Thursday, 26 November 2015

Critically Reflecting in Practice



Photo source: Google images

Introduction


In this blog post I consider what critical reflection in learning practice entails and how it can foster learning, why it is useful and how it can be applied. Finally I explore its meaning in my own practice as learning practitioner.


What is critical reflection?


Critical reflection enables a learner to analyse what has been learned and how learning fosters self-development. It is in light of these two analysis aspects that an importance is placed on critical reflection in professional development of teaching practices. Cranton (1996) defines critical reflection as the “process by which adult learners engage in and identify the assumptions governing their actions, locate the historical and cultural origins of the assumptions, question the meaning of the assumptions, and develop alternative ways of acting”. Brookfield (1995) adds that part of the critical reflective process is to challenge the dominant social, political, cultural, or professional ways of acting. Through the process of critical reflection, adult learners come to interpret and create new meaning and actions from their experiences and are able to create a learning strategy for life-long learning.


How can it be fostered in the classroom?


Brookfield (1988) identified 4 activities central to becoming critically reflective: Assumption analysis describes the activity a learner engages in to bring to awareness beliefs, values, cultural practices, and social structures regulating behaviour and to assess their impact on daily activities. Assumptions structure our way of seeing reality, govern our behavior, and describe how relationships should be ordered. Contextual awareness is achieved when adult learners come to realise that their assumptions are socially and personally created in a specific historical and cultural context. Imaginative speculation provides an opportunity for learners to challenge prevailing ways of knowing and acting by imagining alternative ways of thinking about phenomena Cranton (1996). The outcome of assumption analysis, contextual awareness, and imaginative speculation is the fourth activity referred to as Reflective skepticism the questioning of any universal truth claims or unexamined patterns of interaction. In other words, critical reflection enables us to locate ourselves within a broader social context; to understand our values, beliefs, and biases and to assess our learning so that our learning informs our practice.

Good reasons for incorporating reflection into your own practice


The value of reflecting on practice recognises the importance of taking action on the basis of assumptions that are unexamined. Critical reflection is one particular aspect of the larger process of reflection. To understand critical reflection properly we need first to know something about the reflective process in general. Brookfield (1995) highlights that critical reflection is important as, "It helps us take informed actions that are based on assumptions that have been carefully and critically investigated. It helps us develop a rationale for practice not only grounds our actions, but also our sense of who we are as educators in an examined reality. It rounds us emotionally when we neglect to clarify and question our assumptions, and when we fail to research our students, we have the sense that the world is governed by chaos. It increases democratic trust through learning whether independence of thought is really valued, or whether everything depends on pleasing the teacher. They learn either that success depends on beating someone to the prize using whatever advantage they can, or on working collectively".

How can critical reflection be applied?


The African Universities Research Approaches (AURA) programme, fosters shared learning across partner institutions. Participants on a learning programme are encouraged to reflect, ask questions and draw on concepts that can help to understand learning in their own practice. Participants are introduced to an experiential learning model developed by Kolb, 1984, to identify, investigate, reflect on and report on a learning dimension of their work. The ORID questioning process which is based on the Kolb’s experiential learning cycle allows participants to apply simple steps that supports their thinking in a critically reflective manner. The steps / framework outlined can assist the reflective writing process. 

  • (Analysing) Analyse how it made you feel? “I feel…” 
  • (Evaluating) What did you conclude from this experience? “I concluded…” 
  • (Creating) What will you do differently now? “I will do… in the future”. 

Through describing a critical incident arising from the practice learning environment the participant is able to make sense of what has been shared. During an AURA learning intervention, learners engage in a reflective practice within group and facilitated online discussions pre- and post- the face-to-face intervention and encouraged to continue reflective writing when away from the learning environment. Reflective writing enables learners to pursue the critical reflections on a deeper level and confront the challenge of explaining their research ideas. During the online and face-to-face interventions reflections underpinned their understanding of theory and course content and to link experience and knowledge.

Why is critical reflection important to an educator?


Critical reflection blends learning through experience with theoretical and technical learning to form new knowledge constructions and new behaviours or insights. Reflection is necessary to develop the skills to become lifelong learners. Through my observer role and own view point I feel I am in a good position to develop a learning strategy from my viewpoint / identity as a learning practitioner. Through the AURA programme I am able to observe a case study of my own ‘critical incident’. This may not always be the case. If tackling a learning dimension in which I have little experience, more research would need to be done, for example finding out about others experience as a learner / and or learning practitioner in relation to the learning dimension in similar contexts. My own approach as a learning practitioner are informed in part by experience (self or others) and in part by the relevant and prevailing theoretical and distinct conceptual perspectives.


References:                                                    


Brookfield, S. 1995. What it means to be a Critically Reflective Teacher in “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher,” San Francisco Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S.D. 1990. Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In pages 177-193 of J. Mezirow (Ed).

Brookfield, S. 1988. Developing Critically Reflective Practitioners: A Rationale for Training Educators of Adults. Training Educators of Adults: The Theory and Practice of Graduate Adult Education. S. Brookfield, Editor. New York: Routledge.

Cranton, P. 1996. Professional Development as Transformative Learning: New Perspectives for Teachers of Adults. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential Learning Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall Inc. Englewood Cliff, New Jersey. USA. Retrieved from the AURA programme course material.

How to be critical when reflecting on your teaching (2015). Retrieved on 23 November http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/learning-teach-becoming-reflective-practitioner/content-section-2.1

Learning through Reflection (2015). Retrieved on 23 November http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/development/reflection.html

Myrtle Adams-Gardner is the Training Quality Coordinator representing the South for the African Universities’ Research Approaches programme. She is experienced in mentoring and coaching, pedagogies and assessments of learning. She has been involved in the development of capacity development programmes promoting teaching and learning capabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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