reflective writing examples in education

reflective writing examples in education

Reflective Writing in Education

1. Introduction

Understanding how reflective writing functions may lead to its improved use in general education, and possibly within specific disciplines in education. This paper examines the use of reflection in the educational process and finds that reflection is an integral element to the creation of knowledge in general and to the construction of teaching knowledge in particular. It is from this understanding of reflection in learning and teaching that we explore how reflective writing may be more fully and effectively integrated into educational experiences to help create and apply knowledge. With the current movement in education towards the assessment of higher order thinking and learning, it would seem timely to examine how a specific form of written reflection, reflective writing, may be intentionally and effectively used to address this current assessment priority. This paper first provides a general overview of the role of reflective learning and teaching in the educational process, from which the use of reflective writing in various educational settings is considered. Two case examples are then presented that depict efforts to use reflective writing to promote learning and to more formally assess the learning process, a common theme in today’s educational climate. This presentation leads to an understanding of how reflection is refined – through feedback and assessment with the aim of improved future action and learning. Finally, the paper addresses how reflective writing might be more effectively integrated into the educational process, and identifies the current issues and pitfalls that warrant further research or exploration in order for reflective writing to optimally serve its dual purpose of promoting student learning and assessing student understanding and/or knowledge construction.

2. Importance of Reflective Writing in Education

Reflective writing is an important activity that can add depth to the learning process. There are many professional publications that advocate the use of reflective writing in portfolios for professional development. With reflective writing, the writer has a deeper engagement with the topic and an opportunity to form their own opinions and beliefs. As Ross (2006) states, “reflection can be a challenging activity that is not always easy to undertake” (p.4). In the higher education curriculum, there is an increasing movement towards the use of a Reflective Learning Model. Reflective learning is a way of allowing students to step back from their learning experience to help them develop critical thinking skills and higher order learning. This, in turn, helps students to see the connection between what they have learned and understood and how this can be applied to their learning and/or personal development. Reflective writing can be unstructured and still beneficial. Students may be asked to think about their experiences in a particular course or program of study. This would also be beneficial for the individual and personal development of the student as they can identify and make sense of experiences and situations that may have directly affected them. What students learn from their experiences is then transferable to different situations and therefore becomes applicable learning. This way of thinking can help students achieve a deeper insight into their own thoughts or that of a subject (Pavlovich 2007).

3. Examples of Reflective Writing in Education

Another example described the use of chat-rooms for computer science distance-learners to create reflective writing about their group-project on learning Java programming as a form of online virtual group support, using a variety of their reflections to improve the programming plan and the chances of successful completion. Though the chat sessions would not be directly seen by the project’s end-users, it is known that many software-development decisions have an influence from increased-level meta-cognitive analyses and it is hoped that students take this chance in an attempt to add authenticity to the given task.

One education example from The Open University UK (2011) makes use of a scenario for in-service teacher development where they are asked to influence the group. The teacher is to use the scenario to plan his actions and continuously monitor its success. At the point of breakdown/misdirection, he/she must arrest the activity and conduct a vignette-styled self-interview using reflective writing based upon the same context. This will be followed by an analysis of what went wrong and how he/she will change the strategy to improve using further reflections as it is difficult to obtain good data of professional practice due to its complexity and unpredictability.

In seeking to incorporate reflective practice into education, Dewey’s (1933) discussions of key aspects of reflection can be considered a guiding framework. In his sequence of reflective thought, he highlighted the role of an ‘experience’ as a form of active participation in the world. Through the use of concrete examples, he explored how an ‘experience’ was a purely passive occurrence in the world and that genuine reflection can only take place upon an experience, that is, by a retelling in some form.

4. Benefits of Incorporating Reflective Writing in Education

Reflective writing is a significant element of the learning process, as it challenges students to think about different topics in different ways. Reflective writing is significantly different from other forms of academic writing because it allows writers to communicate with their instructors (or other members of the class) outside of the formal assignments or discussions. It can therefore be more personal. For similar reasons, reflective writing is a useful practice for professional communication: for example, it is often used in “case-based” activities to practice evidence of understanding and effective problem-solving. This, in turn, is useful for students entering many different fields from sciences to business. Case-based scenarios can involve following a specific example throughout a specific task or problem. This form of learning often involves cognitive processes, for which reflection is important. Finally, reflective writing has frequently been viewed as an activity that can help students in understanding and fixing problems in their writing, often involving a feedback or revision process. This has been a popular belief in the field of composition, though it has been little researched. However, it is likely that students will require these skills from reflecting on problems in a range of different subjects. Overall, reflective writing has the potential to be a learning tool in almost any subject, it is versatile for both students and instructors.

5. Conclusion

Reflective writing in education provides a window into the way students learn both in and across disciplines. It is a way of helping students to capture and externalize their thinking, facilitating the awareness between the learned and the experienced. It is also an active way of creating knowledge and examining both the internal and external aspects of an experience in order to understand and interpret it. The act of writing it down requires one part of the brain, and reflecting on what has been written requires another. From a cognitive psychology perspective, descriptive writing and reflection have common and different elements. Common elements are memory of the past and taking an experience into a process of thinking. Different elements that descriptive writing invokes are perception and primary use of the senses. Reflection invokes internal dialogue and emotions. This difference is an interesting area for further research, as there may be some teaching and learning applications of which students could use one or the other, or both. Reflection in learning is a form of internal sense-making, where an experience either real or created is recalled and brought into the conscious, and a problem resolved with the outcome often being a change in understandings or an action. This is an important process for individuals, and similarly for society. In developing and changing worlds, and in the face of information and an overload of knowledge, developing the ability to understand and adapt the knowledge and skills gained is paramount to individuals and employers. Reflection is a feature that will aid the personal and professional developments of learners at any stage and may make learning more fulfilling. From education to educational psychology, an understanding of reflective thinking and writing is an important and complex issue.

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