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Critically Evaluating Reflective Practice

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Reflective Practice

EDU 2071-N

Critically Evaluating Reflective Practice.

Leigh William Adams.


D.O.S: 10/12/2015

Word count: 2000


This essay will look at the use of reflective practice in a vocational construction setting, it will look at various practitioners’ theories and how they may be implemented into the current strategy. Reflective practice can be an essential tool in vocational based professional learning settings where people learn from their own experiences, rather than from formal learning or knowledge transfer. It may be the most important source of personal professional development and improvement. It is also an important way to bring together theory and practice; through reflection a person is able to see and label forms of thought and theory within the milieu of their work. The essay will also look at the use of reflective practice with learners at a behavioural school.

Each section will cover different topics, section one will cover the understanding of critical reflection, section two will show how critical reflection is used for behaviour, section three shows its use in the construction industry and section four will briefly cover other authors and their respective models.

Section 1.

In order to be effective teachers must be reflective; they must continuously review their practice, discuss it with their colleagues, consider their learners’ responses and seek to develop new and better ways of teaching. Practitioners need to make sure that all learning levels and skill levels are catered for; the most effective way to ensure this is to use reflective practice to continuously develop the teaching material the delivery of the course and the teacher.
The idea of reflective practice was introduced by (Schön 1983) and given currency by (Kolb 1984) in his experiential learning theory. It involves taking into account your own experiences as you make the connection between knowledge and practice, while under the guidance of a qualified professional within a chosen discipline. Schön, (1996). Moon (1999) defined 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.’ In essence, it is a willingness to continuously assess and review the practice in the light of new learning, which may arise from within the context of your professional practice. After its introduction, many colleges started to include reflective practice into their education and professional development programmes. It was obvious from practitioners in this study that reflection was an important and well established part of their professional practice. Theorist David A. Kolb was significantly influenced by earlier research carried out by John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Kolb's reflective model highlights the concept of experiential learning and is centred on the transformation of information into knowledge. This takes place after a situation has occurred, and entails a practitioner reflecting on the experience, gaining a general understanding of the concepts encountered during the experience, and then testing these general understandings in a new situation. In this way, the knowledge that is formed from a situation is continuously applied and reapplied, building on a practitioner's prior experiences and knowledge.

Kolb's experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles. Much of Kolb’s theory is concerned with the learner’s internal cognitive processes. Kolb states that learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations. In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences. “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984). In the vocational sector the experiential learning cycle works well as the four stages suit both the learners and the teachers needs, the four stages in simple terms are; doing, reviewing, concluding and planning. The learners meet the first stage when they have completed an artefact in a chosen area, the teacher and the learner will then reflect on what has been achieved and note areas of improvement, the learner recognises what he needs to accomplish and then plans how to complete the task. With learners of a certain level this cycle will only challenge them to a certain point, at this stage another view may be needed.

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön pioneered the idea of single loop learning and double loop learning in 1978. Their theory was built around the recognition and correction of a perceived fault or error. Single loop learning is when a practitioner or organisation, even after an error has occurred and a correction is made, continues to rely on current strategies, techniques or policies when a situation again comes to light. Double loop learning involves the modification of objectives, strategies or policies so that when a similar situation arises a new framing system is employed.

Single-loop learning involves connecting a strategy for action with a result. For example, if an action we take yields results that are different to what we expected, through single-loop learning, we will observe the results, automatically take in feedback, and try a different approach. Another possible response would be to examine and change the governing values themselves. In another method The person might choose to critically examine the task, this may lead to discarding the methods used and trying new methods to complete the task. This cyclical process of applying a new strategy to achieve an expected or desired outcome may occur several times and we may never succeed. Running out of strategies may push us to re-evaluate the deeper governing variables that make us behave the way we do.

Re-evaluating and reframing our goals, values and beliefs is a more complex way of processing information and involves a more sophisticated way of engaging with an experience. This is called double-loop learning and looks at consequences from a wider perspective. In this sense single and double-loop learning bear close resemblance to what Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (1974) call First and Second Order Change. First Order Change exists when the norms of the system remain the same and changes are made within the existing norms. Second Order Change describes a situation where the norms of the system themselves are challenged and changed. Double-loop learning is seen as the more effective way of making informed decisions about the way we design and implement action (Argyris, 1974).

Consequently, Argyris and Schon's approach is to focus on double-loop learning. They developed a model that describes features of theories-in-use which either hold back or augment double-loop learning. Interestingly, (Argyris 1974) suggests that there is a large variability in Espoused theories and Action strategies, but almost no variability in Theories-in-use. This method although effective in some scenarios would fail in a construction workshop as the completion of an artefact is fairly regimented and there are only a couple of methods available to complete any given task.

