29 Reflective Thinking

Understanding Context and Reflecting on Your Research


Select and read this article, “Backpacks Vs. Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis” by Laura Bolin Carroll. (41)

Reflective Thinking and Writing

Reflective writing is a useful tool for contextualizing and memorializing our learning activities. A variety of educational theories on how we acquire knowledge and make sense of our experiences include reflective composition as an important culminating activity.

Reflective writing is personal, of course, and it should discuss a spectrum of introspective thinking on how a learning opportunity positively impacted you. That spectrum begins with you and your prior knowledge about a given subject, and it then progresses through a series of questions (or stages of thinking). Generally speaking, a piece of reflective writing will address some of the following areas.

A writer will…

  • Review his or her experiences as a learner. Which new or innovative ideas did you encounter? What type of learning experience (hands on or academic) did you participate in? What did you do or make, and how did your experiences create skills or aptitudes that can help you in other areas of your life?
  • Consider the assumptions (previously held notions), attitudes, values, and beliefs that he or she brought to this learning experience. Did participating in the class or course of study help you develop any core personal principles? Were there any important changes in your personal belief systems that can be tied directly to your learning activity?
  • Speculate on the future. How can you use what you have learned to justify your beliefs and actions? How can you use what you have learned to solve problems for you, your family, or your community? How has what you have learned changed your understanding of a subject or added meaning to your broader worldview?

The value of reflective writing rests in the activity of stepping back and adopting a wider view of yourself and your subjects. By taking some time to tie these concepts together, students can gain a clearer perspective on their core beliefs and attitudes and create depth and complexity in their understanding of important rhetorical subjects. (1)

Reflective Thinking and Writing in Practice

So how do we engage in useful reflection?

University of Portland educator Peter Pappas modified Dr. Benjamin Blooms Taxonomy of Learning to focus on reflection. He writes:

Reflection can be a challenging endeavor. It’s not something that’s fostered in school—where typically someone else tells you how you’re doing! Principals (and other instructional leaders) are often so caught up in meeting the demands of the day that they rarely have the luxury to muse on how things went. Self-assessment is clouded by the need to meet competing demands from multiple stakeholders.

Each level of reflection in the examples to follow is structured to parallel influential theorist Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy. Dr. Bloom’s taxonomy (an orderly classification of categories for a given subject) was first published in 1956, and it has subsequently been revised. (42)

Consider this taxonomy of reflection in light of the tasks that you have accomplished in writing your research argument in this class. These questions will be reflected in the discussion that you will write for this module, and they can help you explore your growth as a scholar and go deeper into your understanding of the subjects that you discussed in your writing. (43)

A Taxonomy of Reflection

Creating: What should I do next? 

Evaluating: How well did I do? 

Analyzing: Do I see any patterns in what I did? 

Applying: Where I could use this again? 

Understanding: What was important about it? 

Remembering: What did I do? 

Model developed by Peter Pappas.

The Reflective Principle

Here are some of the potential reflection questions an educational leader might ask upon the conclusion of a project, in addition to their categorization under Bloom’s taxonomy.

Bloom’s Remembering: What did I do?

What role did I play in implementing this program? What role did others play? What steps did I take? Is the program now operational and being implemented? Was it completed on time? Are assessment measures in place?

Bloom’s Understanding: What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?

What are the major components of the program? How do they connect with building / district goals? Is the program in compliance with federal/state/local mandates? Will it satisfy relevant contracts? Is it within budget? Is the program meeting its stated goals?

Bloom’s Application: When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?

Did I utilize lessons learned earlier in my career? Did I build on the approaches used in previous initiatives? Will the same organizational framework or plan for implementation meet the needs of another program or project? How could my interaction with one stakeholder group be modified for use with others?

Bloom’s Analysis: Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?

Were the implementation strategies I used effective for this situation? Do I see any patterns in how I approached the initiative – such as timetable, communications, input from stakeholders? Do I see patterns in my leadership style – for example do I over-promise, stall when I need to make a tough decision? What were the results of the approach I used – was it effective, or could I have eliminated or reorganized steps?

Bloom’s Evaluation: How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve?

What are we doing and is it important? Does the data show that some aspects of the program are more effective than others? What corrective measures might we take? Were the needs of all stakeholders met? In a larger context, is the organization improving its capacity for improvement? Were some aspects of my leadership approach more effective than others? What have I learned about my strengths and my areas in need of improvement? How am I progressing as a leader?

Bloom’s Creation: What should I do next? What’s my plan or design?

What did I learn from this initiative and how would I incorporate the best aspects of my experience in the future? What changes would I make to correct areas in need of improvement? Given our experience with this project, how would I address our next challenge? What suggestions do I have for my stakeholders, supervisors or peers to foster greater collaboration? (44)

Final Thoughts on Reflective Thinking

In this hypothetical example, these reflection questions would assist an educational leader in creating a comprehensive view of his or her abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and outcomes in implementing a new project.

As the author of a sustained piece of rhetorical research, you must now ask yourself some similar questions about your subject, your curiosity with this area of research, your results as a researcher, and your progress as a college writer. (1)


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