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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Reflection - what's that?

My curious realisation of the year has to be that lots of people in my face-to-face habitus - Higher Education, Portugal - don't know how to reflect. I only started to see that after one more person said to me - "But what do you mean 'reflect'. Tell us what to do."

It got me thinking (again) how the entire education system is geared up to teaching people formal or propositional knowledge (i.e. the state rather than the process). All the way through school, university and into professional practice your knowing is the result of what is theorised for you rather than by you.

I notice how my son thinks that being a good student means to estudar a máteria. When I challenge him on that, he says ... "Hey, if you want me to get a good nota (mark), then I have to be able to decorar a máteria (parrot the material)."

At the end of each of module in my own discipline (3rd year business sutdents) I spend 30 minutes with them reviewing what we did. Then they do a self-evaluation and share suggestions for improving their performance. It's rare, without prompting from me, to get them to offer suggestions other than study the máteria better, or assistir as aulas (attend the classes).

In contrast when I ask my daughter, who is at University in England how she'll get the First she wants, she says things like ... "We (our group) have to learn to focus more", or "I have to organise my notes and time better." Of course, their evaluation is quite different and much more varied. It includes group productions, take-home exams, open-book exams and a learning log.

This dedication in Portugal to reproducing the right answer, to looking for correction when things are "wrong", helps explain why I see more reflection-on-action, rather than reflection-in-action. Reflecting-in-action is part of the (learning) process of rethinking and even abandoning your theories and knowledge when things go "wrong". But in a positivist paradigm being "wrong" is about being wrong. And learning is about knowing what you do wrong so that you can correct it.

Now, with Bolonha, we see lots of seminars and workshop that use this same techno-rational discourse that views improving our professional practice as a step in solving the "problem" of deficência . Becoming better lecturers means selecting the "correct" (more advanced) technical means to achieve those certain ends - of correct teaching. For example, here is some information that I received today:

O curso destina-se a Docentes do Ensino Superior Universitário e Politécnico e pretende agir sobre as suas práticas, com sugestões concretas e de fácil aplicação para melhorar a qualidade e gestão da Docência.

("The course is aimed at lecturers in Universities and Polytechnics and aims to act on their practices, with concrete suggestions and easy application to improve the quality and management of Teaching.")

This focus on techniques that will be passed on by experts to improve our professional performance is a far cry from Schon's reflective practice in which, interactively, we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them" (p. 40) Reflection is stimulated by surprise, it's an invitation to name and re-frame our practice.

Reflection is an opportunity to breach our own paradigms.

A reflective practitioner generates her own theory which speaks back to and revises her action. She is a skilled and informed designer of techniques - not an applicator of them.

But the Behaviourists have left their mark here. Learning is as much to do with correcting wrong behaviour or successfully studying the material. And applying the correct techniques will get you closer to the correct result. And that's what we want, isn't it?

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