On teaching reflective practice


Extract from Issue#32 of Teaching Tuesdays@CSU

All issues of Teaching Tuesdays can be accessed through the folder at this link

Source: Dr. Pam Roberts and Dr. Karen Stanley, CSU

As with last week’s bulletin on Reflective Teaching Practice, the key concepts of reflective practice trace back to seminal works by authors such as Dewey, Schön and Mezirow, and the learning cycles from the work of Kolb, Gibbs and others.

Excerpts from reflective practice in the Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education are reproduced below. Variations on these notes can be produced and augmented for specific disciplines where reflective practice is a key professional competence. In Nursing, articles by Jasper (2013) and Johns (1994) provide a common starting point to guide reflective practice. Contact Pam Roberts paroberts@csu.edu.au or Karen Stanley kstanley@csu.edu.au for further information.

Reflective practice and professional knowledge

Reflective practice has become a key goal of modern education programs because of its recognised benefits in helping us to make meaning of our experiences and to transform them into knowledge for future action.

Developing reflective practice by writing

Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985) describe reflection as an activity in which people “recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it”. They identify three elements that include awareness and emotion.

  • Returning to experience– that is to say recalling or detailing salient events.
  • Attending to (or connecting with) feelings – this has two aspects: using helpful feelings and removing or containing obstructive ones.
  • Evaluating experience – this involves re-examining experience in the light of one’s intent and existing knowledge etc. It also involves integrating this new knowledge into one’s conceptual framework.

A key means used for developing reflective practice is through reflective writing and documenting evidence of our learning in discussion forums, learning journals and portfolios. Reflective writing encourages us to:

  • explore our experiences
  • deepen our learning by gaining further insights
  • examine alternative perspectives informed by theory and other people’s views, and
  • hence, to expand our awareness of broader possibilities for action.

Reflection is often presented as a cycle that begins with a situation or experience that you would like to explore more deeply. A common representation of the cycle is shown in the diagram below developed by Gibbs (1988 in Moon 2004). Evaluating the outcomes of our actions, which may include unintended outcomes, leads into a new cycle of reflection and action.

Typical questions used to guide your reflection at each stage of the cycle are:

  • Description: What was the experience? What happened? What was I trying to achieve?
  • Feelings: What are my reactions and feelings?
  • Evaluation: What was good and bad about the experience? What did I do well? What would I like to change?
  • Analysis: What sense can I make of the experience? What else is knownabout this kind of experience?
  • Conclusions: What could I have done differently? What can I generalise about the experience?
  • Action plan: What did I learn about my way of working? How can I do things better next time?
Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory – four-stage cycle of activity highlights reflective practice as a tool to gain conclusions and ideas from an experience: concrete experience – reflection – abstract conceptualisation – active experimentation (includes teacher emotional intelligence)© CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Image retrieved from Simply Pshcyology Gibbs’ reflective cycle (1998) approach leads from a description of the experience through to conclusions and considerations for future events. Encourages the teacher to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, the first three sections are concerned with what happened. The final three sections relate to making sense of the experience and how you, as the teacher, can improve on the situation. © Image retrieved from Crowe Associates. What – So What – Now What.Known as Borton’s Reflective Framework, this model is widely used in nursing education and practice. Variations on the model have been attributed to a number of different authors in different disciplines. It can be used in conjunction with other models, but its key attribute is the simplicity of structure for those stepping out on the reflection journey.

Other frameworks for supporting reflective practice define different levels of engaging with experience for gaining deeper insight and enhancing your learning (Mezirow, 1991; Moon, 2004. The most important differences between levels of reflection are:

  • Descriptive writing: a description of events without further analysis of purposes, impacts and alternatives.
  • Reflective writing: being reflective suggests there is a ‘stepping back’ from the events and actions which leads to different level of thinking. There is a sense that you are ‘mulling about’, engaging in a dialogue with self to explore your own role in events and actions. You are also considering and judging possible alternatives for explaining and hypothesising the relationship between experiences, actions and consequences.
  • Critical reflection: this is considered the highest level of reflection and, in addition to being reflective, shows evidence that the learner is aware that actions and events may be examined from different perspectives and the outcomes and impacts that we consider to be right or important are influenced by social and political contexts.

CLICK on the table (below) to expand a description with examples of these levels.

Further Reading

Reflective Practice Journal – available from CSU Library; published since 2000.

Beauchamp, C. (2015). Reflection in teacher education: issues emerging from a review of current literature. Reflective Practice, 16(1), 123-141. doi:10.1080/14623943.2014.98252 – includes criticisms, recommendations and current issues.

Cheng, I. K. S. (2010). Transforming practice: reflections on the use of art to develop professional knowledge and reflective practice. Reflective Practice, 11(4), 489-498. doi:10.1080/14623943.2010.505714 – the use of metaphor to promote clinical reflection.

Hickson, H. (2011). Critical reflection: reflecting on learning to be reflective. Reflective Practice, 12(6), 829-839. doi:10.1080/14623943.2011.616687 – critical reflection in social work.

Ryan, M. (2013). The pedagogical balancing act: teaching reflection in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(2), 144-155. doi:10.1080/13562517.2012.694104


Boud, D., Keogh. R., & Walker, D. (1985). Reflection: Turning experience in to learning. London: Kogan Page

Jasper, M. (2013). Beginning reflective practice (2nd Ed.) Andover, Hampshire: Cengage Learning.

Johns, C. (1995) The value of reflective practice for nursing. Journal of Clinical Nursing 4, 23–30.

Kolb D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning. San Francisco: Jossey‑Bass.

Moon J. (2004). A Handbook of reflective and experiential learning. Routledge Falmer, London. ______________________________________________________________________________________________

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