Hampton 2010 Reflective Writing Assignment

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Presentation on theme: "Using Reflective Writing in your Teaching"— Presentation transcript:

1 Using Reflective Writing in your Teaching
A workshop for the STEM disciplines

2 It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn
It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively Gibbs (1988)

3 There is relatively little literature about the use of reflective writing in STEM disciplines
So let’s experiment!

4 What is reflective writing?
We want students to think broadly, to question and to be critical about what they learn in classes, in the library, or online. This will allow them to utilise their understanding in new, broader and more complex settings. ‘Reflective writing is evidence of reflective thinking’ Hampton (2010)

5 Reflective Learning involves
Three main elements:Looking back at an event (such as a laboratory class, a group project, work experience or a seminar), an idea or an object, and describing itAnalysing or interpreting it from various perspectives, perhaps in relation to a specific model or theoryThinking about the outcomes of it, and how you have gained from engaging with it in terms of your progress as a learner or as an aspiring professional

6 Reflective writing is personal
It is different to writing a scientific essay or report (Moon, 2004)It is individual and uses the words ‘I’ , ‘me’ and ‘we’But it can be structured and profound

7 What’s the point of reflection?
It is a prompt to think more deeply about a subject than otherwise would be the caseIt may promote the self-awareness that leads to critical analysis, behavioural change or commitment to action – learning to think criticallyThe written output may indicate the level of understanding that students have achieved: some sort of proof of their depth of learning. As such it may be susceptible to scrutiny and assessment, and may also give you some feedback on how successfully your students are learning

8 Who’s doing it?In vocational courses such as Social Work, course accreditation may require students to record and reflect upon specific experiences, especially when they engage with ‘clients’ or members of the publicSome courses require students to submit ‘learning logs’, ‘diaries’, or ‘journals’ with major elements of work such as Final Year projects. These are all examples of reflective writingBy contrast in physics, mathematics and chemistry courses, such requirements appear to be less common at undergraduate levelWhy?

9 Reflective Practitioners?
‘Writing exploratively and expressively can take practitioners up to and beyond their habitual boundaries, overcoming previously perceived barriers to perception and understanding. Practitioners can begin to leave at the border professional assumptions, such as clinical detachment or the inadvisability of sharing significant doubts and disasters with colleagues. Such critical enquiry is at the heart of professional development’. Bolton (2010) notes

10 Reflective writing for professionals
An example:Chartered Scientist is a legally-recognised qualification similar to Chartered Mathematician, Chartered Psychologist, or Chartered Engineer, requiring demonstration of Master’s level achievements, usually through a qualification, by writing about high-level knowledge and by reflecting on what has been learned through professional experience.  Alongside subject-related skills, core competencies must be described including:Knowing and managing personal strengths and weaknessesIdentifying the limits of own personal knowledge and skills.

11 Activity One - Ossibulla

12 Fact, fiction and ethics?
What about a log describing a laboratory or field experiment, where health and safety guidance had been ignored and students had exposed themselves and their colleagues to danger?What about a piece of writing relating to human subjects in psychology, where the text revealed deep-seated racist attitudes?What about a group of engineering students asked to reflect individually on their experiences of working together to tackle a design problem, where one wrote blaming other individuals for deficiencies such as lack of effort, carelessness, or stupidity?Can this work be evaluated?

13 Fact, fiction and ethics?
Certain types of writing may be wholly unacceptable; this needs clarifying in advanceBUTStudents may anyway suspect that their reflection will only be acceptable if they write something that demonstrates compliance with the general guidelines, and the norms of their science or technological discipline, even if the reality for them was very differentThey may therefore suppress their true views

14 ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) Activity TWO: Scott’s Diary

15 Gibb’s model of reflection
Description - What happened?Feelings - What were you thinking and feeling?Evaluation - What was good and bad about the experience?Analysis - What sense can you make of the situation?Conclusion - What else could you have done?Action Plan - If it arose again, what would you do?

