Sunday, October 19, 2008

Judging the Quality of Development

Boxer, Philip. “Judging the Quality of Development.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 117-127.

Boxer is a scholar and teacher in the field of Business Management from England who has worked on helping managers develop the quality of judgment. He mentions an interesting evolution in his work. Originally, he was after helping managers become strategic in their choices within situations. He shifted, though, to define strategic in relation to the manager's self—meaning, as he explains, “judging the quality of development is something for the manager to do and not me” (117). I can't say I fully understand this “inversion” as he describes it, but part of it is empowering the manager to achieve a new framework or sense of self from which to make decisions and judgments.

Boxer describes “reflective analysis” as falling within a number of teaching paradigms. In particular, it is part of the conjectural paradigm.
--instructional paradigm: traditional classroom situations
--revelatory paradigm: presents a picture about which certain things are known but encourages the manager to make sense of the picture themselves
--emancipatory paradigm: provides the manager with a particular tool to be applied to a range of problems
--conjectural paradigm: differs from the other paradigms in that it seeks to leave the manager free both to choose how he makes sense of things and also what he makes sense of

He goes on to define what reflective analysis broadly as a “process for enabling personal revelation” ... and as a “technique through which the manager can examine the way in which he frames his experience” (119). The technique appears to have two main approaches. The first is “past reflection” which engages the manager in reviewing past situations similar to the present one. The second part of the technique is “option analysis” which involves reflecting on the present choices available to the manager. He sums up the technique: “[it] enables the manager to examine the ways in which he frames his own experience... [and] presents the manager with a new issue: on what basis is he to choose how to frame his experience?” (121). The article goes on to detail some of the difficulties managers have in engaging with this process, as well as some of his evolution in applying it instructionally.

I don't think the author did the best job doing justice to the work he has done with managers. This article represents an example of how reflection is used in different disciplines to promote the “reflective practitioner.” However, his technique seems almost like psychoanalysis. The other interesting thing is that it contains two of the three moves that Yancey says reflection contains: looking back, looking at, looking forward. Boxer's technique misses the “looking at” part, but his “past reflection” and “option analysis” are definitely the Janus-like backward and forward nature of reflection. Interestingly, also, his reflective analysis doesn't have the element of tapping in to emotions in the process.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reflection and the Self-Organized Learner: A Model of Learning Conversations

Candy, Philip, Sheila Harri-Augstein, and Laurie Thomas. “Reflection and the Self-Organized Learner: A Model of Learning Conversations.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 100-116.

This article discusses work undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Human Learning at Brunel University started in 1968 on “developing a model of 'learning to learn' using a range of approaches which help people to become reflective self-organized learners” (101). Using as an analogy the growth in sports of using video tape to help athletes improve their performance, the authors' main point is that getting students to examine and reflect upon some record of their behavior or performance is important: “In each case, the learner has access to a behavior record—a sort of reflected image—on which to base future improvement. The idea in each situation is the same: if people are aware of what they are presently doing, and can be encouraged to reflect on it and to consider alternatives, they are in an excellent position to change and to try out new ways of behaving” (100). The authors stress that the learner should be independent and given the responsibility to learn.

The article describes various techniques and devices to help learners examine and review their learning (which they acknowledge is not an easy activity to capture). One such technique is “Learning Conversations” which sounds very similar to Knights ideas about listening and “free attention” as well as “thinking aloud.” This conversing, they believe, will help the learner internalize what they have talked about so they are able to review and reflect on these experiences themselves. They point to studies that show how difficult it is to change patterns of behavior. After training there is often a drop in competence, and, unless there is the right support or persistence, the performance will return to the old level. Hence, the importance of internalizing the new skills to reach a higher new level of skill. The authors believe in “the need for different types of dialogue at different points along the learning curve” (104).

