Contexts - University of Edinburgh

Reflection and
reflective writing
Chris Doye
Institute for Academic Development
University of Edinburgh
November 2012
What is reflection?
Exploration / examination of ourselves and our actions (often
written but also spoken)
rational, unemotional*
in relation to theory / wider context / other perspectives
Why do it?
to develop understanding / learning / skills
and give us a path by which to move forward
*(even though it often deals with feelings, reactions and emotions)
The basics:
Borton’s (1970) cue questions:
(Cited in Jasper, 2003, p.99)
What does that mean?
Describing event
or process
Future goals and
Thinking and
Contexts and purposes
• Episode / experience/ process
Short/specific e.g. lesson we have taught, procedure we
have carried out
Longer process e.g. project work, group work, course,
client-practitioner relationship
• Critical incident
Positive or negative
• Our own development, e.g. skills, strengths,
challenges (may also be required for education or work)
What is a critical incident?
• Something that happened that is, in some way,
For you personally,
Or in a wider context
• and that you can learn from by considering it more
• It does not have to be earth-shattering
• It can be either positive or negative
Skills involved
Description / factual reporting
Critical analysis
(Atkins and Schutz, 2008, p.26)
Self-awareness is the main skill that is not usual in other
academic writing.
Preparing: Focused free write
This technique can help you to start thinking freely about something.
• Start from the incident, experience, process you want to reflect on
• Write for 5 -15 minutes without stopping, just following your train of
thought as if you are talking to yourself on paper
• Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation or anything else
• If you wander off the topic, don’t worry, just bring yourself gently back
• When the time is up, skim through for any interesting/useful words,
phrases, ideas or thoughts
The idea of free writing, from which focused free writing is adapted, was popularised by Peter Elbow (1973)
Exploring experience and perspective
• Look at the hand-outs
• Try one of the techniques (you will not be asked to
share what you have actually produced)
• Share with the group
Which activity did you choose?
What are your reactions to doing it?
Reflective journal
At the time
Later reflection
• Write a description as you
see things now
• Include your feelings
• Note down anything you
might want to refer to as
• Note questions or things
you might want to explore if
they occur to you
• Look back objectively at
what you wrote
• Compare you now with
then: changes?
• Ask & answer critical
 Relate to wider context
 Justify what you say
• Learning & moving forward
Reflective writing assignments
May use specific model and follow that structure
Usually follows basic phases
1. Descriptive (who? what? where? when?)
2. Analytical & interpretive (why? how? so?)
3. Looking forward (where/what now?)
 cf Borton (earlier)
 Or, more complex, e.g. Gibbs
More structured e.g. Gibbs (1988)
Action plan
(Cited in Jasper,
2003 .p.77 but, N.B.
she puts description
instead of analysis!)
Ability to give effective account > others understand what
happened as you saw it:
Pick relevant, significant detail: right amount
Writing = clear, concise, well structured
Objective rather than emotional: thoughts & feelings are
recorded rather than colouring account
Critical analysis/ evaluation
Aims for deeper understanding
Breaking down into constituent parts
Identifying positives / negatives/ issues
Identifying and challenging assumptions (self & other)
Making connections (other experience, learning)
Relating to external sources, e.g.
 Theory, research, case studies, wider social/political/economic
Levels of reflection: 1
Hatton and Smith's (1995) four levels of reflection,
summarised by Gillett et al. as:
• descriptive writing (a straightforward account of
• descriptive reflection (an account with reasons,
justifications and explanation for the events)
• dialogic reflection (the writer begins to stand back
from the account and analyse it)
• critical reflection (the writer puts their account into a
broader perspective).
(Gillett et al., 2009, p.165)
Levels of reflection: 2
Goodman’s 3 levels (1984) often referred to – roughly
equate to:
1. Largely descriptive; looking at practical things in terms
of responsibility, accountability, efficiency ..
2. Moving out from your particular experiences –
relationship between theory and practice; broader
implications, issues, values..
3. Broadening out to consider implications in context of
ethical / social / political influences
(Goodman, 1984, cited in Jasper, 2003, pp.72-75)
Graduate attributes
Edinburgh Award
Employers want graduates:
• who are self-aware,
• who capitalise on their strengths,
• who will have impact wherever they work,
• who are committed to personal development and lifelong learning, and
• who can confidently provide evidence for these claims.
• And that’s where the Edinburgh Award comes in…
Edinburgh Award: CARL
• For reflecting on the skills/abilities you
wanted to develop during the Award:
• Context – What is the context, e.g.
what was your role and what was the
skill you wanted to develop (and
• Action – In that context, what did you
do to work towards developing the
• Result & Learning – What were the
outcomes of your actions? What went
well? What stretched you? What
didn’t work? What did you learn as a
result? Why does it matter to you?
How does it influence how you would
approach something similar in the
• For reflecting on the impact you had
during the Award:
• Context – What is the context, e.g.
what was your role, its purpose and in
what areas you were trying to develop
• Action – In that context, what did you
do to try to have an impact?
• Result & Learning – What were the
outcomes of your actions? What
impact did you have on the people
and/or organisation(s) around you?
Atkins, S. and Schutz, S. (2008) 'Developing the skills for reflective
practice', in Bulman, C. and Schutz, S. (eds.) Reflective practice
in nursing. 4th edn. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 25-54
Elbow, P. (1973) Writing Without Teachers. New York: Oxford
University Press
Gillett, A., Hammond, A. and Martala, M. (2009) Successful
academic writing. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Jasper, M. (2003) Beginning reflective practice. Cheltenham:
Nelson Thornes Ltd
Moon, J.(2006) Learning Journals: A Handbook for Reflective
Practice and Development. (2nd edn.) London: Routledge
Websites for further information
The University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Award:
Reflective writing, university of Portsmouth:

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