Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Introduction to Reflective Practice Part 2.

A key author in this field is Argyris who suggests that it is sensible to look beyond the obvious solutions to a problem. This kind of approach could be described as thinking outside the box. Argyris provides a framework that helps identify what the boxes are that might be limiting our ability to identify better solutions.

Argyris (1974) suggested that when people look at situations and see a problem, or a place where there is room for improvement, they often use personal experience to plan change within their usual framework by employing familiar or locally accepted strategies. Argyris proposed that this single loop learning approach may not be enough to achieve significant improvement in the workplace. He proposes that this is especially the case when the assumptions and beliefs on which the reflection and actions are based are out-dated.

 Double Loop Learning involves assessing and challenging the 'belief systems' and 'values' that govern action in the workplace. These are grouped under the phrase 'governing variables' or sometimes 'governing values'. 

During the year 2 BA LTR reflection in the work setting module students sometimes look back at the reflective models used in the year 1 reflection module and feel that governing variables are not addressed and that many of the models are likely to lead to single loop learning solutions. if you read the original publications about the models rather than just working from the images of the models you will find that a phase such as 'Review' is expected to be far deeper and more systematic than just having a think about what happened - factors that govern behaviour can be used to support analysis in many seemingly basic models.

Some models start with a step such as "Have an experience." That may be a purposeful action such as deciding to examine a workplace policy, procedure or to observe someone in practice. Students on the LTR reflective practice modules more usually examine a practice based experience that was not predetermined - they become alert to looking for 'significant events' during their working day or during study periods outside of work. The insider perspective of this approach is valuable but does require them to develop the ability to step back and examine their own behaviours and beliefs from an objective perspective. The recording of a significant event is the first part of the journey through a critical incident analysis and is the first meeting with a need to consider what is governing their understanding of reality. The significant event becomes a critical incident when it has been analysed through the application of critical thinking strategies.

Wherever describing reality is needed, be it in critical incident analysis, or any other kind of analysis of experiential learning / research that is concerned with real world phenomenon, there are governing factors to consider when attempting to describe and understand reality. Some of them are easily varied, some less so.

Many reflective models appropriate for work-based learning start with a step that describes what happened during a significant event, for example the first of Gibbs 6 steps. 

"What happened?" That might sound a fairly simple starting point but there are pitfalls when attempting to construct a description of reality and it should be remembered that a straightforward description risks being just a personal perspective - one individual personal belief about what happened. 

Korzybski's 1933 work Science and Sanity set out some useful principles:

 "A map is not the territory." 
 "A map does not represent all of the territory." 

This can be applied to language in the form:

"The word is not the object." 

This reminds us that a word does not contain all of the information about what it describes. Words can be misleading, people have differing perceptions about what is meant by a word. My wife and her mum both drink what to me is scalding hot tea. My mouth feels pain drinking tea at a temperature she can drink with ease yet her's is fine. Our perceptions of what is meant by 'hot' are at variance. My concept of 'hot' is only 'fairly warm' to her. 

The principles can  also be applied to personal constructions about experience, so when initially grappling with Gibbs first step: "What happened?" the resulting account might well be a map that represents only part of the territory so it is more about 'What I think happened.'  That is fine as a first step, personal perspectives are useful but should not be thought of, or presented as, absolute truths. 

In a busy classroom it is all too easy to develop an in the moment perception that is an incorrect map of what actually happened: 'That child is being noisy so is the cause of my class being disrupted.' The reality might be that the noisy child has been putting up with covert harassment from someone nearby and eventually reacted noisily; that could be exactly the outcome the covert harasser was trying to provoke. Making an incorrect judgement call in situations like that perpetuates bullying, can be very stressful for the victim and can result in them losing trust and respect for the teacher and disengaging from learning. This can be made much worse if, when identified, the victim tries to explain what actually happened and are told not to answer back.

When I ask students to apply reflective models to examine and improve their personal practice one aspect I am looking for is an awareness of the fragility of personal perspectives. The starting point is identifying a significant event either in the workplace or relating to your study. 

1. What do I think happened? Create a first draft personal account based on a 'let it flow via a stream of consciousness' approach with no concern about module word limits. Reflection on what you think happened and how you behaved should include reference to personal feelings and your initial perceptions of the feelings and behaviours of others.

2. What might really have happened? A refined description where personal beliefs and their influence are carefully considered. This may be difficult as the aim is to take a deep honest look inside yourself and uncover potential self deception with the aim of moving towards an unbiased account. 

3. What do others think happened? This might include individual consultation with others who were present as peripheral observers or actually involved in the event. Individual accounts are important in order to avoid gathering political responses adapted to suite others.

4. Collaborative debate. Dewey was in favour of collaborative reflection but this can be a difficult step. In some circumstances it might not be ethical or sensible to include. It can be valuable to bring together those who were involved and share an overview that provides the group with insight into the range of potential realities. These are then discussed with the aim of agreeing a most likely version of reality.

At this stage there may be an account that could be proposed as getting close to answering what actually happened. It will still be a map of reality rather than an absolute truth, however; it can be a good basis from which to proceed to identifying how to improve your behaviour should a similar situation arise again.

5. What else might have been be done? This step is an analysis of all potentially effective options as to how you might have improved how you behaved. Freed from all governing factors the reflective practitioner records a blue sky aspirational exploration of unbounded possibilities.

