There has been much debate, critique of research and discussion about the value and benefits of critical reflection (CR) in education and there are not very many solid ideas. I have a very strong opinion on CR that I shared in one of the online forums today, which said:
I was stopped in my thoughts [whilst reading another entry made] to ponder your entry more when you wrote that critical reflection as a conceptual framework, cannot be tested. I really want to try and understand more of the angle everyone (including all the researchers we have been looking at) is coming from when they say this. How can something of such clear and explicit value and worth not be able to be tested? I believe that there is physical and empirical evidence that supports the validity of critical reflection in educational institutes. What does that look like? That seems to be the question, along with the valid methodology with which to test. I may be blindly naive in my conclusion, however, critical reflection has so many strong resulting products and other things it generates, that it is perhaps just a lack of research that has yet to demonstrate what is already obvious to those who have had substantial experience with it. I would love to do a lot more research on this and demonstrate to educators what I so passionately believe is the foundational practice for producing growth in lifelong learners.
From my research these are the benefits I believe each individual, and group, that utilises CR will receive in one way or another:
- An indication of what assumptions govern the organisation, a clearer idea of how the organisational culture is shaped. CR will also help inform future organisational cgange as well. Savaya and Gardner (2012) say “critical reflection (CR) is a process by which one may identify the assumptions governing one’s actions, question them, and develop alternative behaviours” (p. 145).
- “It generates learning (articulating questions, confronting bias, examining causality, contrasting theory with practice, pointing to systemic issues), deepens learning (challenging simplistic conclusions, inviting alternative perspectives, asking “why” iteratively), and documents learning (producing tangible expressions of new understandings for evaluation)” (Ash & Clayton, 2009, p. 27). Therefore, it makes the learning process and its outputs/outcomes more explicit doesn’t it?
- CR makes sense of experiences. “To make meaning means to make sense of an experience; we make an interpretation of it. When we subsequently use this interpretation to guide decision making or action, then making meaning becomes learning […] Critical reflection involves a critique of the presuppositions on which our beliefs have been built” (Mezirow, 1990, p. 1).
- Provides are vehicle for problem solving and inquiry, addressing the changing needs of challenges that learning organisation face. “Critical reflection provides both theory and processes to make this making and remaking of knowledge to happen. Participants acknowledge that critical reflection provides a framework that enables them to manage these issues more effectively” (Fook and Gardner, 2007, p. 10).
- CR informs behavioural intervention and “can be a more useful tool for addressing social and emotional issues, namely those pertaining to race and culture” (Howard, 2003, p. 197). Therefore, CR is a great tool for objectively handling potentially sensitive issues within organisations.
I really think there are so many fantastic benefits and organisational value to the implementation of critical reflection and its often a case that there has not yet been enough research into certain contexts as to what the benefits look like and what the full weight of them is. I am excited to explore this issue more in coming months.
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.
Fook, J., & Gardner, F. (2007). Practising Critical Reflection: A Resource Handbook: A Handbook. McGraw-Hill International.
Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into practice, 42(3), 195-202.
Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.Fostering critical reflection in adulthood, 1-20.
Savaya, R., & Gardner, F. (2012). Critical reflection to identify gaps between espoused theory and theory-in-use. Social work, 57(2), 145-154.