There are some basic strategies for carrying out each of these components of reflective learning.
- You must know what you want to learn. In identifying what you want to learn, the trick is to self-identify as a learner – as someone who could benefit from doing some reflective learning.
- Next, you need to let yourself in on how you normally go about your reflective learning. Everyone does it although not everyone pays attention to it. You may mull things over as you drive your car, or while you are doing some routine household task. Alternatively, you may let your mind wander as you are doing your physical fitness routine or just while you are walking somewhere. Some people do much of their reflective learning in the few moments just before they drop off to sleep or just when they wake up. If you do not have a time when you reflect on things, you will need to make some time for yourself.
- You will need to develop an “observing other” – a very small “person” who sits on one shoulder or behind one ear and observes everything that happens from both the outside looking in and the inside looking out. The observing other needs to have a sense of humour and not to get overwhelmed by your emotional responses to whatever information you uncover. This “observing other” records details of experiences without ignoring or distorting anything.
- You can help the process by attending more closely to your experiences. You can do this by keeping a journal or diary, looking through photos, drawings or notes that remind you of your experiences. (for video on a reflective learning journal, please check out http://bit.ly/T3PYuz )
- You need to generate much information about the details of your experiences – both past experiences and immediate experiences. To do this, you can brainstorm a list of things that you recall from your experiences. It sometimes helps to first brainstorm a list of what did happen, who was involved, what was said or done, and how you felt; and then brainstorm a list of what did not happen, who was not involved, what was not said or done, and how you didn’t feel. There are sometimes details in this negated version of an experience that get overlooked or distorted in the stored memory of experiences.
- Set aside any concerns or expectations that you might have that this process will result in something “constructive” or that you will end up with a “product.” Place no expectations on yourself.
- You need to suspend logical, rational thinking and verbal ways of knowing for a short period and attend to the stream of information you have generated in step 5. Logical, rational, verbal ways of knowing include all attempts to develop ideas that are reasonable. Temporarily get rid of the parent or sergeant-major in your head who is trying to tell you what is right or wrong.
- Review all the information at your disposal – from your lists, from your records, from your observing other. Then just let your mind drift. Let yourself be aware of your feelings, of stray thoughts that do not seem to belong, of the unusual or unexpected images (or whatever) that float into your consciousness. Sometimes you can make things more deliberate by turning things upside down or inside out, by looking at them through the wrong end of the telescope. As you identify connections or stray ideas, note them down without judging their logic or practicality. The reflective process is not just “thinking” in the sense of recalling what happened, solving problems, reorganizing ideas or making decisions; it is much broader and includes identifying connections among different experiences. It involves identifying hunches, feelings, analogies, “crazy” ideas, intuitions, dreams, images, and so on.
- You are looking for connections that are surprising, that make you say “Ah-ha” or “Oh no”. Write down any such connections and then go back to your drifting. You can come back to your connections later.
- Go back over your list of connections and explore each one. What does each tell you about your experiences? Do the connections that you identified say anything about other experiences – immediate or past? If you can generalize your connections – that is if it seems to be true for several different experiences – then you need to assess it. Some connections are neutral and do not necessarily lead anywhere. Some connections may provide you with ideas about how you can manage future situations. Some ideas may result to new ways of looking at the world and eventually to more change.
- Be prepared to share at least one of your connections with others. Let them help you flesh out the details and make your connection more specific.
As you practice reflective and self-reflective learning, you will begin to develop some skill. Keep a journal or diary in which you make a note of some of the more interesting ideas that flow from your reflective and self-reflective activities – we suggest a book format because post-it notes tend to get lost over time. When you find the same ideas coming up over and over again, then you’ll know you have identified something important about your experience.