The authors also describe other techniques for providing a learning record: The Brunel Reading Recorder, The Flow Diagram Technique, The Structure of Meaning Technique, and The Repertory Grid. The authors provide a good summary at the end of their position and their technique, so I will quote it in full:
“Our experience leads us to believe that much potentially valuable learning is 'lost' because learners have not developed the skills of recreating or reliving learning episodes which they experience. For most people, their responses to learning events tend to be habitual and unquestioned, and practice (even repeated practice) does not allow them to make explicit the connection between what Argyris and Schon (1974) call their 'theory in use' and their actions. What is required, it seems to us, is the opportunity for learners to reflect on their performance, but reflection is not facilitated simply by allowing time for it, or even by offering questions to encourage thinking and critical self-awareness. No, in the first instance, reflection is facilitated by providing some sort of behavioural record (such as a video tape, an observation sheet or a computer analysis) of the learner in the learning situation” (114-115).

This article is significant for two reasons. First, it advocates verbal discussion as a valid form of “articulation” (a la Eisner) to promotes reflection. Here we have the possible conflict between verbal vs written reflection, but the key for each one is self-expression in language. The second interesting thing about this article is its belief that reflection only really happens when the reflector has some objective representation of themselves to reflect upon (like watching the video tape of themselves). These author's approach seems right in line with Dr. John Tenny and his 7/29/08 comment to one of my blog posts. As the head of the Education Program at Willimette University, he developed what he calls the Data-Based Classroom Observation Method. Here is one comment from his blog post: “I found that when I shifted from feedback in the form of anecdotal notes to providing objective data on what was happening in the classroom, the students/student teachers shifted from a defensive/deflective or accommodative response to one of independent reflection (definition above), problem solving, and change.” He goes on to contend, “I believe that 'reflection' is shallow and surface when the person does not have the factual basis for understanding what occurred.” ( Tenny and the authors of this article agree that learners to engage in what we might call productive reflection or deep reflection need that objective, factual record or representation to reflect upon. The challenge is how to generate such records/representations.

Reflection and the Development of Learning Skills

Main, Alex. “Reflection and the Development of Learning Skills.” Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 91-99.

This article is about the role reflection can play in helping students learn to learn. The author is a counselor who helps students with their study skills and learning habits. Many times advice from text books or teachers on how to study or learn have no affect and are not taken by the student. The author implies that deeper techniques need to be employed to affect change. Graham Gibbs (1981) believes students struggle because they “lack any proper reflection on their learning” (92). Engaging students in reflective activities help students generate their own knowledge: “he [Gibbs] is advocating that reflective techniques allow individual development, individual choice and a matching of learning methods and study techniques to individual needs and perceptions” (93). Here is a summary of one such learning exercise detailed in the article:

Exercise on “How do we learn best?”
1. 3 min. write on bad learning experience; 3 min. on good learning experience
2. 10 min. in pairs relating experiences—id main similarities and differences
3. 24 min. in fours id themes
4. 20 min. + plenary share themes, discuss

The author goes on to discuss how counseling techniques of reflective listening (different kind of reflection) help individuals to reflect. The overall goal is to generate a more reflective learner able to make individual choices that fit and are productive for them. There are three key issues in counseling learning: opening up, creating self-concepts, and developing trust in reflection (96-97). The first two of these techniques or issues align with Bouds elements of the reflective process—attending to feelings and re-evaluating experience.

The third element—developing trust in reflection—had an interesting section on student resistance to reflection: “If reflection come slowly to some people because they have little sense of involvement in their own learning, it comes unwillingly to others because they have little belief in its value for them” (97). The author explores some possible causes: introspection is unpleasant, examining learning processes empty and unproductive, or reflection has been done for them (c.f. Interpretive dependence Sheridan Blau). The author offers no ideal way to deal with this common problem. He believes, however, that for these reluctant reflectors providing lots of opportunities to reflect may lead to a chance breakthrough: “By offering students number of opportunities to reflect... I have usually found something that has triggered a rewarding experience. Simply persevering in the setting up of opportunities for reflection has worked” (98). The author closes the article by pointing out that most evaluation activities are opportunities for reflection, especially the use of open-ended questions.

