What is reflection?
Reflection means thinking deeply about something. It requires conscious active thinking to increase our awareness.
When we reflect, we consider our feelings, past experiences, opinions, strengths and weaknesses. It may involve thinking back about a past event, considering a current situation or planning future actions.
Definitions: ‘Active, persistent and careful consideration' (Dewey, 1933: 9).
‘A process of looking back on what has been done and pondering on it
and learning lessons from what did or did not work' (Conway, 1994).
Why is reflection important?
The process of thinking deeply involves critical analysis and takes time but leads to greater insight about ourselves – our assumptions, beliefs and motives.
As a result, we can identify ways to improve our academic skills, improve our study habits and gain greater insight into topics we are studying.
You may think you don’t have time to do this or not be sure how to do it but we aim to show you that it is a great tool to improve your understanding and academic progress.
Why is reflective writing useful?
You may already spend time thinking in a reflective manner or have discussions with someone else that leads to greater reflection; however, the act of writing down our thoughts formalises this process and often enables us to clarify ideas and identify themes more easily.
Additionally, this practice provides you with a written record that you can refer to at a later date.
When and how to use reflective writing
Reflective writing can help you to develop academic skills, better understand a topic you are studying, and enable you to review your progress at university.
You may need to do some reflective writing as part of an assignment for your course. This could be as a reading log, journal, blog, e-portfolio, work placement diary or reflective essay.
What is free writing?
This technique is sometimes used as part of reflection and involves deciding on a particular experience, problem or incident and writing down any feelings, thoughts and ideas that come to mind, without stopping to judge or correct grammar or spelling.
Free writing is done for a set period of time (e.g. 3, 5 or 10 minutes) and can be a great way to get started. It may enable you to access your inner thoughts, which may have been suppressed, thus leading to greater honesty.
By reviewing your writing afterwards, you can identify key themes. Combining free writing with a reflective writing model can be useful for making changes and planning future actions.
Not sure where to begin? Reflect on how you learn with our Learning Style Quiz!
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Reflective writing genres
- Journal entries
- Personal narratives
- Portfolio entries
- Critical incident reports
- Video essays
- Prompted reasoning