reflective writing structure

reflective writing structure

The Importance of Reflective Writing

1. Understanding Reflective Writing

Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience. It’s usually about thinking, brooding, courage, or spirit. Thinking about what happened, what we could learn from the experience, or thinking about what we could have done differently. Most learning from experience builds through reflecting on the experience, extracting the learning from the event, and doing something different next time. Our reflection is normally triggered by some event which has a strong emotional impact. Something that irritates us when we are angry, or the frustration when we just can’t work out why something is happening. It’s important to make a distinction between reflective learning and reflective writing. Reflective learning is a way of allowing learners to step back from their learning experience. This will allow learners to reflect upon the experience and evaluate the knowledge learned. A reflection activity is where the learners are given this opportunity. This could be done informally by the learners themselves, as a conversation with a friend, or more formally, by being asked to complete a piece of reflective writing.

2. Benefits of Reflective Writing

Reflective writing is used to analyze and examine an event, memory, or observation. The writer looks back at the event with new insight and details what they learned from the experience, as well as how they would do things differently if faced with a similar situation in the future. This type of writing often has no right or wrong answers; it is more personal in nature, with the writer oftentimes providing his/her opinion on what has taken place. Because of the nature of reflective writing, there is a greater potential for self-expression, and an event that might have taken a little while to comprehend is now more easily understandable. During the analysis of an event in reflective writing, one can seek to clarify the event and learn from the experience, possibly preventing the same or similar event in the future. With new insight on an event, the possibility for change is always there, and in reflective writing, one hopes to make positive changes. Any writing that correlates to making positive changes as a result of looking back at past experiences is writing growth, and this is the goal for all reflective writing. Writing growth can be detailed as learning something that can be taken and applied to future writing situations, or it can be increased writing skill in a particular area. Reflective writing is a tool that can advance writing skills and abilities through practice and dedication.

Writing is a complex act that requires higher order thinking, self-regulation, social interaction, and the use of more than one symbol system. Not only that, but developing effective writing skills is also a very important aspect of many language arts assignments in school and can be the target of much direct instruction and practice. Much research has been done on a strategy for improving writing at the K-12 level, one that includes instruction, modeling, collaboration, self-regulation, and gradual release of responsibility. This strategy goes by many names, but the most common are the writing process and content writing. Content writing or the writing process focuses on the products and the processes involved in order to create those products. One product and process that has been long forgotten or overlooked in school systems today is reflective writing, and there are many benefits of reflective writing that help develop writing skills and can often be overlooked as well.

3. Techniques for Effective Reflective Writing

Ivy & Hounsell (2005) offer a useful insight that there exist different levels of critical reflection and a potential hierarchy to writing. They suggest that in terms of depth of processing and therefore the quality of reflection, there is a stage when one simply writes about an event. At the next level, the writer analyses the event/s, and at the highest level links the analysis of the event to insights about oneself and the world in general, leading to a potentially altered conceptual frame. Therefore, the more careful and thoughtful consideration of an event for reflective purposes does actually entail a higher cognitive involvement and possibly slight discomfort as one is “forced” to challenge existing assumptions and restructure various schemata. However, it is at this higher level of cognitive processing that the greatest desired outcome of reflective writing, a changed conceptual frame, occurs.

Description: Reflective writing takes many forms – from jotting down thoughts and events, to compiling a reflective essay. This written work often takes the form of an anecdotal or diary-like piece, and is usually the process of thinking aloud. Yet useful reflective writing is more than just “beating it out on paper” (p.205).

4. Examples of Reflective Writing

Action plan If it arose again, what would I do?

Conclusion What else could I have done?

Analysis What was good or bad about the experience?

Feelings, evaluation What was I thinking and feeling? A personal evaluation.

Description What happened? Think of it as a diary entry.

Initially, I felt annoyed with the lady that she had now told the student to stop these procedures. I did not understand why the tests did not need to be carried out. I spoke to the student about my concerns and it was then that I realized I was being a hypocrite. I was upset that the lady did not advocate for her own needs when that is what I was doing. I was ignorant of the knowledge of the requirements of placement and the student started to cry as she felt terrible about what had happened. I comforted her and pretended the lady did not need to make any complaint. This incident played on my mind all night and I felt horrified at both my actions and the crying student. It was then I felt the need to discuss it with my personal tutor and see if there was anything that could be done to rectify the situation. Using the Gibbs’ (1998) reflective cycle, the cyclical description is as follows:

Whilst on placement as a first year student we were asked to assist in the care of an 80-year-old lady, Mrs. Drew, who was to be discharged into a nursing home. The student nurse was told to take bloods, both from arterial and venous sites even though there was no need for these tests to be carried out. The lady was screaming and continuously asking the student nurse to stop, the student nurse did not advocate for the lady and was ignorant of her requirements. Once the bloods were taken, the student nurse removed the dressing from the arterial site and was so horrified with what had occurred, she told the lady she did not need to carry out these tests and to make a strong complaint to the hospital about the students’ actions.

This critical incident from a first year nursing placement using Gibbs’ (1998) reflective cycle will be used as it has helped me to explore different actions taken in the clinical practice and what I have learnt from the event itself. I feel that this incident really helped me come out of my comfort zone and think about the effects of my actions and how learning from them can help me with similar incidents in the future.

5. Conclusion: Embracing Reflective Writing in Your Life

Being able to run to a mirror and know exactly what a person sees is limited to physical attributes. In reflective writing, the focus is not on what someone sees, but rather, what that person thinks about what they are seeing. Reflective writing encapsulates an individual’s learnings and understandings of their life experiences (N. Robb, 2006). Thought is given to the analysis of those experiences, some new understanding is developed and existing understandings are deepened. This gives rise to the strong link between the reflective process and quality learning. Reflective writing is an active process that enables the author to revise events in order to construct its meaning. With reflection, time is taken to think about what has happened, why it has happened and how a situation could have been handled better. This gives rise to challenging of assumptions and the setting of new goals, leading to changes in action or attitudes. The reflective writing process helps the writer make sense of events in their lives by organising and interpreting their experiences. The ability to write reflectively is thus a highly valued skill for ongoing learning and professional practice in many fields. This type of writing is significant not just for learning by individuals but also for enhancing the quality of existing knowledge and its communication. Reflective writing is a pathway to more critical re-evaluation of experiences, knowledge and understanding. This process challenges the status quo and can lead to huge shifts in beliefs and attitudes to learning, as the realisation and re-realisation of knowledge and interpretations lead authors to new understandings. At an individual level, this questioning of oneself serves to add meaning and direction to daily life and personal decisions.

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