I fit this article within the category of “reflective practice.” Instead of developing the reflective practitioner in say business or in writing, we here have discussion of developing the reflective student/learner. The other significant thing about this article is its frank discussion of reluctant reflectors—students who resist or can't reflect. Often this gets blamed on developmental or learning style/personality factors. This author posits other possible reasons that are interesting more from a psychological position, and he holds out the hope that persistent opportunities to reflect often lead to this kind of reluctant reflector to engage in the activity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reflection and Learning: the Importance of a Listener

Knights, Susan. "Reflection and Learning: the Importance of the Listener." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 85-90.

In this article, the author brings a technique from psychology called "co-counseling" into the classroom and positions it as a powerful form of reflection. Jackins (1978) discusses one technique of co-counseling called "free attention" where students break up into pairs and give each other their full attention for equal amounts of time, say three minutes each. The listener is not supposed to interrupt or question in any way--just give the person his or her full attention and listen as that person talks aloud for the full time. The author points out how rare it is for us to experience this situation of having someone's full, undivided attention without the possibility of interruption. In the classroom setting, the author notes, it is usually only the teacher that gets this free attention.

The author at one point in the article postulates that "very few people, however highly qualified academically, have confidence in their capacity to think" (88). Fear of being interrupted, questioned, countered or "knocked back," the author says, inhibits participation and "discourages private reflection" (88). The author believes that providing the space where one's thinking is getting listened to uninterrupted without being questioned or beaten down increases a person's confidence in his or her ability to think. Pointing to the work of Jerome Liss, the author highlights this point about the value of uninterrupted attention: "Uninterrupted attention is an essential human need and helps the working out of any problem" (89).

The author's own summary is so good that I will quote it in full:
"For the reasons discussed above, talking through one's ideas with the thoughtful attention of another person is a powerful way of clarifying confusion, identifying appropriate questions and reaching significant insights. Argument, evaluation and constructive feedback also have their place in the process of course, along with lectures, reading, group discussion and practical experience, but much of their value can be lost without the opportunity for all students to process the input in their own way, check it against previously acquired information and make it their own" (90).

This article provides an interesting counterpoint to the argument that reflection should be done in writing, that the act if written articulation (Eisner) in language has an epistemic nature. It also confirms my own thinking about the usefulness of reflection being done in a social rather than individual context. Knight's method of free attention, though, is much more social. It also shares what we might call the magical thinking assumptions underlying both the written and here verbal power of reflection/articulation--just by expressing one's thinking leads to something valuable. That is the constructivist learning assumption too, right? Here the author made a big leap to assert that this form of thinking aloud in a context of free attention leads to "clarifying confusion, identifying appropriate questions and reaching significant insights" and helped them make learning "their own." These assertions seem to large to me, and would need to be validated through careful research (like grounded theory). We have another example, then, of a classroom practice leading a scholar to make sweeping assertions about the theory of reflection and learning based upon their own observations and theorizing, without being grounded in adequate research.

The author also has what we might call a loose definition of reflection. It combines a Rogerian-like "reflecting" (the author does bring in Carl Rogers at one point!) in the sense the "just listening with full attention" is a form of reflecting. The listener is a quiet and present mirror for the talker. But it also meshes in reflective thinking by saying that what the talker is doing as they ramble on and on for the full allotted time is a form of reflection; however, this labeling of simple articulation as reflection is pretty loose and unsystematic. It seems to me that the "talker-reflector" would need to be prompted and led to a greater degree toward reflective thinking in a Deweyian sense. It is an interesting technique, though, that I may try in my classroom.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Debriefing in Experience-based Learning

Article summary

Pearson, Margot, and David Smith. "Debriefing in Experience-based Learning." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 69-84.

In this chapter, the authors detail their philosophical and practical approach to debriefing, a formal method of processing experience. It seems to be directed toward workshop leaders who might be called on to lead debriefing sessions. They acknowledge the roots of the term and technique in military practice. Here is the author's simple rationale for debriefing: "Simply to experience, however, is not enough. Often we are so deeply involved in the experience itself that we are unable, or do not have the opportunity, to step back from it and reflect upon what we are doing in a critical way" (69). They contend that debriefing has a "central importance" in experience-based learning.

