Critical thinking is simply the attempt to ask and answer questions systematically. The common question words: what, who, where, when, how, and why will help you to get started; along with the phrases: what if, what next, and so what. Attempting to answer these questions systematically helps fulfil three vital functions that you as students are constantly asked in higher education – description, analysis and evaluation. These are the things you need to do:
Describe: For example, to define clearly what you are talking about, say exactly what is involved, where it takes place, or under what circumstances. Fulfilling this function helps you to introduce a topic. More complex description will become analysis.
Analyse: For example, examine and explain how parts fit into a whole; give reasons; compare and contrast different elements; show your understanding of relationships. In this way analysis forms the main part of any in-depth study.
Evaluate: For example, judge the success or failure of something, its implications and/ or value. Evaluations lead us to conclusions or recommendations and are usually found at the end of a piece of academic work, a paper, chapter or other text.
When assessing your reflective writing we are expecting more than a superficial review of your experience, we are seeking evidence of deeper reflection. This means moving beyond the descriptive, and subjecting your experience to greater scrutiny. Moving from descriptive writing to critical reflection is something that most students struggle to understand. Helpfully, Hatton and Smith (1995) identified four levels in the development of reflective writing.
- Descriptive writing: This is a description of events or literature reports. There is no discussion beyond description. The writing is considered not to show evidence of reflection.
- Descriptive reflective: There is basically description of events, but shows some evidence of deeper consideration in relatively descriptive language. There is no real evidence of the notion of alternative viewpoints in use.
- Dialogic reflection: This writing suggests there is a ‘stepping back’ from the events and actions which leads to different level of discourse. There is a sense of ‘mulling about’, discourse with self and an exploration of the role of self in events and actions. There is consideration of the qualities of judgements and possible alternatives for explaining and hypothesising. The reflection is analytical or integrative, linking factors and perspectives.
- Critical reflection: This form of reflection, in addition, shows evidence that the learner is aware that actions and events may be ‘located within and explicable by multiple perspectives, but are located in and influenced by multiple and socio– political contexts’.
As part of your course you have had many opportunities for reflective writing, but it is never too late to remind yourself of how you might approach it.
Practising reflective writing – some key points
- Be aware of the purpose of your reflective writing and state if it is appropriate.
- Reflective writing requires practice and constant standing back from oneself.
- Practice reflective writing on the same event /incident through different people’s viewpoints and disciplines.
- Deepen your reflection / reflective writing with the help of others through discussing issues with individuals and groups, getting the points of others. Using a transcendent lens will help here.
- Always reflect on what you have learnt from an incident, and how you would do something differently another time.
- Try to develop your reflective writing to include the ethical, moral, historical and sociopolitical contexts where these are relevant.
We hope these key points help you with the reflective activities embedded throughout this resource. We have also created some interactive frameworks to help you record your writing – these can be saved in pdf file format. These frameworks can 1) inform your coursework 2) be to added to your personal/professional portfolio.
- Kolbs Structured Reflective Framework
- Gibbs Framework for Reflection
- John’s Model
- Borton’s Model
- Fish & Twinn Strands Model
You are ready to start with understanding why caring and compassionate practice is important