“Reflection is an activity by which experience is recaptured, thought about and evaluated.. reflection as a learning activity is said to be intentional and purposeful with the aim of changing behaviour.” (Boud et. al, 1985)
Donald Schon, an influential writer on reflection, described reflection in two main ways: reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection on action is looking back after the event whilst reflection in action is happening during the event. To complicate matters there are different interpretations of reflection on action. Let’s now explore these terms.
Reflection in action means
“To think about what one is doing whilst one is doing it; it is typically stimulated by surprise, by something which puzzled the practitioner concerned.” (Greenwood, 1993)
Reflection in action allows the practitioner to redesign what he/ she is doing whilst he/she is doing it. This is commonly associated with experienced practitioners. However, it is much neglected.
Reflection on action is defined as:
“The retrospective contemplation of practice undertaken in order to uncover the knowledge used in practical situations, by analysing and interpreting the information recalled.” (Fitzgerald, 1994: 67)
We can see here that reflection on action involves turning information into knowledge, by conducting a cognitive post mortem.
Alternatively Boyd & Fales suggest reflection on action is:
“The process of creating and clarifying the meanings of experiences in terms of self in relation to both self and world. The outcome of this process is changed conceptual perspectives” (Boyd & Fales, 1983: 101)
We see here that Boyd and Fales focus more on self development. Here refection does not only add to our knowledge but challenges the concepts and theories we hold. Furthermore as a result we don’t see more, we see differently.
Atkins and Murphy (1994) take this idea one step further and suggest that for reflection to make a real difference to practice we follow this with a commitment to action as a result.
The problems with these views of reflection on action are that they do not take account of the importance of reflection before action (Killion and Todnem (1991).