A Short Guide To Reflective Writing - University Of Birmingham

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A short guide to reflective writingA short guide toreflective writingwww.intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/asc1

2A short guide to reflective writingWhat is reflection, and whyis it important?Reflection is a purposeful activity in which you analyseexperiences, or your own practice/skills/responses,in order to learn and improve.Reflection in academiaWe reflect quite naturally in ourday to day lives, thinking aboutthings that have happened, whythey happened, whether we handledthem well. In academia, you may beasked to formalise your reflectionsto show that learning is taking place.This may involve:Reflecting on your own professionalor academic practice Scrutinising an experience and theway you dealt with it Evaluating a project or experimentand considering how to do it betternext time Reflecting on things you have readand linking theory with practice/reality ‘It is not sufficient to have anoutexperience in order to learn. Withayreflecting on this experience it mngquickly be forgotten, or its learnipotential lost.’ (Gibbs, 1988, p9)

A short guide to reflective writingHelping yourself to reflectKeeping a reflective learning journalYou may want to consider keeping alearning journal, as a form of informal,regular reflection. Below is an exampleof one way of approaching it.Example entry in a learning journalEventAttended first ever seminarWhat did I learn?Discussing ideas made me realise there are manyways of reading a piece of literature. I wassurprised by other people’s interpretations, butthe ones who convinced me were those who linkedtheir interpretations to specific parts of the text.What went well?Made some contributions. They were mainlyresponses to other people’s ideas but I wasglad I took part and it made me think more deeplyabout the novel.What could I havedone better?Could have been braver in forming owninterpretations. Had a preconception that therewas a right or wrong way to read the text.In future I want to open my mind more.Long-term implications* Now realise that there are many ways ofreading a text – and if you can find evidence,you can convince people of your perspective* Useful for essays - putting forward a uniqueviewpoint is possible as long as you havepersuasive reasoning.3

4A short guide to reflective writingModels of reflectionThere are frameworks that you can use to aid your reflective process.Alternatively, you may want to create your own. It needs to be a setof questions that you can ask yourself about an experience, plus aprocess by which you apply and learn from your reflection. Here arejust two examples of models of reflection:1Reflection before, during and aftera learning process (Schön, 1983)Before an experienceDuring an experienceAfter an experienceWhat do you thinkmight happen?What’s happeningnow, as you makerapid decisions?What are your insightsimmediately after, and/or later when you havemore emotional distancefrom the event?What might be thechallenges?Is it working outas I expected?In retrospect howdid it go?What do I need toknow or do in order tobe best prepared forthese experiences?Am I dealing with thechallenges well?What did I particularlyvalue and why?Is there anything Ishould do, say or thinkto make the experiencesuccessful?Is there anything Iwould do differentlybefore or duringa similar event?What am I learningfrom this?What have I learnt?

A short guide to reflective writing2Gibbs’ Reflective CycleGraham Gibbs (1988) created a reflectivelearning cycle, including the role of feelings:DescriptionWhathappened?Action PlanIf it arose againwhat wouldyou do?FeelingsWhat wereyou thinkingand feeling?ConclusionWhat elsecould youhave done?EvaluationWhat wasgood andbad about theexperience?AnalysisWhat sensecan youmake of thesituation?5

6A short guide to reflective writingReflective writing for an assignmentWriting reflectively for the purposesof an assignment should not involvemerely describing something thathappened. Nor does it mean pouringout everything you think and feel ina totally unstructured way. Reflectivewriting requires a clear line of thought,use of evidence or examples toillustrate your reflections, and ananalytical approach.You are aiming to strike a balancebetween your personal perspective,and the requirements of goodacademic practice and rigorousthinking. This means: developing a perspective, or lineof reasoning demonstrating that you arewell informed, have read relevantliterature and reflected on itsrelevance to your own development showing that you recognise thatsituations are rarely simple andclear-cut writing about the link betweenyour experiences/practice andyour reading writing in an appropriate style.As an example, consider the extractbelow, which is from a nursingstudent’s reflective essay. Considerhow the writer develops a lineof reasoning based on their ownthoughts and experiences, and thenlinks it to wider reading.Please remember: different disciplineshave different requirements and styles.This is an example of just one approach.Example ExtractDuring term one I found myselfinwardly questioning the reliabilityand validity of scientific journals,as I came across conflicting studiesand contradictory data in our weeklyresearch and feedback sessions.I was surprised at how othermembers of the group appearedto automatically trust the contentof peer-reviewed journals andI sometimes felt that what waspresented back to the group wasaccepted as factual as long asthere was a reference attached.This prompted me to read intowhat I now realise is referred toas publication bias and has been

A short guide to reflective writingwidely documented in recent years.For example, Dawes (2005) arguesthat, although reputable journalsadopt a robust peer review process,articles still get published withsignificant flaws:‘Journals have to publish to surviveand they want to publish articles thatdeal with topical important issues ofthe day. Sometimes this imperativeoverrides the critical review process.’(Dawes 2005:6)Furthermore, Brooks (1997:46)highlights the fact that statisticalsignificance increases the likelihoodof a researcher’s work beingpublished, which might tempt someresearchers to tamper with the data.I did not want to appear cynicalto the rest of the group and keptthese concerns to myself, whichon reflection I perhaps could havevolunteered for discussion. InsteadI felt that in order to construct anaccurate care plan at the end ofeach scenario I had to adopt amore robust approach in selectingappropriate journal texts.After these realisations, I found itmore helpful to employ the useof meta-analyses and systematicreviews for assessing research. Ifound that using systematic reviewssaved time searching throughnumerous journals, and I found theCochrane Library a useful electronicinformation source.ConclusionReflection is a useful process even if you have not been set a specificreflective assignment. It helps you to make sense of and learn fromyour experiences.Many degrees involve assessed reflective writing. This is to allow you todemonstrate that you can think critically about your own skills or practice,in order to improve and learn. It is important to analyse rather than justdescribe the things you are reflecting on, and to emphasise how you willapply what you have learned.7

Books:Gibbs, G (1988). Learning by doing: aguide to teaching and learning methods.Oxford: Further Education Unit, OxfordPolytechnic.Honey, P and Mumford, A (1986).In Mumford, A, Effective Learning.London: IPD.Schön, D (1983). The reflectivepractitioner: how professionals thinkin action. New York: Basic Books.Williams, K, Woolliams, M and Spiro, J(2012). Reflective Writing. Basingstoke:Palgrave MacMillan.Online resources:Open University, Skills for OU Study. Beaware of your habits. [online]. Available e-of-your-habits.php[Accessed 5 July 2012]Plymouth University, Learning Development.(2010) Reflection [online]. Available uides/pdf/11Reflection.pdf[Accessed 5 July 2012]Library ServicesEdgbaston, Birmingham,B15 2TT, United Kingdomwww.birmingham.ac.ukAcademic Skills Centre. May 201410185 University of Birmingham 2015. Printed on a recycled grade paper containing 100% post-consumer waste.Further reading and references

writing requires a clear line of thought, use of evidence or examples to illustrate your reflections, and an analytical approach. You are aiming to strike a balance between your personal perspective, and the requirements of good academic practice and rigorous thinking. This means: developing a perspective, or line of reasoning

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