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

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using reflective writing in your teaching
UsingReflective Writing in your Teaching
  • A workshop for the STEM disciplines
slide2

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)

slide3

There is relatively little literature about the use of reflective writing in STEM disciplines

  • So let’s experiment!
what is reflective writing
What is reflective writing?

We want students to think broadly, to question and to be criticalabout 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)

reflective learning involves
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 it
  • Analysing or interpreting it from various perspectives, perhaps in relation to a specific model or theory
  • Thinking 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
reflective writing is personal
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
what s the point of reflection
What’s the point of reflection?
  • It is a prompt to think more deeply about a subject than otherwise would be the case
  • It may promote the self-awareness that leads to critical analysis, behavioural change or commitment to action – learning to think critically
  • The 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
who s doing it
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 public
  • Some 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 writing
  • By contrast in physics, mathematics and chemistry courses, such requirements appear to be less common at undergraduate level
  • Why?
reflective practitioners
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

reflective writing for professionals
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 weaknesses
  • Identifying the limits of own personal knowledge and skills.
fact fiction and ethics
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?
fact fiction and ethics1
Fact, fiction and ethics?
  • Certain types of writing may be wholly unacceptable; this needs clarifying in advance
  • BUT
  • Students 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 different
  • They may therefore suppress their true views
slide14

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

slide16

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

description

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
feelings

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
evaluation

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
analysis

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
conclusion

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
action plan

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
active learning
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.
where do we do it
Where do we do it?
  • In the classroom
  • In the library
  • In the lab
  • At home
  • In a coffee shop
  • In the field
  • On the train or bus.
  • The text can be produced using pen and paper, a computer keyboard or a smartphone.
types of reflective writing
Types of reflective writing
  • Stories or narrative
  • Apiece of text
  • Produced in a single session
  • Illuminating an event or incident and the student’s associated perspectives upon it
  • Like a piece of fiction, the story will usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a set of characters
  • From a couple of paragraphs upwards, it can include reflection on events recently experienced, or upon something significant that took place some time before
  • A structure, and an approximate word length, is normally suggested by the tutor
types of reflective writing1
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 event
  • Material collected at various times and after specific experiences such as lectures, practical exercises, placements, projects or group activities
  • Informal 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 others
  • At longer intervals authors may reflect on the implications for future action
types of reflective writing2
Types of reflective writing
  • Learning Diaries
  • More structured writings than learning logs, with frequent entries made over a period such as a few days or weeks, with times
  • Might 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 concept
  • Each day’s entry might address the six headings suggested by Gibbs, ending with a reflection concerning specific future actions
  • Could 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
types of reflective writing3
Types of reflective writing
  • Personal Development Planning and reflective writing
  • Many Higher Education Institutions require their students to produce or maintain a progress file or portfolio
  • Commonly, these include reflective writings, alongside ‘evidence’ such as marked assignments, or returned examination scripts, and similar
  • Portfolios are usually assessed, sometimes by the student’s personal tutor, often on a pass-fail basis rather than by the award of a numerical grade
  • Students may maintain these portfolios throughout their course of study, and take them away afterwards to use when applying for jobs
types of reflective writing4
Types of reflective writing
  • Tweets, Blogs and Podcasts
  • Have been tried
  • Who 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
make it easier by
Make it easier by….
  • Explaining the purpose
  • Giving the background
  • Choosing the setting
  • Setting the ground rules
  • Structuring the writing
  • Clarifying the expectations
  • Giving formative feedback
  • Assessing if appropriate
assessing reflective writing
Assessing reflective writing
  • Assessing for checking on the student’s progress, or grading them
  • A more technical exercise?
  • Summative assessment is appropriate
  • Care should be taken to express feedback so that it is the text, rather than the person, that is the subject of the critique
  • Assessing for formative purposes – developing the student
  • Formative assessment is more appropriate
  • Where fellow students (perhaps formatively) or tutors (either formatively or summatively) are giving immediate responses, responsible and thoughtful feedback must obviously be encouraged
hargreaves on legitimate assessment
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 practice
  • All 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