Monday, April 27, 2009

3*: Reflective journals - helping students to 'dig deeply'

An article by Hume in the latest Higher Education Research & Development 28(3),"Promoting higher levels of reflecting in student journals" caught my attention. The power of reflection is widely acknowledged in adult education literature and practice however it is also done so appallingly by many students, who tend to treat reflection assignments as a chance to say what they always knew. This, of course, makes it a pointless exercise for both them and their reader. Hume (2009, p.247) describes this sort of reflection as "shallow... [and] often trivial", with the student focus tending to be on "descriptive rather than evaluative thinking" (p.251). How, then, can we unleash the true potential of reflection in our students?

Hume has been action researching (and no doubt reflecting!) on her own teaching practice as it relates to introducing and evaluating a student reflective journal assignment for the last few years. She reports that we can make a great deal of difference to the depth of student reflection with some easy interventions.

  • Don't make guidelines too broad, or too open-ended. Hume uses a framework or model to help focus student reflection. Related to this is the point, don't assume that students 'know' how to reflect. Provide effective scaffolds.
  • Develop deliberate activities designed to encourage reflection - problem-solving, group discussion, ideas from professional readings, time put aside in class for reflective writing.
  • Make exemplars available, and 'pre-teach' the skills required for reflection.
  • Provide effective feedback (even based on peer-exchange).

Hume's approach includes "the use of timetabled slots solely for reflective writing early in the programme, exemplars of reflective writing, reflective frameworks and regular written feedback and feedforward comments from myself about their writing" (p.258). She notes that effective reflection activities in formal education can prompt ongoing practice for students.

As with most educational interventions (technology firmly included), the technique of reflection must be properly scaffolded and purposefully applied if it is to be successful. Also explicit in Hume's approach is the fact that her role as teacher is an important part of its success for students. Teaching the skill, focussing subsequent activity and providing feedback are, surely, timeless princples of effective education.

[Image "Reflection_3850"Uploaded on May 6, 2007 by mtbjohn]

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