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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you might want to take a look at or get in touch with California Campus Compact...