16 To what extent does Captain Scott’s scientific diary, obviously written in extremis, demonstrate the various reflective elements of description, feelings, evaluation and so on?Was Scott therefore a ‘reflective practitioner’?ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) ACTIVITY TWO: SCOTT’S DIARY (About thirty minutes in total) Activity TWO: Scott’s Diary

17 A factual explanation of the event, idea or object, with some background information about the place and the people who were involved. If you are a tutor, you will need to advise students on any elements that should be rendered confidential.Description

18 An exploration of your feelings towards the event, idea or object at the time and afterwards. This is expected to be both honest, but also to avoid saying anything that could be offensive to others. If the writing is going to be public, this is particularly important.Feelings

19 How satisfactory was the event, in both your opinion and that of others (you will need evidence about the latter)? In your judgement, were there both good and bad aspects to it? Was it resolved afterwards, and if not, why not?Evaluation

20 More detail and depth about the things that influenced the event, including reference to any theory that underpinned your understanding of what was going on. You can refer to other writers, and reference them (accurately!). This will allow you to relate your experience to that of others (previous research, for example), and perhaps to construct a more theoretical understanding.Analysis

21 What did you learn from the event, and could anything else have been done to take matters in a different direction? Could things have been improved, or avoided, if you had behaved differently?Conclusion

22 What needs to be done so that you can improve next time
What needs to be done so that you can improve next time? Is there some specific matter to which you need to give attention, so that you cope better in future? How will you do this?Action Plan

23 Active Learning?Reflective learning is frequently associated with pedagogies variously described as‘active’‘experiential’‘enquiry-based’ or‘problem-based’ and‘learner-centred’Students are not seen principally as passive recipients of ‘teaching’ (through listening to lectures, for example), but as active stakeholders in a complex process of learning where they set, and repeatedly reframe, both questions and answers.

24 Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle
Concrete ExperienceReflective ObservationAbstract Conceptualis-ationActive Experiment-ation

25 Reflection in action: draw on tacit knowledge to reflect on behavior as it happens, so as to optimize the way you address immediate issues or problemsReflection on action: reflecting after the event, to review, analyze, and evaluate the situation, so as to gain insight for improved practice in futureLadders of reflections: action, and reflection on action make a ladder. Every action is followed by reflection and every reflection is followed by action in a recursive manner Schön, 1983

26 Where do we do it? In the classroom In the library In the lab At home
In a coffee shopIn the fieldOn the train or bus.The text can be produced using pen and paper, a computer keyboard or a smartphone.

27 Types of reflective writing
Stories or narrativeA piece of textProduced in a single sessionIlluminating an event or incident and the student’s associated perspectives upon itLike a piece of fiction, the story will usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a set of charactersFrom a couple of paragraphs upwards, it can include reflection on events recently experienced, or upon something significant that took place some time beforeA structure, and an approximate word length, is normally suggested by the tutor

28 Types of reflective writing
Learning Journals or Learning ‘Logs’Often produced longhand in a notebook over a period of months at irregular intervals, but entries usually written within a day or two of the eventMaterial collected at various times and after specific experiences such as lectures, practical exercises, placements, projects or group activitiesInformal learning such as discussions with friends outside a formal academic setting, television programmes, books read, or internet browsing, might also feature. The journal or log may be relatively loosely structured, and may not be intended to be seen by othersAt longer intervals authors may reflect on the implications for future action

29 Types of reflective writing
Learning DiariesMore structured writings than learning logs, with frequent entries made over a period such as a few days or weeks, with timesMight be specific, for example addressing a new challenge such as improving laboratory technique, considering a crucial chapter in a book, or mastering a specific mathematical conceptEach day’s entry might address the six headings suggested by Gibbs, ending with a reflection concerning specific future actionsCould explore the impact of an ‘intervention’, such as a new way of approaching learning, using the diary as a record of what is essentially a personal experiment

30 Types of reflective writing
Personal Development Planning and reflective writingMany Higher Education Institutions require their students to produce or maintain a progress file or portfolioCommonly, these include reflective writings, alongside ‘evidence’ such as marked assignments, or returned examination scripts, and similarPortfolios are usually assessed, sometimes by the student’s personal tutor, often on a pass-fail basis rather than by the award of a numerical gradeStudents may maintain these portfolios throughout their course of study, and take them away afterwards to use when applying for jobs

31 Types of reflective writing
Tweets, Blogs and PodcastsHave been triedWho is the audience?Are the length and immediacy appropriate?Some research suggests that deep reflection is not a particular outcome, though better engagement with the tutor, and enjoyment of the course may be

32 Activity THREE: Thesis title selection

33 Make it easier by…. Explaining the purpose Giving the background
Choosing the settingSetting the ground rulesStructuring the writingClarifying the expectationsGiving formative feedbackAssessing if appropriate

34 Assessing reflective writing
Assessing for formative purposes – developing the studentFormative assessment is more appropriateWhere fellow students (perhaps formatively) or tutors (either formatively or summatively) are giving immediate responses, responsible and thoughtful feedback must obviously be encouragedAssessing for checking on the student’s progress, or grading themA more technical exercise?Summative assessment is appropriateCare should be taken to express feedback so that it is the text, rather than the person, that is the subject of the critique

