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(Document started on 10 Sep 2006.)
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Steve Draper, installed at http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/best/reflection.html.
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Dimensions of reflection
Department of Psychology,
University of Glasgow.
Reflection is a significant concept in education, partly because it is a
compulsory component of some courses; and partly because almost all of us
assume that if we only think hard and carefully about something we do, then we
will get better at it. However I have seen no evidence that this belief is
justified; and furthermore, it is far from clear that people mean the same
thing by the term as each other, or indeed that anyone understands what
exactly it means.
Partly as a consequence, I have several web pages on reflection:
- A set of older notes, about the idea of reflection in education.
- This page, which
a) adds some more notes on how to categorise different
types of reflection; b) some witticisms; c) Points out that one of the very
few, if not the only, well known example of actually improving behaviour by
thinking about it is the 12 steps programme. But the 12 steps are as eloquent
in how important it is to get the person to accept that they are not in
control of their behaviour, nor of many of their thoughts. This must be
thought-provoking, to say the least, for proponents of reflection.
- [A new page] which will look at technical ideas of reflection in computer
programming design, which suggest both how to analyse what is involved, and
that there may be something quite general (and hard to think clearly about)
in the whole business of thinking about behaviour in the world.
Dimensions for categorising types of reflection; and other notes
N.B. "Reflection", besides light bouncing off surfaces, just means
"thinking" in general English. But when used technically in education, or
about "reflective practitioners" i.e. as an attribute of professional life,
then there are different and contrasting senses even here.
- Private or for an audience.
A private diary, or a logbook forming an official record.
- To improve a skill, vs. about self, IDs, values.
Former is core Kolb/Schon idea of feedback. Latter is about understanding
oneself, connecting feelings to ideas for better mental self-consistency.
The core idea is to improve a skill by adding conscious thought about it,
reviewing results and changing one's tactics.
A different idea is about improving not a skill, or professional practice, but
developing one's "self".
- [similarly] about programming (say), learning, one's feelings values etc.
This is the same point.
But learning perhaps is an important third case, since learning may be
unreflective (even unconscious); yet will reflection improve it?
Many assume so. However this is not proven.
On the one hand, a lot of the literature of "metacognition" assumes that
consciousness of one's learning styles and methods will lead to improvements,
yet the only good evidence is that a much smaller idea of metacognition
works: getting information on how well you have learned something, and what
specificially you need to work on more. This is NOT reflective: it is just
specific feedback information.
On the other hand, interviews I've done show that students develop enormously
in the elaboration and effectivness of their study behaviour, developing very
long term plans involving various different kinds of activity.
- Disciplinary differences on whether you feel that explicit discussion of
feeling is good or bad. (Not good in sci/eng: truth is beyond feeling;
required in EngLit to present ideas as personal; and perhaps in religion; and
in sociology to construct views as ethically superior.)
A longer, but older, set of notes on this is here:
"Know thyself? If I knew myself I'd run away."
"Only the shallow know themselves."
(Cf. it seems that part of our definition of
"creativity" is that it be
surprising: even to the creator.)
Being effective by being realistic about our weakness at reflection: the 12 steps
One could look at the 12 steps programme as all about applying reflection
remorselessly in order to correct one's behaviour.
See the wikipedia article for a summary, refs, etc.
What is interesting about seeing this as a paradigm of reflection is:
- It is about modifying one's behaviour by thinking about it.
(Weak ideas of reflection just analyse and understand one's behaviour but
don't get round to changing it.)
- But it is explicit, and indeed stresses, that the person is not in
control of their behaviour: an apparent total contradiction to the whole idea
- In fact, it is the most famous example of managing oneself, partly as you
would manage an animal. That is, not by adjusting the inside view, but by
working around the faulty mechanism, the way certain things trigger bad
behaviour regardless of reason and intention, etc.
This is a much more sophisticated tacit model of being a human being and
controlling its behaviour than the simple one that all you have to do is
observe it and understand it.
The 12 steps (APA version):
- Admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion;
- Recognizing a greater power that can give strength;
- Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
- Making amends for these errors;
- Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
- Helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.
The original 12 steps:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of
God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being
the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact
with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us
and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried
to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all
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