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Dimensions of reflection

By Steve Draper,   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:

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.

A longer, but older, set of notes on this is here: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/reflection.html


"Know thyself? If I knew myself I'd run away."

"Only the shallow know themselves."
Oscar Wilde
(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:

The 12 steps (APA version):

  1. Admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion;
  2. Recognizing a greater power that can give strength;
  3. Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
  4. Making amends for these errors;
  5. Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
  6. Helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.

The original 12 steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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 our affairs.

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