The concept of reflection
Learning is an individual process because everybody learns at his/her pace. However reflection is an important variable in the learning process which is innate in every human being. Put in other words, reflection is a beneficial activity especially with regard to learning. Furthermore, reflection can be done by both teachers and learners. However, in this paper the reflection in context is that undertaken by the latter. In a definition of reflection Reid (1993:305) insists that reflection is an active process rather than a passive one when she notes that,
Reflection is a process of reviewing an experience of practice in order to describe, analyze, evaluate and so inform learning about practice.
Reflection is a time when people sit back and evaluate their experience. They run what has happened before through their brains and assess it. Sometimes this is done consciously or unconsciously. In other words some people might reflect over their experience without knowing that they are doing song so while others make a conscious effort to reflect. Some learning theory and approaches recognize the importance of reflection in learning and it is interesting to assess this finding.
1.1 Benefits of reflection to personal and academic development
Reflection is beneficial in higher education because it helps students develop their thinking ability. The development of this ability to think is essential in the solution of problems. Thus reflection is an important step in finding solutions to problems through the thought process. The benefits of reflection are encapsulated in the statement by Race (2002: 1)
The act of reflecting is one which causes us to make sense of what we’ve learned, why we learned it, and how that particular increment of learning took place. Moreover, reflection is about linking one increment of learning to the wider perspective of learning – heading towards seeing the bigger picture.
Reflection is also beneficial because it is a force against the perpetuation of stereotypes. When students are able to evaluate on their own, they make conclusions that are based on what they have observed, they don’t just swallow the general notions that most people in society hold.
As learners, students need to develop the skill of reflection in order to facilitate their professional development. Undoubtedly, reflection is a important part of learning.
Reflection maximizes learning because it serves as a link between experience and theory. Students are often unable to understand abstract concepts. However through reflective ability they are able to find meaning in abstract concepts by relating these to their experience. In the long run they learn.
Reflection helps learners to study effectively. In the first place reflection helps learners to plan their study schedule and arrange tasks according to priority. For example, a student may choose to study a course more because there is need to make up for a deficiency in the course. Secondly reflection is beneficial to learners because they are able to assess their own performance by setting goals and striving to meet these goals. Reflection provides a learner the ability to assess whether they are able to meet their set goals or not, whether they are successful in learning or on a decline. Learners often reflect on what needs to be done at one point or other, thus avoid procrastination, which is a huge obstacle in the learning process. Reflection also helps learners overcome negative attitudes. Student who tell themselves that they are not good in math, end up being what they proclaim. Reflection encourages the ability of students to develop the right attitude about learning. With reflection, learners are able to resolve certain conflicts and remove internal “blockages” which obstruct their path to success. Also reflection enables the student to recognize his needs and deficiencies. This is a first step. The next step is identifying support structures that can resolve the problem.
1.2 Reflection and other learning theories
The learning Cycle
The learning cycle supports the notion that learning increases from one stage to another as the individual makes progress. Kolb (1984) identifies four stages in the learning cycle namely: taking stock; reflection; feedback and evaluation; and planning. The learning cycle can begin at any one of these points. In taking stock, the individual assesses what is known. In the next stage, reflection comes to play because the thought process gets running about what needs to be known. In feed back and evaluation the learner checks how much is known and the level of understanding. This leads to the point of planning where there is the desire to take learning further. These four points are also referred to as: Concrete Experience (CE), Reflective Observation (RO), Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimentation (AE). Learning can begin at any of these four points and is often a continuous process. Learners pass through all the four points in the cycle. The learning cycle illustrates the relationship between reflection and better learning. The learning cycle holds that reflection improves learning. Reflection has this effect on the learning cycle because learners often think about what they need to know and once they have grasped knowledge, reflection helps learners make sense of what they have acquired. Through this important process they understand why they need to learn. Moreover reflection helps individuals establish whether there has been an increase in what they have learnt. Reflection is often an internal activity but interactions between learners and teachers, peers, and supervisors spur and provide a basis for reflection.
Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle is often referred to as experiential learning. In this approach the immediate personal experience of the individual is the basis for learning. Generally learning is an individual process i.e. it varies from one person to the other. The experience which the learner has is important because it helps the individual interpret abstract concepts. It is the individuals’ way of understanding, thus facilitating learning. However experience is not the only phenomenon that supports learning. The experience which learners have is continually processed by reflecting upon it. Learners often recount, assess and think about their experiences. Experiences are not just stored in the learner’s brain and left alone. The reflective activity of the human mind acts upon them. In short, experience feeds the reflective ability of the human mind.
Constructivism is a model of teaching and learning where students are urged to create their own understanding and knowledge by interacting with the world around them. Richardson (1997:3-14) writes that in constructivism,
… individuals create or construct their own new understandings or knowledge through the interaction of what they already know and believe and the ideas, events, and activities with which they come in contact.
According to this view, learners are actively involved in the acquisition of knowledge. They do not only repeat or imitate what they are taught. In a constructivist learning environment the teacher assumes other roles other than just a source of knowledge. Other roles which the teacher assumes are those of a guide and leaders who directs the flow of learning but is not the sole source of knowledge. The teacher stimulates the minds of the learners to be productive. Here learning is“two way” traffic- from teach to learners and vice versa. In constructivism learners are tasked with brainstorming inquiry and problem solving sessions. By so doing the constructivist setting stimulates the reflective ability of learners. This learning approach welcomes diversity as opposed to narrow approaches in learning. For example in a constructivist approach, the teacher acknowledges the fact that there is not a single correct answer. Learners may approach an issue from different perspectives and still be correct.
Behaviorism is a learning approach which the teacher fills learners with knowledge which is considered true and the learners are supposed to hold onto this information for as long as it is needed. This approach supports the role of the teacher as a repository of knowledge- a “know all.” It tasks the memory of the learners to hold what is instructed by the teacher. This approach does not enable learners use their reflective ability. Furthermore, they are prevented from comparing what is being taught with experiences they hold in their mind. This approach is straight jacketed.
There are many benefits of reflection in the process of learning. Teaching approaches such as constructivism which emphasize the importance of reflection often produce better outcomes among students. On the other hand behaviorism is handicapped in this regard. Reflection in constructivism trains the mind of the learner to be independent to a large extent yet receive guidance from the teacher. This approach is needed in higher education because it develops the initiative of students. They are able to brainstorm and solve problems on their own. Also, learners in a constructivist setting are allowed to make contributions in the learning process. They do not just sit and take all what the teacher gives. Rather, as they assimilate, the approach encourages them to relate what they think and feel.
Kolb, David.(1984) Experiential Learning as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Race, P. (2002), Evidencing Reflection: putting the ‘w’ into reflection
Available: http://escalate.ac.uk/resources/reflection (3 March 2009)
Reid B (1993) “But we’re doing it already: Exploring a response to the concept of reflective practice in order to improve its facilitation.” Nurse Education Today.
Richardson, V. (1997) “Constructivist Teaching and Teacher Education: Theory and Practice.” In Constructivist Teacher Education: Building a World of New Understandings, ed. V. Richardson, Bristol, Pa.: Falmer Press.