Critical Reflective Writing in Social Work by Linda Macdonald, PhD The Dalhousie Writing Centre.A “Critical” Reflection Framework Critical reflection is an extension of “critical thinking”.
Providing definitions, however, might not be sufficient for a students to “get” the difference between their own understanding and the kind of analysis that is expected of them. Certainly, if you have developed guidelines for assessment, perhaps modelled after Kember et al. (2008), it would make sense to share them before students submit their work. Even more useful, have learners evaluate others’ reflection before asking them to do it themselves (a modified Tip #8). By providing learners with an anonymous sample student reflection and asking them to evaluate it using the assessment tool as well as identifying, for example, what were the successful components of the work, you are engaging students in a meta-cognitive practice. The theorized benefit of this activity would be that students gain a better understanding of the components that “make up” a critical reflection and, in turn, improve the quality of their own first submissions.
5) The topic and approach of your reflection essay is up to you. You’ll find suggestions and examples of the type of essay I’m expecting you to write on pages 1768-1797 of The Story and Its Writer (I highly recommend reading these examples if you wish to do well on this assignment). Reflection Essays can be explication, analysis, or compare and contrast, as long as they’re interpreting some aspect of the assigned reading that you find interesting and significant. Your essay should shed light on what the story means and support all ideas with quotes from the text. I’ll try to give you ideas of different things you could write about in lecture, and class discussion will be another good source for ideas.
That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a body of work teaching critical reflection. In preparation for the workshop, I’ve read the relevant work and in the balance of this post, want to share the take-aways from those papers. The goal here might be to consider these findings in relation to how you teach critical reflection and see how they confirm or contradict your approaches to engaging students in the act of critical reflection.
Before the course begins, it would be important to link the learning objectives of the critical reflection assignments to course learning objectives and activities (Tip #2). Aronson suggests that in doing so, the perceptions on the part of students that critical reflection is an “add-on” can be reduced. This isn’t entirely surprising as we know that increasing the relevance of student work also increases student engagement. In medical education, the authenticity of learning situations are often assured (think of a clerkship and working with patients). A greater challenge exists for those linking critical reflection to authentic learning activities where the authenticity isn’t as directly linked.
Peer assisted learning: blogs were used in a fieldwork program and were specifically examined for the part they may play in enhancing reflective practice in students. It was found that blogs can help students to develop critically reflective professional skills as well as effectively support them to integrate theory into practice. Read more Ladyshewsky and Gardner (2008).
I don’t think this link between assessment and motivation should be under-emphasized as it is clear from our students’ feedback that, regardless of how difficult it was to do, because they were motivated by assessment to complete the critical reflections that they learned something. One student, for example, wrote “I strongly dislike reflective journals despite recognizing their value. I learned a lot from the process so thank you for forcing them on me!” So, linking this notion of assessment back to the importance of feedback, Kember et al. (2008) do share a four category schema they developed to assess written critical reflections, which ranges from non-reflection (least sophisticated), to understanding, to reflection and finally to critical reflection (most sophisticated). A rubric could easily be developed based on this work. While others have offered six-level schemes for describing critical reflection, I would argue that one strength related to assessment, of Kember et al.’s framework is the simplicity of four categories.
Education: the Patchwork Text in a work-based teacher education setting is described. This assessment methodology enables students to explore analytical and critical aspects of academic writing by setting a series of writing tasks or ‘patches’ with critical reflection at the core. The students are encouraged to experiment with narrative, reflective and discursive modes of writing. Student perceptions’ of the innovation in this study are positive. Read more Dalrymple and Smith (2008).
While placing reflecting on the process of teaching reflection (Tip #12) in the “after the course” category artificially limits the kind of reflection to that which occurs after-the-fact, the reality is probably closer to some combination of reflecting in the moment (as the course unfolds) and after the fact (as the course has concluded). As Aronson identifies, there is significance in the act of practicing theses skills yourself. If these reflections are on-going over the duration of the course, you could consider making available your journal to students. In this way, not only are you growing the skills of critical reflection and engaging in the praxis of critical reflection, but also modelling the way for students. Given the level of self-disclosure and associated perceptions of risk possible in making reflections available to others, you could consider following Aronson’s suggestion of following whatever
If the critical reflection assignment has a number of submissions and in pulling the above characteristics together, a scaffolded process could begin with a provided prompt in an in-class reflection with an explicit “recipe” to follow. A “mid-way” point could be a reflective submission from a selection of prompts, completed outside of class but without a specific recipe to follow. The endpoint in the trajectory could be a reflective submission completed outside of class with students providing their own prompt and using their own format. In this regard, an associated skill that could be developed over the course of a semester is the recognition and collection of critical reflection prompts.
Critical reflection is hard. There isn’t a singular, easy answer to help foster the growth of critical reflection in others. Taking characteristics and strategies for best practices in student learning and applying them to the challenge of “teaching” critical reflection, as I have done above, offers one approach. The framework described here involves careful planning to consider a variety of approaches and creating a plan that introduces critical reflection, builds the skill and engages students. As I suggest, however, it is only one approach.