(Sullivan et al 2007) states “… professional schools cannot directly teach students to be competent in any and all situations; rather, the essential goal of professional schools must be to form practitioners who are aware of what it takes to become competent in their chosen domain and to equip them with the reflective capacity and motivation to pursue genuine expertise

Section 2
The learners that are currently working towards qualifications in the construction department all suffer from perceived behavioural issues and as such a high percentage of them do not willingly accept judgement or constructive criticism of any form, as the learners are also low level it was decided that Gibbs Model of reflection would be the most effective and beneficial to both the teacher and the learner, using the reflective cycle it allows the learners to identify and understand each category, similarly the teacher is able to visualise and understand how the learners use this to reflect and be able to then perceive things from the learner perspective.

Prior to starting the degree no tangible model of reflection was used, although reflection was carried out verbally it was unknown what model was being used however saying this (Hunt 1998) states that reflective practice is “a process, incorporating a range of different techniques, through which one can acquire a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s interconnections with others and one’s working environment.”. the learners would scrutinise their own artefacts and discuss how to improve once they had replicated the artefact numerous times they could visually identify the steps they took to improve and develop their skills this enabled the learners to thoughtfully reflect on and describe the processes used to produce a high quality artefact. (Freire 1968) stated that “Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”.

section 3

Within the construction vocational training sector the use of reflective practice is not widely understood by the veteran practitioners who have been delivering the subjects; as far as they are aware it is just something they have done throughout their careers as opposed to new educators coming into deliver the same subjects. Without the use of reflective practice learners on the courses would struggle to progress, this is because the construction industry itself develops everyday; new products and materials as well as building codes and regulations which are updated periodically and as such teaching professionals delivering construction trades need to ensure that they keep up to date with industry standards, this can be achieved through continuing professional development and also refresher days in a genuine construction environment, to gain real world information in order to embed the relevant information into their core subjects, construction tutors also need to hold relevant and recognised industry qualification such as City and Guilds awards, they must also hold relevant teaching qualifications and if they are carrying out on site assessments an assessors’ qualification would be advantageous.

section 4

I suspect that many practitioners consider reflection as reflection on- experience or reflection-on-action (Schön 1987): looking back at ‘an experience’ or some event that has taken place. Simply put, an experience can be thinking, feeling or doing something. Schön (1983, 1987) distinguished reflection-on-action with reflection-in-action as a way of thinking about a situation whilst engaged within it, in order to reframe and solve some breakdown in the smooth running of experience. Schön’s thinking was influenced by Heidegger’s idea of breakdown. (Heidegger 1962), cited in (Plager 1994) describes three inter-related modes of involvement or engagement with practical activity we have in day-to-day life:
Ready-to-hand: In the ready-to-hand mode of engagement, equipment and practical activity function smoothly and clearly. The person is involved in a captivated manner so that the activity is for the most part unnoticed.
• Unready-to-hand: In the unready-to-hand mode, some sort of breakdown occurs in the smooth operation of activity; becoming obvious to the user.
• Present-to-hand: In the present-to-hand mode, practical everyday activity ceases, and the person stands back and reflects on the situation.
The practitioner can adjust to minor interruptions to the smooth flow of experience without having to overtly think about it, because the body has embodied knowing. Sometimes the practitioner is faced with situations that do not go smoothly. In order to move on the practitioner must stand back and consider how best to proceed. This is Schöns’ reflection-in-action, a type of problem-solving whereby the problem is considered, re-framed and ways of resolving the problem contemplated and tested to move on with the experience.


As a result of this essay critical reflection is no longer an ethereal idea, it has a solid basis of theory that allows it to be embedded into everyday situations, including the practical activities of a workshop setting. Learners are finding it increasingly easier to identify problems and they are developing the skills needed to reflect on them and progress, as is the teacher. Reflective practice has enabled the course to be developed so that every task has reflective element at the end of the task.
A person who reflects throughout their practice is not just looking back on past actions and events, but is taking a conscious look at experiences, actions, and responses, and using that information to add to their existing knowledge base and to reach a higher level of understanding.

Argyris, C. (1974) Behind the front page. San Francisco:Jossey Bass.

Freire, P (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Group. 66.

Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and Time, Harper & Row, New York.

Hunt, C. (1998). An Adventure: from reflective practice to spirituality. Teaching in Higher Education, 3(3), 325-337.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Moon, J (1999) Learning Journals: a handbook for academics, students and professional development. London: Kogan

Plager, K. (1994). Hermeneutic phenomenology: A methodology for family health and health promotion study in nursing. In P. Benner (ed.), Interpretive phenomenology: Embodiment, caring, and ethics in health and illness. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Boston: Arena Publishing

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sullivan W, M. et al. (2007). Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, The Carnegie Foundation of Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. H., & Fisch, R. (1974). Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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