Wright Institute Philosophy: Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice

Reflective practice calls for a commitment to critical self-appraisal about one's work, which, in the academic environment, is facilitated by faculty members who mentor and act as role models (Bennett-Levy & Lee, 2014; Clouder & Sellars, 2004; Farmer, Buckmaster, & LeGrand, 1992; Gillmer & Marckus, 2003; Irby, 1986; Kaufman & Mann, 2010; Schön, 1987; Slotnik, 1996; Svinicki, 1991; Vivekananda-Schmidt et al., 2011; Wright, 1996). Donald Schön, who has written extensively about reflective practice, argued that it is a necessary capacity for professionals who want to go beyond the application of formulaic procedures (Schön, 1987, 1995). Through our emphasis on critical thinking and reflective practice, we seek to enable our graduates to handle problems that are complex, ill-defined, and often beyond their experiential repertoire (Burgess, Rhodes & Wilson, 2013; Galloway, Webster, Howey, & Robertson, 2003; Hiebert, Carpenter, Fennema, Fuson, Human, Murray et al., 1996; Lavender, 2003; Sargeant et al., 2010; Schön, 1987; Stedmon, Mitchell, Johnstone, & Staite, 2003; Wasser & Bresler, 1996). In this way, we prepare them to work effectively within what Schön refers to as the "swampy lowland" of actual professional practice:

These indeterminate zones of practice - uncertainty, uniqueness, and value-conflict - escape the canons of technical rationality. . . . [I]t is just these indeterminate zones of practice, however, that practitioners and critical observers of the professionals have come to see with increasingly clarity over the past two decades as central to professional practice. (1987, p. 6)

Schön stated that repeated exposure to such problematic situations leads to the acquisition of a capacity he calls "knowing-in-action," the type of implicit knowledge that characterizes expertise. He called for a new epistemology of practice, one which accounts for the tacit knowledge that professionals employ when working in complex situations not amenable to conventional solutions. This epistemology stresses critical thinking, reflection, and intellectual discovery as central components of the professional learning experience, and as critical factors in maneuvering through the indeterminate zones of practice (Archer, 2010; Baskett & Marsick, 1992; Finlay, 2008; Gadzella et al., 1989; Mann, Gordon & MacLeod, 2009; Schön, 1987, 1995; Rubinstein & Firstenberg, 1987; Wales, Nardi, & Stager, 1993).

We use the term critical thinking to mean an active and deliberate effort to improve one's understanding of the environment. It is linked with such abilities as solving problems, selecting pertinent information, recognizing stated and unstated assumptions, formulating and selecting relevant and promising hypotheses, drawing valid conclusions, and judging the validity of inferences (Barrows, 1985; Baskett & Marsick, 1992; Chang et al., 1995; Des Marchais & Vu, 1996; Gadzella et al., 1989; King & Kitchener, 1994; Kurfiss, 1988; Ruth-Sahd, 2003). In this vein, Jarvis (1992) described intellectual discovery as the outcome of a reflective process in which practitioners learn from their experiences and refine their practical knowledge through the application of solutions to ill-defined problems:

Practitioners cannot always be sure of acting in an almost taken-for-granted manner; they are sometimes confronted with disjuncture and are forced to rethink the whole situation. At this point, practice is the situation in which a reflective learning experience occurs, and if the practitioners reflect on the situation and learn from it, then they add to their body of practical knowledge. Consequently, new skills and new knowledge are being created. (p. 93)