35 Hargreaves on legitimate assessment
There are three valid types of narrative. Valedictory narratives tell stories of an obstacle overcome. Condemnatory narratives demonstrate a crisis followed by poor decisions and consequent guilt or anger, whereas redemptive ones allow for expression of inappropriate behaviour or beliefs, so long as these lead to improvements in subsequent practiceAll other types of reflection, including expression of unacceptable beliefs or values, poor socialisation into the relevant discipline and so on) are ‘illegitimate’Assessment of the academic practice itself (the laboratory experiment, the design process, the field notebook, the essay) must be separated from assessment of the reflective writing. ‘Good’ reflection can be recognised, but not directly at the expense of failure to demonstrate competence in the core science

36 Now to evaluate the workshop

37 Thank you!

Types of reflective writing assignments

Journal: requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.

Learning diary: similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.

Log book: often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.

Reflective note: often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.

Essay diary: can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).

Peer review: usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.

Self-assessment: requires you to to comment on your own work.

Some examples of reflective writing

Social Science fieldwork report (methods section)

The field notes were written by hand on lined paper. They consisted of jotted notes and mental triggers (personal notes that would remind me of specific things when it came to writing the notes up). I took some direct observational notes recording what I saw where this was relevant to the research questions and, as I was aiming to get a sense of the culture and working environment, I also made researcher inference notes  [1]  [2] .

 [3]  I found the notetaking process itself helpful, as it ensured that I listened carefully and decoded information. Not all the information I recorded was relevant, but noting what I found informative contributed to my ability to form an overview on re-reading. However, the reliability of jotted notes alone can be questionable. For example, the notes were not a direct transcription of what the subjects said but consisted of pertinent or interesting information.

Rarely did I have time to transcribe a direct quotation, so relied on my own fairly rapid paraphrasing, which risks changing the meaning. Some technical information was difficult to note down accurately  [3] . A tape recorder would have been a better, more accurate method. However, one student brought a tape recorder and was asked to switch it off by a participant who was uneasy about her comments being directly recorded. It seems that subjects feel differently about being recorded or photographed (as opposed to observers taking notes), so specific consent should be sought before using these technologies  [4] .

 1.  Description/ explanation of method.


 2.  Includes discipline-specific language


 3.  Critical evaluation of method


 4.  Conclusion and recommendation based on the writer's experience

Engineering Design Report

Question: Discuss at least two things you learnt or discovered – for example about design, or working in groups or the physical world – through participating in the Impromptu Design activities.

Firstly, the most obvious thing that I discovered was the advantage of working as part of a group  [1] . I learned that good teamwork is the key to success in design activities when time and resources are limited. As everyone had their own point of view, many different ideas could be produced and I found the energy of group participation made me feel more energetic about contributing something  [2] .

Secondly I discovered that even the simplest things on earth could be turned into something amazing if we put enough creativity and effort into working on them  [1] . With the Impromptu Design activities  [3]  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  [4] . I learned that every design has its weaknesses and strengths and working with a group can help discover what they are. We challenged each other's preconceptions about what would and would not work. We could also see the reality of the way changing a design actually affected its performance.

 1.  Addresses the assignment question

 2.  Reflects on direct experiences

 3.  Direct reference to the course activity

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences.

 5.  Relating what was learnt.

Learning Journal (weekly reflection)

Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  [1] . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  [2]  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  [3] . The two 'inventors' (an odd name considering that, as Smith (2002) says, nobody thinks of things in a vacuum) were accompanied by their marketing people. The conversations were quite contrived, but also funny and enlightening. I realised that the marketing people used a certain form of evidence to persuade the viewers (us?) of the value of the inventions  [4] . To them, this value was determined solely by whether something could be bought or sold—in other words, whether something was 'marketable'. In contrast, the inventors seemed quite shy and reluctant to use anything more than technical language, almost as if this was the only evidence required – as if no further explanation was needed.


This difference forced me to reflect on the aims of this course—how communication skills are not generic, but differ according to time and place. Like in the 'Research Methodology' textbook discussed in the first lecture, these communication skills are the result of a form of triangulation,  [5]  which I have made into the following diagram:


 1.  Description of topic encountered in the course

 2.  The author's voice is clear

 3.  Introduces 'everyday' life experience

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences

 5.  Makes an explicit link between 'everyday' life and the topic


Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.

Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email: learningcentre@unsw.edu.au


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