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Teaching Tips- Summer 2014

Reflecting on Learning: Pedagogic Facilitation

by Elaine Arnull

As academics we may seek to teach in a way that supports ‘deep learning’ and critical thinking and many of us will try numerous ways to facilitate this throughout our careers. As recent sections of this Teaching Tips column have considered, enabling deep and critical thinking can help students to make sense of their academic learning at later stages in their professional and personal lives.

Reflection is considered a vital component in achieving deep, critical learning and there are many models of reflection (Schon 1983; Johns 1992; Thompson and Thompson 2008). Some argue however that the approaches to teaching reflection are frequently little more than an academic exercise which is sometimes poorly implemented and understood (Hughes and Quinn, 2013).

Models for undertaking reflection differ, but it can be argued that the model used is not so important as ensuring a process of reflection occurs. Facilitating reflective learning is, it is argued, a way to go beyond reflection as a ‘buzzword’ (Thompson and Pascal 2012). And although it is recognised that students can find it profoundly difficult to reflect on their learning (Stewart 2012) this appears unrelated to other factors or abilities. Teaching tools can be a way to support students and enable this reflection by –

· facilitating students’ learning by providing a framework to help them structure their thinking (Norrie et al 2012):,

· prompting them to reflect and make connections between theory, practice/real life situations and reflection, and

· incorporating elements which would enable them to develop their criticality and perhaps develop reflexivity (Taylor and White 2000).

Tools can be visual or word based, examples include a ‘jigsaw’ visual method (adapted from Scragg and Mantel 2011) or a series of bulleted questions, developed from the work of Schon (1983) and Thompson and Thompson (2008; Arnull and Aldridge-Bent forthcoming). The idea of using specific teaching ‘tools’ or formats is to engage students in a way which is not didactic but ‘...geared more towards the facilitation of learning and personal and professional development’ (Thompson and Pascal 2012). Tools when given to students can be emancipatory, enabling them to develop learning methods, structures and methods which they can utilise and incorporate, develop or discard as a part of their academic, personal and professional learning and practice.

Tools should be designed to encourage ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ (Thompson and Pascal 2012) and to facilitate the student being consciously reflective and consciously critical. Research by Laverty (2012) suggested that the use of innovative techniques are a way to increase student engagement in learning and Norrie et al (2012) found a range of facilitation techniques most effective. Thompson and Pascal’s (2012) concerns that reflection may be an uncritical theoretical concept is countered by Laverty (2012) who found that reflection and the use of reflective tools enabled students to become more aware ‘of the value of ideas generated by scholarly thought...’(Laverty 2012:140 drawing on Regan 2008).

We would like to include tips from you in future instalments for successfully teaching and facilitating students reflection on their own learning and welcome your input. What theories of reflection have you covered in classes? Have you used tools to facilitate this? What tools or strategies have worked well for you? Comments sent to Elaine Arnull ( will be compiled and included in an upcoming column.


Arnull, E and Aldridge-Bent, S. (forthcoming) Fit for Practice: How Can We Help? Pedagogic Reflections.

Hughes, S. and Quinn, F.M. (2013) Quinn’s Principles and Practice of Nurse Education 6th ed. Cheltenham: Cengage Learning.

Laverty, J. (2012) "Reflective Learning Within Clinical Physiology: The Student’s Perspective on the Usefulness of Reflection as a Learning Tool." Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 13:1:131-147.

Norrie, C. Hammond, J. D’Avray L. Colington, V. And Fook J. (2012) "Doing it Differently? A Review of Literature on Teaching Reflective Practice Across Health and Social Care Professions." Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 13:4:565-578.

Scragg T and Mantel A (2011) Safeguarding Adults in Social Work. Glasgow: Learning Matters.

Schon (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Taylor C and White S (2000) Practising Reflexivity in Health and Welfare: Making Knowledge. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Thompson, N. and Pascal, J (2012) "Developing Critically Reflective Practice." Reflective Practice. 13:2:311-325.

Thompson S. and Thompson, N. (2008) The Critically Reflective Practitioner. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.