Introduction to reflective practice

When we think about how we learn, it is often not by something we have read, or by being taught or shown but through our own internal analysis and reflection on the event.

Often when we take time to reflect it comes about after a critical incident, more often of the negative kind, and we tend to go over in our minds why it happened, how we could have reacted differently and the actions that lead to the consequences. We may also speak with a trusted supportive colleague about the event and discuss how we feel and other possible outcomes. We may find this helpful however sometimes talking things through can lead our mind to unrest and a tendency to go over and over incidents to people without a sense of relief.

Reflective writing has been described as a cathartic exercise which can help free the mind of negative thoughts, relieve feelings of guilt and blame and lead to a more objective view of events in order to learn from them.

The practice allows us to evaluate our own clinical decision making, evaluate our interactions with patients, family’s and own team members, develop our self awareness, critically evaluate our responses to practice situations and facilitate deeper learning.

How to write reflectively

Although it is a critical tool, many students are not comfortable using reflective practice to start with.

A way to “do” reflective practice is often just to pause and reflect. If you have an internal dialogue going over an event. Try writing down these thoughts and then using a model to shape the written thoughts into some context. It is important to be open and honest and plan action form what you may have learned from the event.

It is also important to identify where you have succeeded and done well in practice as well as where you have not dealt with a situation as well as you had hoped in order to identify your own learning and share best practice with others.

Reflective models

There are a number of models of reflective practice but Gibbs’ Model of reflection (1998) is a good place to get started.

The model suggest you structure your writing to reflect the event you want to present by:

  1. Describing what happened briefly

  2. Identifying your feeling throughout the event

  3. Evaluating what was positive and negative about the experience

  4. Analysing in greater depth to help you make sense of the situation

  5. Considering any other options about what could have been done

  6. Identifying an action plan to finish and move forward

For a more detail on Gibbs’ model, visit the resource in the “Further reading” section below.

Reflective practice for enrolled students

During the full program we ask learners to reflect on their reactions, experiences and learning and capture them in writing.

These reflections are marked as part of the final portfolio task, so it’s important that whenever enrolled learners are asked to write a reflective piece, they do so.

If you are enrolled on the program, we would encourage you to review the example of an MSc level nursing reflective essay which gives you a good idea of the kind of writing we would be expecting you to aim for.

Your task

Some students may already have experience with models of reflection. Share your thoughts on good models to use and why you find them helpful.

Further reading

MSc level example reflective essay for nursing students presented by Sage in association with Price, B and Harrington, A (2013) Critical Thinking and Writing for Nursing Students, London, Learning Matters.

eLearning Network introduction to Gibbs’ reflective cycle last visited 24th August 2018.

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Physical Health Assessment

Coventry University