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Contrast Two Reflective Practice Models

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The two reflective practice models I have chosen to compare are Kolb1 and Brookfield2. Reflective practice is intended to help the teacher evolve and develop. It is an essential aspect of continuing professional development and is seen as a fundamental process in improving the quality of teaching3. Although teachers have done this for years the models formalise the process and put a structure on it. However, it is a subjective rather than an objective process as it takes feelings and emotions into account. It is an ongoing process and does not necessarily produce a definite outcome 4. Reflective action involves a willingness to engage in constant self appraisal and development. Among other things it implies flexibility, rigorous analysis and social awareness5. Kolb developed the 4 stage “experiential learning cycle” which as its name implies is based on learning from experience – the theory being that you can learn from your mistakes. It starts with a concrete experience such as taking a lesson; role-playing or some other activity. In the Kolb model it is essential that the individual does the task – observing won’t do. In both Kolb & Brookfield it is also important to keep a reflective diary or journal to record your experiences during the lesson since this provides evidence of your development.

In the second stage you Reflect upon and objectively and systematically analyse your performance and feelings during the lesson taking into account the successes and failures of the class. This reflection or debriefing session should take place under the guidance and direction of a mentor and perhaps in a group with other new practitioners. This has the advantage of peer analysis and feedback as well as mutual support and encouragement. This is not meant to be an evaluation of the student as honesty and confidentiality are important. The intention is that the students will eventually learn to do this analysis by themselves. Independent self-assessment being essential to the process so that the student becomes a reflective practitioner.

Having reflected you then move onto the third stage which is Abstract Conceptualisation where the student relates his concrete experience to learning theory. The student can read up about it or research it. Questions should be asked to establish why some things were successful and others weren’t. General principles and good practice should be established from what has happened during the activity. The guidance of a mentor or experienced teacher here is essential for learning to take place to ensure that important points are not overlooked and the correct conclusions are reached. The last stage is Active Experimentation where the students are asked to plan how they will organise themselves for the next session. The aim is to do it better in the next lesson by incorporating what has been learned during the Active Conceptualisation stage. This can involve personal action plans and, in some instances, as we are dealing with human beings and not machines, may require the student to go outside his comfort zone to try new techniques or approaches that he is not comfortable with6.

The cycle revolves with new learning undergoing active experimentation and ‘recycled’ through new experiencing. In this way what was a cycle becomes a spiral7. Experiential learning isn’t necessarily easy as it requires students to be honest and to admit to their mistakes. This could be difficult as no student would want to appear inadequate in front of their tutor or peers. The student also has to be willing to try out new ideas. The real strength of the cycle is that it develops in the student an understanding of how learning theory and practice tie up and the teacher takes responsibility for his own learning. The Kolb model has the advantage in that is clear, unambiguous, and follows a logical progression. It is very useful for people new to teaching since it can be started at any stage in the cycle8. Brookfield identified the importance of researching crucially what we what we do as teachers.

As a teacher you have to discover and examine your assumptions by looking at your practice from four different points of view or as Brookfield says, through four “critical lenses”. These being the points of view of the teacher (yourself), the learners, colleagues, theories and literature. This means that this model considers an experience from many perspectives and draws on relevant theory to identify a way forward. Thus the Brookfield model relies on formative feedback obtained through the use of, say, a critical incident questionnaire. I consider this to be a strength over Kolb since Kolb does not appear to take the learners’ views into account, being more concerned with the teacher’s perception as to how well or badly the lesson went. However Brookfield indicates that it takes a veteran teacher to use such feedback. Kolb also appears to rely on a single mentor whereas Brookfield draws on many colleagues’ views and experiences. Brookfield has said that college teaching can be an isolating process and that critical reflection requires a community – critical reflection should be for the whole college community and not just the teachers – it is for administrators, staff and students too9.

Given this, it seems to me that Kolb is more suitable for inexperienced teachers who would need the close individual support that a mentor provides and Brookfield is more appropriate for experienced teachers working in an institution or college with other colleagues.


1. Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development, Prentice Hall 2. Brookfield, S. D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Jossey-Bass 3.http://archive.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/KSSP/kssp%20cpd%20reflection%20guide.pdf (accessed 7/12/12) 4. Moon, J. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning, Routledge Falmer, London 5. Pollard, A. (2005) 2nd Ed Reflective Teaching. London: Continuum; p13 6. Petty, G. (2009) Teaching Today, Fourth Edition, A Practical Guide, Nelson Thornes, pp516-528 7. Cowan, J, (1998) On Becoming An Innovative University Teacher, SRHE, /OUP, Buckingham 8. Roffey- Barentsen J., Malthouse R. (2009) Reflective Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector Learning Matters Limited; pp 6-7 9. http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/mrcte/brookfield.htm (accessed 7/12/13)

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