The authors detail important characteristic of debriefing--things like debriefings are underlain by intent related to learning, that they can come soon after the experience or later, that it means the cessation of the experience, that it often takes and needs as much time or more than the experience itself, that there is formal and informal kinds of debriefing.

Three stages in the debriefing process are identified and discussed:
1) What happened--describe what happened
2) How did the participants feel?--explore personal and interpersonal feelings
3) What does it mean?--involves generalizing from the experience (72-73)

We can see a direct relation of these three phases of debriefing to the three stages of Boud, Keogh, and Walkers Reflective Processes within their model of reflection: 1) Returning to experience, 2) Attending to feelings, 3) Re-evaluating the experience. Interesting.

The authors have an interesting section on "Debriefing, Knowledge and Ways of Knowing." They provide a brief taxonomy of epistemology--of the different ways of knowing. Referring to Habermas, they talk about three ways in which we come to know: 1) empirical observation, 2) conventional knowledge, 3) through language (or dialectic). They go on to describe a fourth way of knowing that they say "concerns knowing about ourselves, our theories and our actions within the context of the wider world." They label this as "critical knowing" and say it depends upon meanings though language, but it is more than interpretive understanding: "Critical knowing is concerned with a critical understandings of the self, the manner in which we act, and the personal theories that inform our actions. ... The result of critical knowing is a more conscious awareness of why certain actions have taken place, the ideological or theoretical basis of the actions and whether there are more appropriate or effective action strategies that might be used" (74, 75). This critical knowing seems to be the goal that Schon seeks for the "reflective practitioner" and could be called practical wisdom or phronesis. The authors discuss that the debriefing process should know what kind of knowledge it is seeking to achieve and adjust its activities to meet that learning goal.

I had not thought of the term "debriefing" before, but it fits as another term to describe post-experience processing that Boud labels as reflective by its nature. I can see how his article would be important in Service Learning as well as in critical incident processing such as in nursing education. It also relates to the "constructive reflection" represented in a portfolio letter. It differs because debriefing by its nature is facilitated and social, whereas portfolio letters tend to be assigned (but not facilitated) and private. I believe that Linda Adler-Kassner conducts a reflective debriefing with her teachers after each semester that fits with what this article is about. The article points to the importance of this processing of experience and the importance of careful leadership by the teacher or facilitator.

Writing and Reflection

Article Summary

Walker, David. "Writing and Reflection." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. eds. David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. London: Kogan Page, 1985. 52-68.

The author describes his evolving use of portfolios in a program for teaching church and spiritual leaders in Australia. The portfolio as he designed and used it resembles a log and dialogic journal--he calls it a "work book." Students record whatever they choose during the course of their involvement in the program and are encouraged to return to what they have written and reflect on it more and discuss it with classmates. He refers to the portfolio as a "method." The article provides elaborate "how to" instructions and advice for keeping such a portfolio. We can distinguish this on-going, journal-like portfolio from the end-of-course collection of selected works often used for course or program assessment.

The author points in particular to the value of the portfolio's written nature. He identifies these values as objectivity, the ability to share experiences, and the ability to clarify. Here is a quote from one of his students: "Once you've written something down--one views it more clearly. Once it's brought out in the open it loses its power and you are able to look at it and say 'Well, there it is, this is part of me!'" (58). Writing helped bring a sense of distance and objectivity that helped the learner see that experience more clearly. Walker's notions here coincide directly with Phelp's discussion of "distantiation" achieved through reflection.

