This post was written for my MA course and preparation included reading three papers. In one of these, the author described a typical student response to the sort of exercise I am doing now:
“..it was notable how many students still asked ‘what do they want?’ of this new form of writing that was designed to get them to be ‘open’ and to ‘take risks’…” (Crème, 2005)
I kind of identify with this, and am still not too sure what ‘they’ want from this exercise, but here are some thoughts anyway.
Of the three texts we read, the one I found most interesting was Jenny Moon’s 2001 paper. Despite its unpromising title -‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’, it inspired a number of ‘reflections’.
Reading your reflections
The examples of reflective writing supplied by Moon (2001) suggest that “deep reflection” can be helped by reading back and adding to previously written reflections. As it happens, I have some mixed feelings about this. For various reasons, I spent a bit over a year when I was at university keeping quite a detailed journal/diary. Most days, I wrote up my private thoughts, ideas and feelings, and eventually it sort of petered out. The half-dozen exercise books used to capture these writings went into a box in our attic for many years.
When we moved house recently, they came to light again and I dipped into some of them. The effect was a bit like watching Peep Show or The Office – excruciatingly uncomfortable but oddly compelling. I realised with horror that my twenty-year old self was moody, pompous, utterly self-absorbed and completely insufferable. Fortunately, I have never let anyone else read these diaries, and never will. I was on the brink of shredding the lot. Then I found that this twenty-year old just occasionally came out with something quite good. If I could edit them, there might be stuff in there to keep and even share. So I will try to make this one of my many long-term projects. Perhaps my children might find some of the stuff I went through useful one day.
And all of this has been a learning experience for me. I now have greater insight into why I developed the way I did in certain respects. More importantly, it is easy, as you get older, to forget what it is like to be young, and this can lead to being judgemental. I am sure most twenty-year olds are much better adjusted and nicer than I was, but I hope that these diaries will help me understand and relate to my children, and indeed anyone else, as they go through the difficult phases of growing up.
Reflection and culture
Moon (2001) comments:
“There may also be cultural issues to consider in the introduction of reflective activity”
She then moves on, leaving me somewhat tantalised. It seems to me that this is a huge issue, not something to mention in passing. Attitudes to reflection surely differ greatly according to national, religious, social and educational backgrounds. I wonder what research has been done on this – it would be interesting to track down.
In particular, I do not think our culture, on the whole, encourages reflection. A few years ago, at work we had a presentation from Peter Honey (of Honey and Mumford fame). He is a writer, trainer and consultant, so thinking is a key part of how he earns his living. He told a story that he had been in his study at home one day, staring out of the window and thinking about something useful for his work. His wife came in to ask him a question and he immediately pretended to be reading. Later, he wondered why he had reacted this way, instinctively. I know what he means – in our culture you are supposed to “doing” all the time, even in your leisure time. The constant drive for increased productivity at work means we need to “do” more and more in our jobs. And thinking does not usually count.
To conclude, for this assignment we were specifically asked to comment on the role of blogging. I have meant to do personal blogging for years, and the course has given me the push to finally get on with it. In some ways, it is the most valuable thing I have gained from the course so far. People blog for many reasons, often for marketing or self-promotion, but it can also be one of the few spaces we have opened up in modern society for reflection. If you like, you can make private posts (which I have) in which case I guess the blog is just a more durable, convenient, searchable version of a paper diary.
But the most obvious difference between blogging and my old journal is that most blogs are intended to be public to a greater or lesser extent, shared with anyone in the world who is interested. This means that some self-censorship is needed as what we will share is not necessarily what we will write in private. But the upside is that others can read, comment and respond if they like. We can think, and even reflect, together. I find that really exciting.
Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (last accessed 27 September 2011).
Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (last accessed 27 September 2011).