Simply put, reflection is the process of making sense of one’s experience. Reflection, as it applies to instructional consulting, takes place on two levels:
In the case of reflection-in-action, a term coined by educator-theorist Donald Schon in The Reflective Practitioner, reflection occurs as part of everyday experience. To some degree or another, everyone practices reflection-in-action, without special training. Such reflection is each person’s way of dealing with new and unfamiliar experiences by giving them meaning. Reflection-in-action is a process that does not rely upon verbalization but instead occurs improvisationally along with action. We enact reflection-in-action all the time, without thinking about the fact that we do.
Meta-reflection, however, requires more conscious and deliberate efforts to make sense of the sense of experience. In contrast to reflection-in-action, meta-reflection is a process that doesn’t automatically occur as part of most people’s experience but is instead one that is learned and refined with practice as part of an ongoing process of learning.
Reflection can be said to act as a hinge between practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge:
“Teachers can be seen as having extensive practical knowledge based on personal experiences, rooted in the problems of everyday teaching, and integrated with theoretical knowledge about learning. Practice does not make perfect. Expert teaching requires thoughtful practice. The development of teaching competence depends on the teacher's personal practical knowledge. It is through reflections that such knowledge is made explicit to the teacher as the practitioner, and hence teaching development is viable.” (Ki, 2004).
Thus, reflection plays a central role in moving instructors out of practical knowledge and engaging their assumptions about how learning takes place (their own as well as their students) as applied to specific situations. For consultants, reflection relates theories and methods of learning and teaching to the complexities of actual practice.
“Practice does not make perfect.” Without reflection, instructors and consultants can practice forever and make no progress. Similarly, theoretical views of learning and teaching cannot be tested for their validity and reliability without reflection as part of that knowledge-making process.
Instructional consulting requires that both instructors and consultants engage in reflection no matter what form of instructional consulting they use. However, reflection is especially important in classroom observations, since the experience of being in a classroom is complex and multi-faceted, requiring careful attention to the “making sense” aspects by both parties. Careful attention to reflective processes ensures that feedback will be descriptive rather than judgmental, formative as opposed to summative (although reflection is part of both forms of review).
Reflection is part of a cycle of experiences that make up the learning process. The four stages of this cycle (see Lewin, 1951), as they apply to instructional consulting, include:
The following is a list of characteristics of reflective feedback from McEnerney and Webb’s 12 step model for implementing a Peer Review program (1997). Note the emphasis on nonjudgmental, descriptive feedback, a cornerstone of formative instructional consulting.