If you have read any of my blogs before, you will know that I like to adopt the ‘What? Where? When? How? Why? and Who? approach (Kipling, 1902). I think this makes it easier to remember things and not miss out on important points when writing reflective accounts.
There are of course, a lot of good reasons for ‘reflection in practice’ or ‘reflection inaction’ (Schön, 1983). These may be to gain a wider view of a situation or to challenge your beliefs and values. It may be, according to Dewey (1916), about ‘doing’ or ‘thinking’; an active process carried out in the real world to formulate, test and revise ideas (Rolfe, 2014).
Reflection may help you to become more self-aware and to see another’s point of view. Critical reflection may transform your learning (Mezirow, 1991). Although the following is a long quotation, it helps to demonstrate the power of this activity: ‘Perspective transformation is the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world; changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible a more inclusive, discriminating, and integrating perspective; and finally, making choices or otherwise acting upon these new understandings’ (Mezirow, 1991, p.167). (My italics)
Why write reflectively?
So the WHY of writing reflectively will be to notice, make sense of, and analyse situations. It will enable you to put things into context and help you relate to previous experience knowledge and skills. You will be able to identify and interpret what you have learned from experience, and what you still need to learn. You will develop the ability to think about how to use the knowledge in the future and make changes.
What? (A creative, expressive process)
So you have identified why you are writing, this could be for an assessment of course! You will need to describe the situation, experience or event. You need to describe the thoughts and feelings you had in the situation. Rolfe et al (2001) suggest a framework for reflexive practice which may help you to structure your writing. This process uses the What? So what? Now what? questions, though within these, there are many more questions to be answered. However, remember that this is a creative process, and you want your ideas to flow and tell a story.
Where and who?
Anywhere! Of course, you can write anywhere you like. Carry a diary, a journal, a notebook or make notes on your phone, tablet or computer. Ask yourself if you write better alone, with other people or both. Who is involved in your experience?
When do you write? Do you write as close as possible to the event? Sometimes you may need a little distance from it, particularly if it was very emotional. Write anytime you want! Remember if you have a deadline though!
Decide if you want or need to use a particular model of reflection to guide your writing. There are many of these around (Gibbs, 1988, Johns, 2000, Rolfe et al, 2001). Basically, you need to describe the situation or event and your thoughts and feelings about it. What was your role and that of others in the situation? What were you trying to achieve? What was good/not so good about the event? What sense can you make of the situation? This is really the analysis part of the reflective process, where you draw upon previous knowledge, skills and experiences and relate them to the situation. Here you are beginning to compare and contrast. Then, in John’s terms, you write about the ‘So what? ’What did you base your actions on? What other knowledge could you bring to the situation? Do you have a new understanding of the situation? Check the academic level required.
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Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. (Public domain, numerous editions).
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing. A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit, Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.
Johns, C. (2000). Becoming a reflective practitioner: a reflective & holistic approach to clinical nursing, practice development & clinical supervision. Oxford; Blackwell Science
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Rolfe, G. (2014). Rethinking reflective education: What would Dewey have done? Nurse Education Today. 34(8):1179-83. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.
Schön, D. (1993). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic books.