6. What else could have be done? Analysis of the findings from the previous step focuses on deciding what the reflective practitioner believes would be best to do out of all the possibilities that were uncovered. This is still a speculative potential action as the only governing variable is the personal belief about what could have been best for those involved in the original event.

7. What can actually be done now? This aims to make a decision on what is feasible to do within workplace boundaries. These boundaries include factors such as workplace policies, behaviour expectations, institutional visions and aims, accepted norms of behaviour and expected best practice. A solution that has been adapted to fit with factors that govern what can be done in the workplace is developed and articulated in an evidence based format that shows a careful and systematic analysis has been implemented. 

8. What needs to be changed? In an organisation that fits the criteria developed by Senge for being a 'learning organisation' those able to plan and implement higher level change will be actively seeking new ideas to improve the current system and will welcome input from all staff. Disruptive innovation solutions that go beyond the current boundaries that govern the workplace might also be welcome. A persuasive evidence based account extending on from step 7 findings can be useful in persuading others that change is to be embraced.

For BA LTR students on the 'Reflection in the work setting 2' module:
In all of your patches you need to evidence that you understand the nature and role of governing variables in systematic approaches to reflection that are dominantly focused on yourself in the workplace but can also encompass reflection on study related issues such as use of technologies, the online library, developing good literature skills and other relevant practices. The link to double loop learning is also very important and you can bring in triple loop learning as well. This takes the impact of reflection further than personal practice and involves concern with sharing outcomes / influencing change at the organisational level. 

Good understanding and use of the concepts of espoused theory / theory in use will be evident in most higher level work as will reference to the type 1 and 2 behaviour models. 
Good signposting is essential. Governing variables operate at one or several levels so we need to see comments such as: "This governing variable operates at the personal beliefs level. Having reflected on my beliefs I realise they are partly based on the norms of behaviour / expectations in the workplace..." 
it is also clear that the potential for variance of factors that govern behaviour does not always lie with the practitioner so you should also include reference to whether you are able to be an agent for change, whether you would need to persuade / involve others or whether change would have to come from outside of your workplace via something like change at the level of government policy. This is why I have included reference in the template to solutions in an ideal world and the solutions it is possible to implement in your real world situation. You might also feel that your ideas differ from those in the workplace - it is not always the need for change to be implemented from outside​ the workplace that limits your ability to implement it. You do not need to change any governing variables to pass this module to a high standard, what is important is identifying what and where change is needed,whether it can or can not be implemented and why this is the case. 
Please make sure that any work you ask for feedback on is in 'final draft' condition. This means spell checked and with syntax and writing style carefully refined, any figures and references should also be in line with final submission expectations. Feedback on work that is almost ready for submission is more valuable than feedback on work that is in an early draft state. If you do still have potential additions to make then a few notes in a different coloured text are fine - e.g. 'Paragraph on model 1 ands 2 behaviours to be inserted here.
Formative feedback is a way of  helping students​ to reach their full potential and you must make use of this opportunity as it will potentially help you gain a higher final classification.
The following video is a draft created by a year 2 student.

 This is my idea of 'serious fun'. The theory is evident in the concise narrative from the start, the opening grappling with what had been asked was a lovely way to highlight how easily it is to misconstrue reality, the "I now believe this is what happened" line also has the very important tentative voice that indicates understanding of the fragility of truth, and of semantics that I tried to convey re Korzybski. It also shows application of the first two steps in the model mentioned earlier on this page:
1. What do I think happened? 

2. What might really have happened?

 Even when much time and effort is used to get as close to the truth as possible it is still only a personal construction and as such is quite a fragile conceptualisation. The voice that is used was done very well, it is concise, and precise there is nothing sloppy or incoherent.  It is also a very impersonal voice so when Laurence listens back to it he is listening to an objective account rather than listening directly to his own natural voice. That can have quite deep psychological impact as far as reassessing the judgements that were made. It is a great example of 'less is more'  I asked students to reflect on their creative use of technologies. It is a first attempt at making a video, a choice of technology made by the student autonomously, so I like the way it is an exploration of using new software creatively while reflecting on that aspect of practice. The immersion in the critical incident that is achieved when creating media artifacts tends to be deep and sustained as generating media takes time and there is a wish to present something of good quality. 
Below is a framework I recommend you try for at least one of your Critical incident reports. You are welcome to devise your own framework for the other one - originality and synthesis of ideas to develop new systems tends to gain higher credits. A Flash resource that reminds you about reflection in action and then moves on to this framework can be accessed by following this link. Depending on your connection it could take a few moments to load. 

Argyris, C.,1982. Organizational Dynamics; The Executive Mind and Double Loop Learning. [Online] Accessed 08 July 2013 

Dick, B. and Dalmau, T., 2000. Argyris and Schön: some elements of their models. [Online ] Accessed 21 October 2014 

Tarrant, P., 2013. Reflective Practice and Professional Development. Sage.

Tripp, D.,1993. Critical Incidents in Teaching: Developing Professional Judgement London: Routledge.

Korzybski, A., 2003. Science and Sanity (5th ed.)

Thursday, 12 September 2013


 I have been interested in bats all of my life and spend much of my teaching time helping people see their world differently, looking through the mirror is a basic reflective practice concept and turning a photo upside down is such a simple idea but I have never thought of doing it to gain insight into bat world - for me this one provided a fascinating different perspective on bat world.  Many thanks to Weh Yeoh for Tweeting.

I am off to find photos of ostriches in a desert and turn that upside down to see how they look at bats :-)