Teachers and students often do not share a common language of reflection that recognises the different levels of thinking and expression. This makes designing assessment instruments and marking rubrics so difficult that bland language is often used. For students, this translates into difficulty understanding what is expected of them and frustration when their marking appears arbitrary.
If students have met and understood the language of the criteria around reflection they are more likely to respond appropriately. Such understanding develops over time in different contexts (for example, in different units over a course) so the use of familiar terms can help. The terms of an established model for reflection (Bain et al, 1999; Carrington & Selva, 2010) are based on characteristic levels of thinking and are well supported by prompting questions.
- Based on the unit’s position in a course (foundation, theory-building, field study or capstone) choose a span of reflective thinking levels that you would expect your students to operate at. For example, first-year students would not normally be expected to express professionally transformative reflection that correspond to the final ‘R’ of the 4Rs model (reconstructing).
- Decide if you are going to gauge performance on just the highest level of reflection or you are going to use some other measure (for example, require evidence of thinking through the sequence of levels).
- Predict how students operating at different levels of reflective thinking will express themselves. Explicitly describe these levels using Bain’s(1999) level categories and category descriptions (p.60) (see Resource 1).
Good criteria take time to develop and are difficult to get right at first. Since they are refined over time, it will take more than one teaching cycle to achieve an acceptable formulation.
Table IV, p.60 of Bain et al (1999) provides a rich set of descriptors that can be used to compose criteria.
The 4Rs Reflective writing scale
An exemplar CRA matrix (Law)
Bain, J., Ballantyne, R., Packer, J., & Mills, C. (1999). Using journal writing to enhance student teachers’ reflectivity during field experience placements. Teachers and Teaching, 5(1), 51-73.
Carrington, S. & Selva, G. (2010). Critical social theory and transformative learning: evidence in pre-service teachers’ service-learning reflection logs. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(1), 45-57.
This pattern was initiated by Michael Ryan (Education).