This weeks #Otalk is on the topic of “Critical reflection” and will be hosted by Stephanie Lancaster (@TheOutloudOT).
Stephanie has practiced as an OT for over 25 years. She is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, TN. Stephanie blogs at www.stephanielancaster.com and hosts a podcast for people interested in OT called On The Air (www.OnTheAir.us)
Years before I went back to school to get a Master’s degree in Leadership & Policy Studies, a colleague of mine told me that she had been asked by her faculty what her one big take-away had been. Her response, she said, had been that it’s important to read the foreword in a book.
In all honesty, I didn’t see the value in the behavior she recommended at the time of our conversation; it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the wisdom in her words. Something else that exchange did for me, though, was to serve as a prompt during my own graduate studies, I identified my own big take-away: There is great value in the process of critical reflection.
Since I began teaching, I have been interested in how, when, and why they reflect in a critical fashion and how that impacts their learning. Over time, what I have noted is that there is great variability in the methods of instruction in and in the expectations and evaluation of critical reflection and to the reflective writing process that accompanies this. In fact, “the widespread espousal of reflection as a key to effective learning has meant that its meaning is assumed to be obvious to all” (James & Brookfield, 2014, p. 26); however, in the midst of the multitude of methods of delivery and expectations associated with this teaching and learning technique, only infrequently are students provided with structured and distinct instruction about the process of reflective writing (James, 2007).
I have heard students and practitioners ask what the difference is between reflection and critical reflection and want to address that question here:
Reflection is defined as looking back at something, and sometimes the phrase giving serious thought to is also added into the mix. Critical reflection occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presumptions – or what we think we know – and then assess the appropriateness of our knowledge base, our understanding, and our beliefs, given our current context (Mezirow, 1990). It involves looking back and looking inward and then comparing that to another set of information or viewpoint, followed by actively reconciling, or making peace between, the two data sets. While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, critical reflection is a more involved process that is expected to have a more perceptible impact on one’s level of understanding (Brookfield, 1990).
Several months ago, I came across an article by Martin Hampton in the Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement at the University of Portsmouth (n.d.) that provides a detailed breakdown the components of a high-quality critical reflection. In the article, reflective writing is defined as evidence of critically reflective thinking and, in the context of academics, described as having three components:
- Looking back at something
- Analyzing what occurred, including thinking from different perspectives or places of understanding
- Determining and expressing what that means for you and your ongoing progress as a learner and/or practicing professional
Please note that this is just one way to structure critically reflective writing; there are other ways, and you may be required or you may choose to follow a different model. Please remember, though, regardless of the format you choose, that there is great value in reflection … and that, like many other things in life, oftentimes what you get out of this process is directly related to what you put into it.
Questions to consider
Q1: What do you know about critical reflection?
Q2: How have you gained this understanding?
Q3: In what, if any, form of critical reflection do you currently engage?
Q4: How can OT students and practitioners improve their ability to critically reflect?
Q5: Provide an example of a professional development goal written to target critical reflection.
Brookfield, S. D. (1990). Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In J. Mezirow (Ed.). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Pp. 177-193. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hampton, M. (n.d.) Reflective writing: A basic introduction. University of Portsmouth: Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement. Retrieved from http://www.port.ac.uk/ask
James, A., and Brookfield, S. D. (2014). Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
James, A. (2007). Reflection revisited: Perceptions of reflective practice in learning and teaching. Art, Design, & Communication in Higher Education, 5(3), 179-196.
Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformational learning. In J. Mezirow (Ed.). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Pp. 1-20. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.