Reflective writing and critical incidents

Reflection on practice is an important aspect of your ongoing professional learning. In your course, this may take the form of a critical incident report. However, the focus is less on the event or incident or experience in itself – what is important is your reaction to it, and how it has informed your  thinking and your learning.

Assessment tends to focus on how successfully you have demonstrated a capacity to analyse and reflect on events in order to learn from them. Also relevant to assessment is how much you are able to relate your current theoretical learning (for example, about the doctor-patient relationship, or about what constitutes effective communication) to a real life situation.

This section explains what is meant by reflective writing and the term "critical incident", and helps you explore the reflective learning process.

You will also find a format for the critical incident report, a sample piece of student writing, criteria for assessment and suggestions to help avoid some common errors in reflective writing.

The section on characteristics of reflective writing covers language features like:

  • tenses
  • speculative and hypothetical writing
  • the language of self-reflection vs criticism.

Reflective writing

Critical incidents

Criteria for assessment

Reflective writing is a vehicle which you use primarily to share your thinking and learning processes with your lecturers. The event or incident or experience in itself is not important – what is important is your reaction to it, and how it has informed your thinking and your learning. Assessment tends to focus on how successfully you have demonstrated a capacity to analyse and reflect on events in order to learn from them. Also relevant to assessment is how much you are able to relate your current theoretical learning (for example, about the doctor-patient relationship, or about what constitutes effective communication) to a real life situation.

Most importantly, you need to be genuine and honest in your reflections, as illustrated in the following quote from a lecturer:


The most important thing to get across to the students is that they be genuine in their reflections, and not write what they think I want to hear. For example, empty rhetoric like 'this incident has made me want to go and work with people in developing countries', 'since this incident I have decided to be the best doctor I can possibly be' or 'in future I will treat my patients holistically' does not score points.

References

Branch (Jr), W.T., & Paranjape, A., 2002, 'Feedback and reflection: Teaching methods for clinical settings', Academic Medicine, Vol. 77, No. 12/Dec, Pt 1, pp. 1185-1188.

Fook, J., & Cooper, L., cited in (2003) Bachelor of Social Work Fieldwork Manual, Dept. Social Work, School of Primary Health Care, Monash University.

King, T., 2002, Development of Student Skills in Reflective Writing, University of Portsmouth, UK, viewed 27 November, 2006, http://www.csd.uwa.edu.au/iced2002/publication/Terry_King.pdf.

Whipp, J., 2003, 'Scaffolding Critical Reflection in Online Discussions', Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 54, No. 4, pp. 321-333.