Guiding Student Reflection

When learners reflect, they thoughtfully consider (or reconsider) an experience. If the reflection is critical, it challenges the customary ways of understanding or explaining an experience. Critical reflection questions meanings and looks at assumptions. The opportunity to reflect on experiences develops critical thinking skills and helps students to learn things for themselves.

This kind of reflection is particularly important for students in professional programs where the goal is not just to develop content knowledge but to help students acquire the skills that will enable them to function competently in professional situations. When students do not have much experience in professional settings, they need to learn as much as possible from their experiences. This requires the kind of reflection that occurs when they return to the experiences, recall what happened, think about what they assumed, consider what might have happened if they had taken a different course of action, and thoughtfully consider what they learned from the experience.

However, students are not born knowing how to reflect on experiences, critically or otherwise. In fact, the authors of the article referenced below were motivated to intervene in students’ attempts to reflect (in this case on clinical experiences in a nursing program) when they noted the wide variation in how students wrote about their experiences. They decided that what students needed was a “structure that would help them make more in-depth descriptions of clinical experiences and their thinking about those situations.” (p. 513)

The authors developed a guide for reflection based on a clinical judgment model from their field. The guide lists a series of prompts that the instructions say will “help you tell the story of the situation you encountered.” (p. 515) There are prompts that solicit descriptions of relevant background details, others that ask what the student noticed, a set of prompts that encourage interpretation of the situation, more that have the students delineate their responses, and a question that asks about reaction to the response. The guide ends with a series of prompts that help students articulate what they learned from the experience. This particular guide (which appears in the article) is specific to nursing, but it could easily be adapted to other clinical or field experience situations.

The guide was developed to help students, but it benefits faculty as well. It provides a “window” into student thinking about experiences. This can be especially helpful when faculty have not observed a student in a particular situation.

The authors recommend using a guide like this more than once in a course. “Consistent use of the guide throughout a course provides students with repetitive practice using a specific process to consider patient care and clinical practice.” (p. 516) This way the guide becomes a rubric that students can take with them into any professional experience.

Reference: Nielsen, A., Stragnell, S., and Jester, P. (2007). Guide for reflection using the clinical judgment model. Journal of Nursing Education, 46 (11), 513-516.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, March 2008.