Is reflection always on the present or the past?
Since the work of Argyris and Schon (Schön, 1987) it has become accepted practice to talk about reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action being in time reflection, awareness of the event at the time. Reflection-on-action, while not necessarily defined as such is generally discussed as reflection after the action.
In the research I did for a paper some years ago (Andrew et al., 2002) when describing reflection in their practice most people referred to reflection-on-action as retrospective, with only one person talking about reflection as part of planning.
Yesterday, in my retirement activities, I did some preservation – making some onion marmalade, and in the process, I did part of the recipe in the wrong order (I wait to see how disastrous that was). I realised that although I had read the recipe several times I had not developed a model of what I was doing hence the mistake.
Reflecting later I was reminded how this was like the process of preparing students for assessments, and how often you can go over common mistakes and find they still make them. I used to play a game called Words-in-sentences in training staff as it highlighted this – you can do various things to get them to read the instructions and ask them whether they understand them – oh yes! – and then they do it and it becomes obvious that they didn’t.
What I didn’t do I realise, and what they didn’t do, was to build a model of what was going to happen.
Reflecting as part of planning can just be a casual thought about what you are going to do in the future, as was the case with the person I interviewed. There are however models of more structured preparation such as in the Inner Game approach to sports coaching (Gallwey, no date), where you imagine what you will look like, and feel like when you are performing an action.
This can be extended using the NLP perceptual positions model, a full anticipatory reflection would include:
- First person
- What I see
- What I hear
- What I feel
- Second person
- What I look like
- What I sound like
- Impression I make on others
- Third person
- What I and my tools look like
- How I have things organised
- How I move in space
If I have done that – my reflection-in-action is much more effective – and of course saying that it becomes obvious that for reflection-in-action to work I much have some model or theory anyway (Houchens and Keedy, 2009) – but usually not well formed. If I have done more work on my internal model when I go to that stage of the recipe I would have known what I was doing wasn’t right.
Therefore, I propose that a model of effective practice has to include reflection-pre-action alongside the other reflection in order to be effective.
Available as a working paper on Researchgate DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.19785.39527
Andrew, D. et al. (2002) A critical review of the use of the concept of reflection in Higher Education .
Gallwey, T. (no date) HOME - The Inner Game. Available at: http://theinnergame.com/ (Accessed: 7 October 2018).
Houchens, G. W. and Keedy, J. L. (2009) ‘Theories of practice: understanding the practice of educational leadership’, Journal of Thought Fall-Winter 2009, 49. Available at: http://www.journalofthought.com/Issues/2009vol44issue34pdf/09houchens&keedy.pdf (Accessed: 7 October 2018).
Schön, D. A. (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner : toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. Jossey-Bass. Available at: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED295518 (Accessed: 7 October 2018).