Another value of written reflection mentioned by participants was how writing about the subjects of their learning--reflecting in writing on a lecture or book--helped them to learn the content of the subject. This sounds like Write-to-Learn stuff. Walker believes is was the "personal appropriation of the material that was achieved through the portfolio" (59). He goes on to elaborate on how participants used the portfolio to make their learning more personally meaningful because they were able to record personal connections and express their feelings. Walker cites a number of participants who talk about the value of writing down their thoughts and feelings. Here's one he quotes, "Writing down my experiences, I became more conscious of what I am really feeling, and doing and 'being'--I have found words to describe myself and so it is much easier to speak about myself to others" (60). What Walker seems to be discussing here is the value of "articulation" that Eisner talks about to--getting into language what we think and feel helps to create and shape those thoughts and feelings. Language is epistemic in this way.

Interestingly, Walker ends his discussion by mentioning that this "method" doesn't work with everyone. There always seems to be a number of students for whom the portfolio and this ongoing reflective discipline doesn't work (for various reasons). He says, "Some saw it as a job to be done, so that it lost the aspect of creativity that was an important part of it" (62). To my mind, I am thinking about what the editors of this volume referred to in their first article and the notion of deep learning and surface learning. Reflection seems to help students access deep learning; however, some students seem stuck at surface learning.

This article presents a different model of the portfolio that I find interesting. In terms of my focus on rhetorical reflection, I think its greatest value is what it has to say about the value of articulation--of writing down our reflections (as opposed to just speaking them). The article also lends added voice to the idea that reflection is not universally effective.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Promoting Reflection in Learning: a Model

Article summary
Boud, David, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker. "Promoting Reflection in Learning: a Model." Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. New York: Kogan Page, 1985.

This article is the opening chapter to a collection of essays edited by these authors on what they refer to as a new way to represent the kind of learning they had been promoting in their own practice and inquiry--reflection. They consider reflection as "a form of response of the learner to experience," as the processing phase after an experience occurs (18, 19). Their model is fairly simple. Although they present their model in graphical form, I will do my best to represent it here:

Experience--behavior, ideas, feelings
<> cycling back and forth with
Reflective processes
-->leads to
Outcomes--"may be a personal synthesis, integration and appropriation of knowledge, the validation of personal knowledge, a new affective state, or the decision to engage in some further activity" (20)

In pursuing this model, the authors consider the process of reflection from the perspective of the learner and the learner's intent. When focusing on the learner, the authors stress the significance of past experience, personal constructs, and emotions. Summarizing George Kelly's 1955 personal construct theory, they say: "objects, events or concepts are only meaningful when seen from the perspective of the person construing their meaning. This suggests that techniques to assist reflection need to be applied to the construction of the learner, rather than those of the teacher" (23). The authors point specifically to Mezirow notions of learning as a means of freeing from habitual ways of thinking and achieving a "perspective transformation" (23). The author's go on discuss the learner's intent which to my mind links directly to Jennifer Moon's notion of "frameworks"--that what distinguishes different acts of reflection is not the mental process but the purpose behind the reflection, the intent. In this discussion, the authors point to Entwistle and Ramsden's (1983) distinction between deep and surface learning, Dewey and the goal of resolving uncertainty, Habermas' notion of "critical intent," and Mezirow's forms of "critical reflectivity" (1981).

The rest of the chapter outlines their views on how to promote reflection and lead learners through their model that moves from experience through reflective processes to arrive at outcomes. In this section, they elaborate on the reflective process and distinguish three phases:

1) Returning to experience--the recollection of salient events
2) Attending to feelings--utilizing positive feelings and removing obstructing feelings
3) Re-evaluating experience--"Re-evaluation involves re-examining experience in the light of the learner's intent, associating new knowledge with that which is already possessed, and integrating this knew knowledge into the learner's conceptual framework. It leads to an appropriation of this knowledge into the learner's repertoire of behavior" (27).

The author's note that most notions of reflection jump right to the third element of reflection and skip the first two. They also place special emphasis on the role of the affective in learning through this model. They believe that returning to experience and attending to feelings will help the learner avoid the possible problem of operating on false assumptions or reflecting on information not sufficiently comprehended (30).

