Frameworks for Reflection

Having established the need for experiential knowledge that arises out of reflection, this handout is exploring some of the models structures and frameworks that can facilitate the reflective process.

However, before we explore these frameworks some important distinctions are needed to be made about different types of reflection.

Edgar Schon, an influential writer on reflection, described reflection in two main ways: reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection on action is looking back after the event whilst reflection in action is happening during the event. To complicate matters there are different interpretations of reflection on action. Let’s now explore these terms.

Reflection in action means

“To think about what one is doing whilst one is doing it; it is typically stimulated by surprise, by something which puzzled the practitioner concerned”(Greenwood, 1993).

Reflection in action allows the practitioner to redesign what he/ she is doing whilst he/she is doing it. This is commonly associated with experienced practitioners. However, it is much neglected.

Reflection on action is defined as:

“The retrospective contemplation of practice undertaken in order to uncover the knowledge used in practical situations, by analysing and interpreting the information recalled” (Fitzgerald, 1994pp67)

We can see here that reflection on action involves turning information into knowledge, by conducting a cognitive post mortem.

Alternatively Boyd & Fales suggest reflection on action is:

“The process of creating and clarifying the meanings of experiences in terms of self in relation to both self and world. The outcome of this process is changed conceptual perspectives” (Boyd & Fales, 1983pp101)

We see here that Boyd and Fales focus more on self development. Here refection does not only add to our knowledge but challenges the concepts and theories we hold. Furthermore as a result we don’t see more, we see differently.

Atkins and Murphy (1994) take this idea one step further and suggest that for reflection to make a real difference to practice we follow this with a commitment to action as a result.

The problems with these views of reflection on action are that they do not take account of the importance of reflection before action.
This is when we plan out before we act what we want to do.
So what have we learnt about reflection? It can best be seen as:

Reflection before action
Reflection in action
Reflection after action.

Greenwood J (1993): Reflective practice a critique of the work of
Argyris & Schon. Journal of Advanced Nursing 19 1183-1187
Schon DA (1983): The Reflective Practitioner. Basic Books, New York.
Fitzgerald M (1994): Theories of Reflection for learning IN Reflective Practice in nursing, A Palmer and S Burns (eds). Blackwell Scientific, Oxford.
Boyd E & Fales A (1983): Reflective Learning: the key to learning from experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 23 (2) pp99-117
Atkins, S & Murphy, K (1994) Reflective Practice Nursing Standard 8 (39) pp49-54


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