Patti H. Clayton, Ph.D., co-creator of the DEAL model of critical reflection, promotes community engaged teaching, learning, and scholarship through her website PHC Ventures (www.curricularengagement.com). On this site Ms. Clayton shares strategies and resources, consults with scholars and practitioners, and details her services as a collaborator.
The following list (adapted from Clayton, 2013) will guide you through the design process.
- Identify the experience. Nearly every experience is reflection-worthy. Whether planned or unexpected, giving students the opportunity to critically reflect will enhance learning.
- Was the experience shared among the students or individual in nature? Shared experiences often call for group reflection, such as reflection circles or activities. Individual experiences allow deeper, longer reflection exercises. Do you expect students to learn from each other’s reflections or individually?
- What are your desired learning outcomes? Reflection exercises can become muddled when questions are unfocused. Before questions can be designed, the facilitator needs to know what she/he wants students to learn. Are you most concerned with disciplinary content, applicability, the student’s personal growth, skill-building, etc.?
- What is the facilitator’s role? Successful reflection requires guidance in addition to responses connected to assessment. Ensuring all students have a voice, supporting students’ feelings, and encouraging students to hone their ideas are critical for transformative learning through reflection. The facilitator’s participation is critical to the process, whether it is verbal or written.
- What is your Reflection Strategy? That is:
a. When will students reflect?
b. Why do students reflect?
c. Where do students reflect?
d. Who reflects?
- What is (are) your reflection assignment(s)? Will students reflect in only one way or many ways? The answer to these questions depends on the students, the experiences, the learning objectives, and time/space constraints. Part 2 of this guide provides additional guidance on this question.
- Is your Reflection Strategy iterative? Critical reflection should build on itself over time. Whether this applies to one or many experiences, the transformative learning engendered by reflection builds cumulatively. How can your reflection assignments build on each other (such as a pre-mid-post structure) over the course of the experience? Alternatively, can your assignments build across the student’s experiences and reflections in other courses?
- How can you provide a “safe yet critical” space for reflection? The key to open and honest reflection is an environment in which participants feel safe and comfortable. In order for group members to express their thoughts and opinions they must feel that they can do so without fear of attack or condemnation. It is the facilitator's job to create such an environment, to monitor participant's comfort levels, and to take the necessary steps to maintain safety. This includes understanding and planning for individual differences in needs, abilities, fears, and apprehensions. Participants who feel safe are more likely to make honest and genuine contributions and to feel camaraderie and respect towards other group members. The student’s learning from the reflection experience will be limited if they believe their interpretation of the experience is not valued or respected and that they must, instead, conform to their peers’ or facilitator’s interpretation.
- How will the Facilitator support the reflection process? Facilitators assist groups as they work together toward achieving group goals, and in most instances do not interject their own personal opinions or agenda. By expressing their opinions to the group, facilitators risk discouraging others with differing opinions from speaking. Although facilitators may help guide a discussion, they also recognize and foster the groups own ability to lead itself. Thus unlike authoritative leaders, good facilitators relinquish control to the group and promote open, democratic dialogue among group members.
- There isn’t one best Reflection Strategy or assignments, so keep experimenting! Critical Reflection is not easy or obvious. Learners need support during the reflection process and one of the best ways for facilitators to support is by modeling. Reflect on the reflection you have chosen! Learn from your own experience in the classroom.
Clayton, Patti H., PhD. (2013) "10 Tips for Designing Critical Reflection." PHC Ventures: Resources/Handouts. www.curricularengagement.com.