reflecting on reflective theories of reflection


Reflect. It’s about time I posted a picture of a reflection somewhere during this ‘reflection’ bit.

So in my MA, I’ve been trying to read through and evaluate a range of reflective tools/theoretical frameworks and how they apply to me. Or even, if they do apply to me, because not all of them are methods that I rate, let alone use. At least, not consciously.

Most of the following subheadings are derived from a post on the MA forum which offered bits of information regarding each of these things. In case you were wondering.


I’ve already touched on a couple of online based ‘Are you this? / You like this‘ type of tests but to explore the subject a bit further, I wanted to sum up my views in general. Before I do, just to recap regarding the typological tests (a la Myers-Briggs or Which Star Wars Character Are You?); I think they’re of little real use. I don’t think there’s any value in having a ‘type’ assigned to you because people just generally aren’t like that. Like, I might have elements of Luke Skywalker AND Darth Maul in my character, but a test will only ascribe one set of attributes to me. No good. (Though I can see the potential benefit in terms of employers being able to categorise or easily sum up employees – but again, that’s not good in my eyes). The only possible benefit of these type of tests (no pun) is to use them as starting points for deeper reflection. As in, it could be beneficial to consider why you ticked ‘yes’ next to ‘Would you kill your boss to get the last Krispy Kreme in the box?’.. (hatred of your workplace? insecurity in your job? desires to replace your boss? love of doughnuts?).

Just to note, for all of these tests / models / any type of reflection, I’m assuming that honesty is the only policy. To me, it’s a given that in order to get anything positive out of them, you can’t lie to yourself. What’s the point(?)

johari-windowBut anyway. I’d quite like to give a Johari Window a go at some point, because although it still seems to assign set values to you, at least there are multiple ones, and it’s an interesting approach because it requires input from other people. Finding out what other people think about you (even merely through the selection of words like ‘calm’, ‘logical’ or ‘silly’) could be a bit of an eye opener. Especially when compared to your own view of yourself. Or of course, it could be upsetting; but the Johari House has no room for insulting adjectives so that’s not really it’s remit – it seems you turn to the Nohari to be mean. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to judge me :) .

experiential learning

David Kolb’s model on experiential learning is the one that initially struck a chord with me, in part due to the fact that it’s pretty straightforward and easy to understand. But the more I consider it, the less convinced I am by it. Until eventually, I’m convinced that it’s great again. I dunno. Colour me undecided.

The basic cycle he puts forward runs like:kolb

  1. Concrete experience
  2. Observation and reflection
  3. Forming abstract concepts
  4. Testing in new situations
  5. Rinse & repeat from the start.

Fairly straightforward. It’s easy to see how a pattern like that would help self reflection and personal development. I used to think that it was a tad too linear for my liking but really, does it need to be more complicated(?) Probably not, actually. I think that what I had an issue with regarding Kolb is the offer of 4 ‘learning styles’ which are used to determine whether you’re good at abstract concept’ing and observing and reflecting (an Assimilator) or good at experiencing and observing (a Diverger) for example. It just smacks of typology again. Though, apparently there is a recognition that “being ‘locked into’ one style can put a learner at a serious disadvantage” which is good because.. well, it’s just good. Switching learning styles as appropriate maketh a good learner. Blah. In retrospect (from 10 minutes ago), I think I do like this model (there’s the reflection on theories of reflection in action!).

(There’s a nice summary of the whole thing here. I agree with much of it.)

There is a update of the Kolb work by Jarvis that contains the same key points but it much less linear. So, it’s a bit more realistic I think. It looks like this:

So generally, experiential learning works as a concept for me because I know that I do find it difficult to form abstract concepts about things that I haven’t experienced.. I often have to generate practical examples in my mind to relate to wider theories and ideas. Observation and reflection after a piece of work does help me to improve a similar piece of work in the future (I hope), so so far, Kolb is winning.

reflective practice

This is apparently the second stage of the above learning cycle, though I slightly struggle to work out why they’re different at all. The way I interpret it, is that reflective practice is something that is done in a workplace. It’s when you do some work, look at it, learn something from it, and move on to the next bit of work (with that new knowledge in tow). Now, to me, that sounds like experiential learning.. except, it is targeted directly at the employed. So in a sense, it’s actually more applicable to me personally as a learning framework, but I don’t think it has much scope for learning outside of the workplace. Do people really produce better work just by looking at their previous work? Or does it take more than that?.. A look at your approach to work too perhaps(?) Or maybe that type of thing is all work related(?) I dunno. Too many questions there.

