On reflection (my third teaching principle)

Further to a previous post (http://wp.me/p2kETw-59) over the past few weeks I have been thinking more deeply about the concept of reflection. Reading through current literature on the subject, I realised that there was a network of words that kept cropping up. Often these are isolated and discussed as free-standing concepts, sometimes they are not. In my view however, they cannot really be separated. I’m referring in particular to the concepts of (1) reflection (2) creativity (3) learning. I’m particularly interested in the combination of the last two i.e. ‘creative learning’ but inherent in the idea of ‘creative learning’ is of course ‘reflection’.

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Reflection is a word that troubles me. We demand that our students do it as a matter of course; reflection is embedded in many areas of their courses. However, at times I feel that  we need to focus more on encouraging ‘joined up’ thinking; although students reflect on different aspects of what they are doing while they are on our programmes sometimes they need to be guided into  joining the dots  – the bigger picture is extremely important after all. This predicament really provided me with a starting point about the nature of reflection. I do not expect my students to be able to do anything that I cannot do. This has always been a deeply held belief of mine. I have often come across the very derogatory concept of teachers as the people who have failed at doing. I’m more with the ‘those who can, teach’ philosophy. I encourage and actually teach ‘critical thinking’ in many of my modules and in many ways, it seems to me that critical thinking and reflection are two sides of the same coin.

Where do I start with reflection? For me, it always begins with a thought. A thought, which often becomes a’collectible’ idea. I capture these ideas (although sometimes they are pretty fragmented and undeveloped) on bits of paper, post it notes, on my phone or whatever electronic device comes in handy at the time. Sometimes I forget about these all-consuming ideas until days later, when, with the benefit of hindsight, I can decide whether that concept was something worth pursuing or not. This process helps me organise my thinking; over time this distilling action became integral to my research and critical processes.

After the idea comes the word. I’ve always been fascinated by words; the blank screen (or rather the empty pad of paper) fills me with excitement. But, more importantly, the role of writing runs a lot deeper than that. For me it is a thinking exercise. I was recently reading a very interesting blog post about uses of writing as a means of clarifying your own thinking (http://explorationsofstyle.com/2011/01/12/using-writing-to-clarify-your-own-thinking/). I do agree that the process of articulation of ideas allows the idea to develop and shape itself from the mass of conscious and subconscious mesh of thoughts, half-baked ideas and questions that trouble me on a daily basis. For me the writing process is an indispensable to the reflective process. Of course I do appreciate that reflection can take place in many and varied ways. My colleagues say they use audio or video clips in a reflective manner, I like to use the written word. Justin Jackson puts it wonderfully here – http://justinjackson.ca/words.html

I reiterate to my students that writing is a craft; the more you work at it, the more exciting it is and the more developed the ideas are. Often however, my advice falls on deaf ears, mostly because my students think they are gifted in one art form and often focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. I cannot blame them entirely as I did pass through that phase myself, but my passion for words and writing equalled that of performing the music. Which brings me back to my original point – writing gets easier with time and so does the thinking.

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