Structured reflection is simply reflection, which has prompts, questions, activities or organised discussion to help you to think more deeply about an issue. The questions and charts provided on this website, for example, help to structure reflection about your personal development.
All universities are required to provide opportunities for structured reflection at each stage of study.
Unstructured reflection can be as useful as structured reflection.
Your university may require you to keep a log, journal or portfolio and give you very precise directions about what to include and how to present it. Alternatively, you may be asked to devise your own records and presentation.
It is still a good idea to keep a diary or journal even if you don’t have to do so as part of your programme. It can seem like an effort to write entries on a regular basis, but the reward comes when you read these back several months later. You will be surprised at the things you have forgotten - and the changes you may notice in yourself over time. Entries don’t have to be long.
Taking the time
Usually, we are too caught up in what we are doing to have a really good perspective on how well we are doing and the effect we are having on the people around us.
Fortunately, we can stand back occasionally and reflect about such things as our aims, responses, feelings and performance. Well-developed skills in reflection can help us to:
- Gain a more in-depth and honest picture of ourselves.
- Become more aware of our hidden motivations, our thinking styles, and of how we appear to other people.
- Develop a better understanding of what affects our own performance and progress.
- Develop our insight and judgements.
- Gain more control over our own thoughts, emotions, responses and behaviour so that we are in a better position to achieve what we want to achieve.
Forming your own judgement
As a student, you are expected to take responsibility for your own progress. University students are expected to develop into independent thinkers, capable of evaluating their own performance, drawing conclusions about what they did well, what could have been improved, and how to improve. It is important to develop confidence in your own evaluation and judgement of your work rather than relying on evaluations by tutors. This will help you develop your critical thinking - and will be invaluable if you have a responsible job now or in the future.
Using feedback well
You need to be clear in your own mind about what is required and see for yourself whether or not you have achieved this, irrespective of what anybody else thinks. Your evaluations should be based upon sound criteria rather than a general feeling that you are right and your lecturers are wrong. Consider the differences between your own evaluations and the feedback you receive from others. Those differences may hold important clues about how to achieve better grades and to improve your performance generally. Don’t throw that invaluable feedback in the bin without reading it first!
The ‘reflective practitioner’ approach
Many areas of employment now use a ‘reflective practitioner’ approach. This is built into the work cycle in some way, such as through reviews or appraisal. Typically, this means taking personal responsibility for matters such as:
- Your continued professional development (CPD).
- Making a fair and reasonable evaluation of your own work – this might affect your pay.
- Knowing your own strengths and where you can make a valuable contribution to the team or the business.
- Recognising your personal limitations and identifying the training you need to improve your performance.
- Recognising the effects of your own behaviour on others and taking responsibility for your actions.
- Knowing when you are making useful contributions to team discussions – and when you are not being helpful.
- Identifying ways of improving individual and team performance.
For more advice, see Chapter 7 of Skills for Success by Stella Cottrell