Dec 16, 2013 The Value of Reflection
Reflection brings learning to life. Reflective practice helps learners find relevancy and meaning in a lesson and make connections between educational experiences and real life situations. It increases insight, and creates pathways to future learning. Reflection is called by many different names in the education field including processing, reviewing, and debriefing. I personally have moved towards referring to this key ingredient in teaching and group facilitation as reflection or reflective practice.
In my view, reflection is the most important ingredient in teaching and learning. To continue with the cooking metaphor for teaching and facilitation offered in past issues of this blog, it is the “egg” that binds ingredients together and helps them rise. In cooking, eggs provide structure, richness, color, and flavor to recipes. Similarly, reflective practice creates context for learning and makes lessons “stick” by helping learners pull meaning from a learning experience and find relevancy in a lesson. Reflection brings out the “flavor” of the lesson and creates structure and depth of understanding. Reflective practice helps learners “rise” to future situations by cultivating the ability to apply information to real life and future learning.
Processing or reflection helps learners make connections from the skills they use and practice in the classroom, or in team-building, training or therapeutic group sessions to other day-to-day life situations and future learning experiences. It enhances their ability to apply skills learned to issues such as resolving conflict with their peers, co-workers or family, dealing with frustration, expressing their opinions appropriately, managing stress, and setting goals and priorities.
Reflective practice creates ownership over learning by allowing people to internalize a lesson. This enhances the ability for participants to grow and change through their experiences and develop insight, one of the most important life long skills to acquire. When we engage learners in ongoing reflection in our programs and courses we not only help them retain and apply or “transfer” lessons learned to other applications, we promote their readiness to become more reflective, introspective learners in the future. Reflective practice strengthens participants’ ability to learn on their own to be more reflective in their day to day experiences. This kind of introspective ability helps them recognize their strengths, manage their behaviors, and learn to apply skills and insights learned in one situation to the next one.
Traditionally many educators think of reflection as a “follow-up” to an experience and use the term “debrief” to describe this post experience wrap up. I encourage educators to instead view reflection as ongoing engaging “practice” that we begin with our groups from the moment they walk in the door (or maybe even before with pre-group journaling or questionnaires). Meaningful reflection is something that can and should be woven throughout the entire experience through a variety of methods including the use of art, movement, play, metaphoric objects and images, as well as dialogue.
A century ago John Dewey emphasized the importance of engaging learners in reflection in order to help learners make connections with the lesson or learning experience and real life and future learning. He believed that our experiences shape us. When reflective practice is part of the learning it creates meaning and relevancy from these experiences and initiates further growth and change. Reflection has become a key tenet of experiential education philosophy.
The modern day field of educational neuroscience reinforces Dewey’s view by showing us that we are indeed shaped by our experiences and continue to be throughout our lives. Educational neuroscientists also emphasize that intentional engagement in reflective practice is key to “cementing” learning. Reflection creates multiple pathways to learning, facilitates “patterning” and meaning making. Well facilitated reflection provides a forum for learners to give and receive feedback and enhances application, transfer, retention and recall. In my next post I will explore these concepts from the field of educational neuroscience that support the value of facilitating intentional time for reflection in education and group work.
Dewey, John. (1938) Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.
Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Boston: D.C. Heath.