Reflective writing

As part of their clinical placements, our students are required to complete some reflective components and submit them along with their clinical files at the end of the block. These reflections are usually in the form of SWOT analyses, SPAR stories, reflective journals or critical reflections of journal articles. The writing exercises are meant to encourage students to reflect on meaningful experiences during the placement, but which actually end up being “busy work”, a meaningless requirement to pass the block.

This lack of reflection (or rather, the lack of understanding around the process and benefits of reflection) seems to be a common problem in education. This article from Tomorrow’s Professor highlights the issue and offers some insight that I think is quite useful.

Writing is thinking, whereas students think that thinking is what happens after writing

  • Students need to have a variety of activities to write about i.e. we shouldn’t necessarily be telling them what topics to write on
  • Practicing “freewriting” (different to stream of consciousness) may be a way for students to discover things they hadn’t realised they thought or felt (grammar / spelling / structure isn’t important here)
  • Encourage students’ unique voices to come through. (I’ve experienced how powerful this can be during an ethics assignment I gave my third year class. See my post: Giving students a voice in physiotherapy ethics)
  • Begin the class with a 10 minute writing exercise. Don’t give a theme or topic, let students write about whatever is on their mind. Later on in class, ask them to freewrite about the topic you’ve just covered. The first session is a warm-up for the second, and the output is often better as a result
  • A journal is a safe place to explore personal creativity
  • Writing tasks must be associated with feedback (not necessarily grades in order to be meaningful
  • Ask students to select 2 pieces of their writing from the course and to write a reflection on why those 2 pieces were chosen (i.e. a meta-reflection), submitting all 3 for grading (this is hard to grade)
  • Model the behaviour you expect from the students, so when they’re freewriting, so should you
  • Writing / journaling should be integrated with the course, not a separate activity

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.