Reflective practice

The internet, book publishers and journals abound with material on reflection – the choice is bewildering but as a starting point these authors and web resources are a good starting point:

Donald Schon (schön)

Donald Schon made a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the theory and practice of learning. His innovative thinking around notions such as  ‘the learning society’, ‘double-loop learning’ and ‘reflection-in-action’ has become part of the language of education.

The Higer Education Academy What is reflective practice?

Moon defines reflective practice as “a set of abilities and skills, to indicate the taking of a critical stance, an orientation to problem solving or state of mind” (1999: 63). This encapsulates the wide range of activities associated with thinking about your learning. Cowan suggests that learners are reflecting in an educational sense “when they analyse or evaluate one or more personal experiences, and attempt to generalise from that thinking” (1999: 18). However, as Biggs points out, “a reflection in a mirror is an exact replica of what is in front of it. Reflection in professional practice, however, gives back not what it is, but what might be, an improvement on the original” (1999: 6).


Shirley’s explanation of double-loop learning reflects my understanding and links very well with the double-loop learning theory.  I have used double-loop reflection to help challenge my own assumptions.  This helps to be more critical and to ask questions about initial findings.  It is basically a tool I have found useful for digging deeper.


Single loop reflection – generally a model of reflective writing such as Gibbs, Kolb – variations of Plan, Do, Review

Double loop – a key feature is examining assumptions, beliefs and values – your own, and those expressed through your work place.  Double loop is a terrible name for it – it is more like adding a layer, where the assumptions behind the planning are taken into account.  In the arcane language of social science (I make no apologies for being a little suspicious of ideas that cannot be elegantly expressed), one would look at governing variables and the locus of control.

You may be lost already – but once you get the hang of it this is a model of how you probably reflect already.  The formalisation of the model can be useful, and looks impressive in academic work 🙂

I hope this fits with other people’s understanding – although further exploration of how to explain double-loop without losing the plot would be very useful to me.


Reflection is a much abused term, and I sometimes think that we might usefully differentiate what we are talking about by using the term critical reflection – although as with everything in academia this is debated.  The point I am trying to make is that reflection is more than thinking about something in ‘passing’  (setting aside reflection in action which is another deabe), reflection is a deliberate act as described by Shirley and Colin above.

Another approach I have used in the past is “Systematic social Introspection” (Bocher and Ellis, in Denzin and Lincoln, 2001). This structured reflection requires the researcher to “work from an ethnographic wide-angle lense, focussing outwards on social and cultural aspects of their personal experience; then they look inward, exposing a vulnerable self.”  My interpretation of that was to describe an experience and then critically reflect/analyse it from the two perspectives, the latter including me identifying the ‘chips on my shoulder’ that had influenced my actions.  This is simply another approach…


3 responses to “Reflective practice

  1. All Very interesting and posses some questions for me , I always thought that critical reflection was a process in which you deliberately and critically reviewed a piece of work and then improved for the next release , i.e what I am trying to say is that it is an iterative process we dont only reflect once but it is a continually process that we must set time aside for and in this particular case a lot of the reflective process’s will be personal , does this match with other peoples explanations – I think it does but maybe I am wrong !!!

  2. “Improve for the next release” – I think that is the software developer coming out in you and in that context it would make sense to critically reflect on the product, but as you point out this can be an interative/repeated process.

  3. Thanks Stephen – Yeah I know been trying to ditch the geeky side of me for ages just keeps on coming back 🙂

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