Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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Succeeding in postgraduate study

3.2 Examples of good and poor critical reflection

The following table (adapted from Cottrell, 2011) describes good and poor practice in critical reflection. You should use this to help guide you in your writing.

Table 2 Good and poor practice in critical reflection

Aspect Good critical reflection Poor critical reflection
Experience Draws on personal, group or workplace experience as a means of testing out theory or new learning; looking at experiences with a ‘critical eye’. Assumes ‘experience’ is an end in itself; that one’s own experience is typical of others’ without good evidence that this is so; that experience automatically equates to ‘insight’ without critical thought.
Personal Responsibility Demonstrates integrity both in focusing on one’s personal role, such as the assumptions brought to a situation or actions taken or omitted, and in taking responsibility for the consequences of these. Finds ways of reflecting blame on to other people or the context itself for the way events unfolded; alternatively, personal responsibility is addressed in a superficial way, so that the relation of action and consequence is not considered in depth.
Focus Selects a focus, such as a particular time period, set of events, specific kinds of incident or examples of interactions. Is non-specific or covers too many dimensions, so the focus of the reflection is not clear.
Scale The focus is broad enough to offer challenge and meaningful insights, but can be reasonably explored in the timescale and any word limits. Is either too narrow to provide the insights needed or too broad to look at issues in any depth.
Direction Begins to take direction as one starts to identify, and then focus on, selected themes for closer attention. Wanders or jumps about rather than finds a direction.
Depth Delves below the surface: it picks up on initial thoughts and insights, analysing these further with the aim of gaining deeper insights or broader applications. Is superficial and does not demonstrate any interest in burrowing beneath the surface to understand more.
Challenge Usually tackles a difficult area or enters difficult terrain, such as matters that are personally difficult, or issues that are complex and do not lend themselves to easy answers. Tends to stay within ‘safe territory’, or deals with difficult issues in a superficial way, or does not seem to take the person forward in their understanding.
Theory Draws on relevant theoretical standpoints, research, or established professional practice in ways that demonstrate how these have helped understanding; where relevant, it relates the particular incident to broader social and political issues. Draws only on the person’s own ideas, experiences and anecdotes, or makes superficial passing references to theory and research.
Criticality Brings a searching critical eye to the focus of the reflection, to emerging insights, and to any theories or sources of information. This criticality is used to take the person forward in their understanding of the core emerging issues by, for example, challenging their own ideas and actions, or showing how their experience supports or challenges existing knowledge. Is preoccupied mainly with describing situations, content or events. May include critical analysis but this does not seem to be used in a way that really develops an understanding of the core emerging issues.
Insight The reflection takes the person forward in their understanding, such that they can make more sense of their situation, work or study, manage better within it, do things differently, apply understanding to new contexts etc. The reflection gives little indication that the person has moved forward in their understanding of the context or issue, or self-knowledge.
End-points (extrapolated conclusions) The process of reflection may take the person in many different directions. However, by the end, they have stood back, drawn out the key messages of what they have learnt and summarised these as conclusions or recommendations. The reflection reads more as a description of a process or rambling free association. The lessons learned are not drawn out clearly as conclusions or recommendations.


(if reflection is to be shared)

If this is to be used in academic, work or public contexts, the writing up of reflection demonstrates a sound understanding of ethical considerations and stylistic or academic conventions that may apply, and any issues of confidentiality will have been addressed appropriately. The reflection is submitted or made public without all due care being taken to ensure that confidentiality and other data protection issues are addressed; no thought is given to how to make the reflection manageable for others to read.
(Adapted from Cottrell, 2011)

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