you did so.
• To clarify what you are learning
Reflecting helps you to clarify what you have studied, integrate new knowledge with previous knowledge, and identify the questions you have and what you have yet to learn.
√ descriptive (outlining...
References: Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes. Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, JosseyBass, San Francisco. Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco. The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing. Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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