Oh, but I do like the idea of reflection in action as well as on action that Schön puts forward because it makes sense to me that learning from what you’re currently doing, and possibly altering your work as you do it, can have clear benefits over a purely retrospective approach.

critical pedagogy

cheDeveloped (or at least based on ideas) by Paulo Freire, this is by far the most exciting of this collection of theories because, for a start, he’s Brazilian (which just sounds exciting), but mainly because it stems from a book which was dedicated “to the oppressed, and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side“. It sounds more like foco theory than anything educational but there you go.

I agree with the notion that it’s a poor approach to treat students as ’empty bank accounts’ that are just filled by the words of their teachers and I like the idea of a mutual approach to education. It’s always occurred to me that those students who merely sit in lectures, take notes, and regurgitate theories back word for word in essays aren’t actually making the most of their education. Yes, they might be learning about something, but they’re not learning something. However, I’d never considered how something like that would have a knock on effect on a wider society, as it does when the mutual approach to learning develops into conscientization (critical consciousness). I like this quote:

Conscientization is an ongoing process by which a learner moves toward critical consciousness. This process is the heart of liberatory education … Conscientization means breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness—in particular, awareness of oppression, being an “object” of others’ will rather than a self-determining “subject.” The process of conscientization involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming part of the process of changing the world.”

In fact, the more I read about critical pedagogy, the more I like the whole concept. Note to self: get away from the Wikipedia articles and actually read more about this. The slight issue I have with it is that I see it more as an approach to teaching as opposed to learning so I’m not fully sold on how it’d be useful in the sense of self-reflection that we’re embarking on for this unit. Is that me being critically conscious(?) Either way, it’s very interesting and definitely something I’d like to explore a bit further at some point.

stages of knowing

This is an area that on the face of it, is perfectly simple. It suggests that en route to understanding a subject, a student goes through various stages of knowing/learning;

  • Absolute knowing – learners think there are absolute answers, don’t question things, remember and repeat ‘facts’
  • Transitional – trying to actually understand what they’re learning
  • Independent knowing – hear multiple opinions and begin to explore and form their own
  • Contextual knowing – developing their own ideas and backing them up with evidence


I dunno, I just find it hard to get enthused about this theory because although it’s nice to see those stages articulated, the whole process just appears to be painfully obvious. So someone introduced to a subject accepts what they first hear about it, then they start to think about it, then they question it, then they formulate a new opinion. Really(?!) Wow. I always thought that being a student meant you already knew everything! :roll:

learning journals et al

The idea of maintaining a learning journal as a “repository for reflective thinking” and various thoughts and whatnot has never particularly appealed to me. Concept maps/brainstorming/flow charts even less so. Not necessarily because I don’t think they have any value, but because often, if I write something down, I’ll never go back and look at it again – then I’ll forget it and will have wasted a bit of paper. (Save the world and all that). I generally find it hard to write things down and keep track of them so it’s never been a useful option for me. It’s unfortunate because I actually have a terrible memory and it’d be great if I could get into some sort of system where I can write things down for future reference. (If only I had an area where I could write down my unfiltered thoughts.. Somewhere digital perhaps.. Maybe a log on the internet.. I could call it a lognet.. :-| )

Really though, writing this post for instance is about the closest I’ve got to a usable (for reflection purposes) journal and I’d like to continue with things like this because writing all of this has helped me to think about these theories. It’s just been time consuming. It’s taken over a week of on/off writing to get this far. It better be helpful when I read it back!

There are a few other related things that I’ve stumbled onto while writing this out but rather than actually tip over the 2000 word mark, I’ll save them for a later post :)

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