Engaging in reflective practises is rarely easy and tends to be mean quite different things, depending on the person. While it is commonly used in learning and some professions like nursing and teaching, it takes time to master and might be very complicated at first glance. There are a few theorists that try to explain how reflective practises work and why it should be used. Jenifer A. Moon (1999) offers a simplified explanation of what reflection is: “Reflection is a basic mental process with either a purpose, an outcome, or both, applied in situations in which material is unstructured or uncertain and where there is no obvious solution”.
Reflective practise is a process through which a person learns to evaluate and improve themselves to be able to develop and progress further. There a lot of people who engage in reflective practises without intentionally doing so. Humans tend to go back to their memories and analyse what went good and what did not or what could be changed. This sometimes-involuntary habit links into the reflective process, even if it is done without intentions of reflecting for a certain reason or on a certain experience. The main reason why people tend to avoid purposely reflect on experience is that humans tend to avoid evaluating or thinking too much about the negative side of the events. besides that, overthinking can also make it harder to successfully reflect. For students, however, it is important to be able to engage in reflective practises, especially since it can help to get better and ease the learning process. Different theorists offer a variety of models or structures that can be followed to ease the way through reflective practice. Bortons’ framework model is one the easiest to follow and is considered one of the best for the beginners. It is often used in medical practice as well as for students who are just starting to learn about reflective practises. The framework consists of three main questions: What? So what? Now what? (Borton, 1970). Due to its simplicity, it is easy to follow, and therefore, helps the individual to analyse an event fast and without complications. This type of reflection does not consume too much time and can be done without any complications. However, on the rather different side of reflection, Brookfield and his theory can be found. His theory is more advanced and offers a different perspective on the way reflection is supposed to be done. According to Brookfield (1995) to be able to successfully reflect on a situation or an event, the person, in this case, the teacher, should look through “lenses”. There are four different “lenses” that Brookfield offers: Autobiographical, Students, Colleagues, and Theoretical lens. First, one should be used to consider previous experience in the first person, which means the event should be looked at purely on the way the person doing the reflection saw it. The second one is from the student’s perspective, in this one the teacher is supposed to step in student’s shoes and consider how they might have seen the event. The third “lense” should include co-workers’ views and observations and the last “lense” suggest that the person should consult literature that is relevant to the experience (Brookfield, 1995). Brookfield’s theory focuses mainly on the educational environment and teachers. However, it can be adapted to suit different situations and people, but only if there are more than one people involved in the event that is reflected upon. This model is complicated and requires not only lots of patience but time as well. It is not enough to only think about an event from a personal view, it should be analysed from many different points of views and because use of literature is advised it might increase time frame in which reflection is completed. There are many other theorists that offer a great variation of reflective practise models, and a lot of them can be fin between the two theories already discusses, but the one that has a little bit of everything and is widely used in both educational and professional settings is Gibbs’ reflective cycle model. Gibbs (1988) wrote a book called “Learning by doing”, that included a reflective cycle. The cycle consists of six stages/questions of reflection and was developed from Kolb’s (1984) four-stage cycle. While Kolb’s theory is based on learning with every experience that happens, Gibbs’s theory focuses on learning through repetition. The first stage of Gibbs reflection cycle is called Description, this stage is used to describe the event or experience that the person will reflect on. In this stage, a person should describe what happened in a detailed way but using only relevant information that would be useful further on. The second stage is called Feelings. In this stage, emotions should be described. It should include only personal emotions and feelings that were relevant to the event. The third stage is Evaluation, and even though this stage is still not reflective but descriptive, a person should consider how everything went, positives and negatives, and why things happened the way they did. In this part of the reflective cycle, it can be useful to use theorists that might be relevant to the experience or could help to explain the sequence or the effect of the certain details that happened during or after the experience. Next stage is the one that involves most reflections and it is called the Analysis stage. In this stage, a person is asked to consider and evaluate not only what happened but why, and what could have been done differently or what it led to. Here both bad and good is supposed to be evaluated, as well as other people if they were involved, and their actions, reactions, and emotions. After everything is described and evaluated the Conclusion comes, in this stage, it is important to think of what could have been changed and done in other ways and why it was not done. What was learned and was there anything to be improved. The last stage is called the Action plan and it focuses on what could be done to improve. In this stage, a person is asked to explore the ways in which they can be better prepared for similar situations and how the outcome can be changed and improved by the things learned during reflective practise (Gibbs, 1988). As mentioned above, there are many ways to engage in reflective practises and even though the majority of them are focused on nursing or teaching professions, there are still many that can be adapted to be used for students and learning. These practises should be used to better understand individual actions and reasons behind them, as well as learn on how to improve them, instead of repeating same mistakes or being stuck in the same positions without being able to improve. In some cases, it might prove complicated to be able to reflect on yourself. Especially when an individual has to criticise themselves and find weaknesses or negatives that have to be improved. Some people, as well as theorists, might argue that reflective practises are a personal matter, for example, Gibbs (1988) offers a reflective cycle that is focused on personal view on the experience, while Brookfield (1995) tries to join all of the surrounding influences to make the best reflection. But there the ones who see even bigger picture like Stephen Kemmis (1985) who argues that: “We are inclined to think of reflection as something quiet and personal. My argument here is that reflection is action-oriented, social and political. Its ‘product’ is praxis (informed, committed action), the most eloquent and socially significant form of human action.”. There are many different opinions and options on what it is or how it should be done, but all of them try to prove the point that reflective practise should be at least considered as an option to help to improve.
There are a few different theorists that offer a wide variety of different options on how to engage in reflective practises. Not all of them might appeal to everyone, however, all of them focus on helping people improve and progress both in learning and life in general. It might be hard to learn to be reflective at first or find a way to do it, but once it is done it can prove to be positive.
- Borton, T., 1970. Reach, Touch, Teach. New York: McGRAW Hill.
- Brookfield, S., 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
- Gibbs, G., 1988. Learning By Doing. A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods.. Oxford: Oxfird Brookes Further Education Unit.
- Kemmis, S., 1985. Action Research and the Politics of Reflection. In: Reflection:Turning Experience into Learning. New York: Kogan Page LTD, pp. 139-141.
- Kolb, D. A., 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience at the Source of Learning and Development. USA: Prentice Hall.
- Moon, J. A., 1999. In: Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory & Practice. Virginia: Kogan Page, p. 10.