examples of reflective writing

examples of reflective writing

Reflective Writing: A Powerful Tool for Personal Growth

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1. Introduction

Reflective writing is a personal exercise that can be used to help develop critical thinking and self-analysis skills. Whether writing simply in a reflective diary or blog, or using more formal assignments or written work, reflection is an important part of learning. Through guided questioning, individuals are encouraged to think about events, interactions, ideas, and emotions and by articulating these thoughts, making them more concrete. The process of reflection can help move an individual from simply ‘getting through’ events or a curriculum to learning from the experience and using it to shape future practice and personal development. This resource provides information on writing a reflective diary or blog and on how to write a reflection assignment or essay. A Reflective Learning Log or reflective diary is a unique genre used by students to record and consider the complex interactions between experiences, ideas, and their thinking. This is usually focused around a specific issue, experience, or practical task, in which the individual offers his/her thoughts informally while exploring the learning. Entries should be written as soon as possible after the event to minimize loss of detail in writing and to capture feelings and expressions at the time of occurrence. By detailing the mediation of the learning process, these entries can be revisited by the student to inform and influence future actions. An important and often poorly taught skill, reflection has a crucial role in debates about self-direction, adult learning, and transformational learning.

2. Benefits of Reflective Writing

The process of reflection drives knowledge to be more conscious, articulate and connected, and enables us to make changes to problematic knowledge and skills. This is especially important in the slow thought, high cognitive load work of health professionals and health professional students. By enabling us to make slow and purposeful changes in our thinking and actions, reflection plays a crucial role in behavioral change which leads to improved professional practice.

Reflection also raises awareness about our personal knowledge, how we create knowledge, how we use knowledge and what we need to do, or learn, in order to use knowledge more effectively. By examining ourselves and our place in the world, strongly held beliefs and values that underpin actions and decisions are revealed. It is these understandings and insights about the influence of personal knowledge and context on thought and action that serve as a basis for taking informed actions and making sound decisions.

One of the fundamental reasons that reflection is such a potent tool is that we do not learn from experience itself, but from examining the experience, that is, reflecting on it. It is only when we examine an experience and give it meaning that we can learn from it. (Horton-Deutsch, Sherwood and Cornelius, 2012). Reflection enables us to move from an understanding of what happened to a deeper understanding of why it happened. This enables us to move beyond intuitive decision making to more informed and conscious decision making and action taking.

There is now a substantial body of evidence indicating that the process of reflection, and reflective writing, has a positive impact on learning and professional development. (Boud et al., 2006; Yost, 2008; Tsingos et al., 2015; Kember, 2001) This is also a consistent finding from students engaged in reflective writing tasks in our institution’s Learning Development program; learning from their personal experience and applying that learning to new situations is consistently rated as the most valuable learning experience (Walker et al., 2008).

2.1 Individual

Reflection offers you a process and a framework for making sense of an event or situation and an opportunity to revisit and greet anew the experience and to learn from it. (Boud et al., 1985)

3. Techniques for Effective Reflective Writing

Another technique for reflective writing is to integrate the past with the present. Coming back to our earlier example, the issue on the manner through which we tackled a particular obstacle, we may sometimes find ourselves doing similar things again and experiencing the same results. By directly comparing the two events, we can, in a sense, see if we have learned from the previous experience.

Another technique for reflective writing is thorough analysis. This involves pushing the boundaries of thought, asking ourselves why and how, and then further why and how, almost as if we are peeling away the layers of an onion until we arrive at a central point. An important part of this is being honest with ourselves and avoiding paying lip service to surface or even false answers. Often, the deeper level of thought may have no clear answer as long as it is still rational and sensible in the context of our understanding.

One of the most useful techniques of effective reflective writing is to concentrate on a particular issue, which is often a chosen question for the reflective essay. This may be a question on how you overcame a particular obstacle in your life, through whatever experience that may have been, the methods you used that maybe you later found were not the best way to go about it, and how you could have tackled the problem. These questions are often stimulating and will help to develop a concrete and vivid picture of your thoughts.

4. Examples of Reflective Writing

My classmates and I agreed that it would be beneficial to work as a group for the presentation on the advantages and disadvantages of the different therapies for abnormal behaviors. We planned a mock radio talk show featuring Dr. Ima Knowitall, and two of her students, an undergraduate psychology major, played by me, and her loyal confused sidekick, Lola, played by my roommate. The transcript of the ‘show’ was hysterical as we were pretending to be people we know and basing our dialogue on how we thought they would react in the situation. It was a good way to incorporate the material we had learned and be able to relate it to others. After the meeting we all returned to our respective rooms to jot down key points to be scribed on a large whiteboard during the actual presentation. In doing this, everyone individually reviewed the material for a second time. I felt one could liken this to the common technique of reflective writing, reviewing an experience to create a greater understanding of the material learned. My personal experience with reflective writing has ranged from the earliest possible, a time when I was but a wee elementary school lass with a cute little blue diary, to the present. Just out of high school, during an internship to become certified as a medical assistant, I worked with mentally challenged adults. I kept a journal of the experiences of the day, mostly to avoid burdening my ever-so-patient mother with graphic details of shaving Nick or holding the screaming match between two firemen over who was Jesus Christ. I was encouraged to build upon these entries to create a more thoughtful piece as it would serve as an invaluable tool in a field in which I would encounter similar situations.

5. Conclusion

This is pretty heady stuff. Few of us can comprehend the full implications of our lives as they are being lived; fewer still have ready access to their intuitive flashes or inspired moments. It’s all too easy to sleep-walk through life without ever attending to its meaning or understanding the sources of our guidance and motivation. Yet when we look back on an event or relationship and discern the “hand of the Holy” or our “better angels”, we are acknowledging a level of experience that begs reflection. When we speculate on a needed change in our lives “to walk the talk” more fully, when we sense a theme that is trying to unfold and direct our energies into a more constructive line within our personal or professional lives, we are moments away from reflective understanding. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better. And care about doing it right is more likely when the doer takes time to build a skill and considers what it takes to do it right. Such circles mark the learning edge of both the activity and the learner in his or her continuous quest to do something well. At this edge, and often only at this edge, habitual activity may be reconsidered. This reconsideration is a time of reflection.

Think of reflective writing as a “way in”—a way to a deeper understanding of the world around you. When you’re “spinning your wheels,” and it feels like you’re working harder and harder with no real understanding or insight, take a break. Stop and start writing! A few moments spent writing will help you sort out what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling. Often writing is a way to clear your mind and to make sense of what’s going on inside. Reflective writing in its various forms is a valuable tool to help you better understand yourself and the world you operate in; to make better decisions about the future. Often, this is the first step in discovering and connecting new ideas. Steps for writing reflectively might be these: 1. Find a quiet place where you can be undisturbed. 2. Get comfortable! 3. Take a minute to be still and quiet to center yourself. 4. Let go and relax. 5. Let the words flow. 6. Allow yourself the freedom to explore—this is your personal writing!

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