There is no one single definition of reflection, most theorists and educators have their own definitions of what it means for them. From my reading and research around this topic, I have developed a personal view on what reflection is. The process of reflection consists of asking deeper questions as to why something has happened and how this could be developed further or improved. Effective reflection involves thinking from alternative perspectives as to why it was or was not successful, this will allow for continuous learning and development. There are many individuals who have theorised about reflection and its importance; the theories are all different and adapted to suit the views of their creator but each theory stems from and builds upon one philosophical educator’s work, John Dewey.
In this assignment there will be a focus on John Dewey’s and Donald Schön’s views on the reflective process and how the use of reflection models can help to improve teaching practice. John Dewey is known to many as the first educator to understand the importance of reflection within teaching and learning. The theorist’s definition of reflection has a significant emphasis on the importance of thinking actively and consciously in a rational and systematic manner (Dewey, 1933). Following Dewey’s views, reflectors should not only make observations about what has happened, they should delve deeper and challenge the observations they have made. They should do this through asking questions that makes them think about why this has happened and what actions could have provided a different outcome (Dewey, 1933). He defined this as active thinking, he held the understanding that in order to achieve this, the facts of the event must be challenged and the practitioner must consider why the event happened and what this could mean for the future (Dewey, 1933). Dewey (1933) wrote in his work that this process, could be more effective if completed individually, in contrast to this, many other theorists and authors thought otherwise. Bolton (2010) proposed that reflection should also involve input from others; he emphasised that the views held by the reflector may not be synonymous to other practitioners’ views and that it is beneficial to view the experience from other perspectives.
This is reflected in Brookfield’s (1998) work, who believes that other practitioners are able to identify actions that the reflector may have otherwise not taken into consideration. He wrote that considering colleagues’ viewpoints can increase the likelihood of discovering information that will help with the reflective process. Dewey used his experiences in education to research into examining and unpicking what thinking is and what it meant to him. Dewey recognised that there are different types of thinking; routine, impulsive and reflective. Routine thinking does not use a great level of deep thought, whilst impulsive thinking is based on reacting to the given moment and capturing the opportunities at that time (Dewey, 1933). Dewey wanted to research more thoroughly into reflective thinking which would consist of stopping and considering the situation and responding to this by making necessary changes. He decided to create a way to use the reflective practice he became familiar with. From this research, he produced what is known as Dewey’s (1938) Five Stage Model of Reflection, which Dewey believed is necessary to develop deeper thinking and reflecting skills.
Unlike this, Finger and Asún (2000) argue that it is not necessary to partake in each stage of the model in order to develop theories and practice. Since Dewey’s initial theory of reflection, multiple models have been proposed by theorists adapting his research to create and explain why they believe their reflection process would be more beneficial. Donald Schön had a lifelong career in philosophy and was very familiar with Dewey’s works. It was his success in developing Dewey’s theory of reflection that illustrates his relevance today. Schön (1983) described reflective practice as the way in which practitioners consider and use what they already know to learn from their experiences; this is usually something they do through instinct rather than something they explicitly think about. Schön believed that by exploring this information, practitioners improve and develop the expertise in their practice. Similar to Dewey, Schön believed that an event should be revisited and reflected on in order to change future practice.
From this, Schön built upon Dewey’s theory and reached the conclusion that are two types of reflection; reflection in-action and reflection on-action. Reflection in-action is defined as reflecting whilst engaging in the activity and evaluating the situation as it is happening. The practitioner must be able to adapt and change direction in that moment; this relies on how the practitioner is feeling and adapting the situation according to that feeling (Schön, 1983). Reflection on-action is defined as thinking about what happened after the event, the practitioner should consider or discuss what has happened with another practitioner, evaluating and clarifying the meaning of what happened. They should use their previous experiences to aid their future practice, aiding in the development of their ability to reflect in-action during upcoming events (Schön, 1983).
Many writers have challenged Schön’s theory of reflection on the grounds that reflection in action cannot be achieved as they found it to be impossible to reflect effectively at the time; it was found that it is important to reflect retrospectively (van Manen, 1995; Moon, 1999 and Ekebergh, 2007). Through his research with Chris Argyris, Schön (1974) concluded that critical reflection contains two levels of learning. The first level of learning covers the idea of reflecting on something that has not worked and trying something else, the way the objective is met is changed; the second level covers a more complex reflective technique where the reflector thinks in depth about what the motivations for the action are, the ultimate objective is changed (Cartwright, 2002; Appleyard and Appleyard 2015). After researching the first and second levels of learning, Schön (1978) named them single and double loop learning, respectively. Schön and Argyris (1974) state that in order for practitioners to develop the ability to make informed and successful decisions in changing and uncertain contexts, double loop learning is necessary.
In agreement with Schön, Finger and Asún (2000) write that it is possible and sufficient to consider, adjust and reflect through only double loop learning; they believe that it is not entirely necessary to use a model and follow the stages. Schön’s theory of reflection is similar to Dewey’s with regard to how they stress the importance of using prior experiences. However, Schön (1978) extended his ideas on reflection, and founded a method that allows the practitioner to think and reflect when they are in the moment. With practice of this method, the reflection process can be less time consuming and can strengthen the practitioners capability to use their initiative and ability to adapt when the situations require it, rather than only having an idea for future practice. Many authors have criticised Schön’s lack of leadership on how to be critically reflective, some of which are Boud and Walker (1998) who state that Schön does not explain the context of reflection. There has since been further research and discussion on this subject, building on the work of Dewey, Schön and other theorists, to aid practitioners on how to utilise the methods of reflection and models to reflect critically (Ghaye, 2006; Allin and Turnock 2007). Others have critiqued Schön’s work for not stressing the importance of reflecting before the learning experience takes place (Boud 1985; Greenwood, 1993).
Boud theorised that reflecting before the experience allows the practitioner to prepare for what may happen. Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985) suggest the lack of emotional regard in their reflection processes is a flaw. The authors state that taking the emotions presented in the event into consideration is the only way for reflection to be an effective method of learning. They also reason that when reflecting on action, emotions can affect the way the event is recalled; the reflector may consider the event to have been more or less successful than in reality, they may also reflect only on one part of the event that particularly stands out to them. They conclude that disregarding the impact emotions have on the practitioner can cause the reflection to be biased or untrue. However, in consideration Dewey’s and Schön’s theories, Ewens (2014) recognises that some situations require the removal of emotions preventing the possibility of judgements being made irrationally. Before researching into the reflective process, I was unsure of what reflection actually meant; I was also unaware of what the most effective way of reflection for me was. After reading around Dewey and Schön’s theories I will employ what I have learnt and use this in my final professional practice and future career.
From this research, as evident in my introduction, I have created my own definition of reflection, which I will take forward into my teaching career. Reflection is an important aspect of a teacher’s career, it allows the teacher to improve their professional competence through developing their professional knowledge and ability to make decisions and informed judgements, whilst improving professional competence and personal development. Whilst many people may find it sufficient to choose and follow a model of reflection, I have found that I would prefer to take different aspects from both Dewey’s and Schön’s models to find a reflection process that suits me. I will be sure to make time for reflection, during my early career this will be time that I dedicate specifically to reflection following Dewey’s (1938) Five Stage Model of Reflection. As I get more experienced and confident with reflection, with hope, this will become natural and something I can do without much thought. With practice and experience, I will use Schön’s theory of reflection in action, where I learn and become proficient in reflecting when the situation demands it.