The stage of re-evaluating experience, however, has multiple elements that the authors believe constitute a whole rather than a process:
--Association: connecting ideas and feelings that are part of the original experience with existing knowledge and attitudes
--Integration: integrating associations into a new whole or pattern, synthesis, discrimination, drawing conclusions
--Validation: subjecting integrated insights or meanings to reality tests, validation as rehearsal
--Appropriation: the new information/insight must be appropriated in a personal way if it is to be our own

In the section on Outcomes, the authors connect the outcome of reflection with the readiness for new experience or for the next attempt. Mentioning that the benefits of reflection may be lost if they are not linked to action, the authors have an interesting section considering the work of Argyris (who later did work with Schon) and the difficulty of translating ideas into action. Learners may come to new insights through reflection, but they may not be able to put these new insights into action: "Change is hard won; we can desire to do something and believe that it is possible, but still it is difficult to do" (35). Certainly in my own experience as a learner and as a teacher, I have seen this same gap between understanding and practice. The final section of the article discusses the importance of a social context and collaboration for reflective learning.

These authors present an excellent model of the reflective learning process connected to experience. It has roots in Kolb's experiential learning process, but it is more detailed and expands significantly what we might call the "reflective observation" and "abstract conceptualization" stage of Kolb's model. I believe the ideas presented here have had an impact on how nursing education has used reflection in particular. I don't know the links to Service Learning, but that would be interesting. I have to step back and think about the assumptions and theories that underlie this model, but it is hard to do because they seem so foundational and natural. Of course, we learn from experience. But does reflection enhance that learning process? Is it necessary? If I had to note one significant theme or idea that these author's add to the overall picture on reflection, it would be their emphasis on the importance of emotions and feelings.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

v 1.0 Reading List

I sent off the first version of my reading list, and I want to write for a moment on my thoughts right now. It feels good to pull all these sources together--kind of like corralling the horses in the pen. I know I will bring more in and let some go, but I have the majority of my sources together. It is more of a known universe that I can begin to get a handle on.

The strengths of the list right now is that I think it has a solid number of sources on reflection, and many of those squarely in Composition. The issue of between-the-draft thinking and action has gone by other labels in Composition as well as other fields, so my reading list contains sources on student self-evaluations, revision, and most especially invention. I found a surprising number of sources in nursing education related to reflection, and though I included a good number of sources from that field I definitely could have included a lot more. I tried to find ones that had some connection to action and to writing.

Another strength of the list is that I feel that I have good sources on research and methodology. I could always get more on Grounded Theory, but so far I have five solid books that give me a pretty good idea about how to conduct a grounded theory research study.

Weaknesses and questions:

1. While putting this list together, I went through another phase of gathering and gathering. Again, I tried to be selective, but my worry is that in the areas of learning theory and professional practice that I may be missing some sources that might be helpful. Still, I think I have the big ones that are at least mentioned by others.
2. I'm not certain about the "foundational" texts in the areas of Comp/Rhet, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. I have a number of sources that inform my general understanding of these foundational areas but that don't directly relate to my dissertation focus. Is that OK? Sometimes I feel like the texts I include in that area (particularl Comp/Rhet and Rhet) are somewhat random. I happen to have read them and found them very helpful for my conception of that area.
3. I have a real worry about my Tech Comm sources. I have read a ton of articles, but I'm not sure what to include. I didn't include anything about Usability Testing. (Hmm.... Now that I think about it I should since I have described reflection as a kind of usability testing (or at least a kind of "testing" within a development process. Hmm...). Again, I feel that some of my inclusions are somewhat arbitrary and note "foundational" enought.

Where to go from here?
I need to complete my file catalog of all these sources. For many of them I have the print copy or some notes on the source, so I want to make sure that I get that copy into the particular sources file folder. This is cataloging the universe of sources. Next, I need to get a good list of all the sources I have not read and begin finding those sources and reading them. I would say the number of unread sources on my list is 25%-35%. I haven't figures this percentage out yet.

Then I need to begin going through them. I need to think and strategize how I will go through these sources and what sort of notes I will create for them. Lots to do. Lots more to do.

But this is a start.