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Reflective Journal

Engaging in open and collaborative discussion about one’s work with a peer or supervisor, and regularly writing up one’s learning in a journal or log book, is a process that can assist students to become reflective practitioners. The journal is parallel to the field book or laboratory notes of a scientist. One not only records what happened or what was observed, but also adds a tentative hypothesis or the development of new understanding to try to make a sense of phenomena. Reflective writing can provide a systematic approach to one’s development as a reflective, critical and constructive learner.

Reflective journals often form a substantial part of the assessment of the work experience, either directly or indirectly, and are a very useful self-assessment tool if used well.

Consider the following tips:

  • Journals are of limited value if one just records activities done while on placement. To gain the full benefit, one needs to reflect on the learning that has taken place.
  • Spend some time each week on the journal.
  • Use the opportunity to reflect on both the transferable skills being developed, as well as the agency-specific skills being used in the practicum.
  • Reflective practice takes time to learn. Get feedback from your Field Instructor. Use the journal as a starting point for discussion.

Below are some guidelines on questions to ask yourself when thinking about your experience.

  • In what areas/situations do you feel you have made progress?  What specifically have you learned? What strengths can you identify?
  • What has contributed to this progress? What have you learned about the way you learn?
  • What would you do differently next time? What other options were there in that situation? What would have been the consequences of another action?
  • Has another similar incident arisen again, and how did you react?
  • Think about some events/situations that have taken place and how you felt at the time, (e.g. confident, tense, frustrated, certain, doubtful). Use these reactions to identify strengths, and areas that need development.
  • Have you identified any areas of weakness? Are there potential situations where you can work on these? How will you go about it? Is more support needed to assist development?

Shaping a Journal to Suit Oneself

Learning occurs when one takes in information, thinks about it, makes sense of it, and fits it in with what one already knows. This may mean changing what is already known or, by rejecting the new information, confirming the older knowledge. Learning also requires that one can see how to apply new information and where to apply it. This requires careful consideration before action. Writing about what one does and what one has learned disciplines us to become more thoughtful, reflective, and analytic. The form your writing takes is up to you.

Ideas for getting started on reflective writing:

1. Use an Agenda

  • What is the current problem or issue? Describe the context.
  • What additional information would be useful?
  • How is it related to other issues?  Who or what could help?
  • What are my assumptions? How can I test them?
  • What can I do to create a change? Be as adventurous as you can.
  • What are the possible outcomes of these? What action will I take? Why?
  • List the outcomes you hope to achieve.
  • Reflection on the actual outcome. What worked well?
  • What could I do differently next time?

2. Focus on the experience and think in writing

Take something you have read, or take something that occurred as part of your practicum, and use the following questions to guide your reflection:

  • How does this connect with an aspect of my practice?
  • What are the teaching and learning principles that are involved?
  • What could I change in relation to this?
  • What would happen if I did?

3. Focus on a critical incident that took place in the practicum and describe the incident as objectively as possible

  • What were the assumptions that you were operating with?
  • Is there another way to see this event?
  • How would your clients/community group explain this event?
  • How do the two explanations compare?
  • What could you I do differently?

4. Take stock of learning

  • What is the most important thing I have learned in the practicum?
  • What is the most important thing I have learned about my practice/work with or on behalf of others?
  • What is the most important thing I have learned about my clients?
  • How can I use my learning to improve my practice skills?

And from time to time…

  • How has using this journal confirmed what I already know about myself or my practice?
  • What do I need to do to improve the quality of my practice/work?
  • What might I do instead of what I do now?
  • What innovation could I introduce?
  • What professional development activities should I be seeking?

Learn more

  • Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. Jossey-Bass.
    • Donald Schon writes about reflection-in-action. He describes a process of learning by doing, with the help of a coach. To maximize learning, one can question and challenge the coach, ask for clarification, and together build new understandings. In this way one learns to be reflective with our one’s coach (or Field Instructor).
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Jossey-Bass.
    • Brookfield describes the process of hunting out one’s assumptions and critically examining them. Look for the assumptions that underpin practicum experiences and then play devil’s advocate and develop a contrary argument. There are now two sides of an argument to evaluate. This is a way to engaging in personal critical reflection.

For more information on reflective practice, see:

  • Ballantyne, R. & Packer, J. (1995). Making Connections: Using Student Journals as a Teaching/Learning Aid. HERDSA ACT.
  • Boud, D., Keogh, R., & Walker, D. (1995). Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. Kogan Page.