Bourner’s Reflective Thinking Model

This chapter is tangentially related to teaching with rich media because the Pedagogical Wrapper model calls for reference to engagement with instructional media as a basis for discussion or reflection. When reflective discussion or writing is called for, a model for assessing reflective thinking will be needed. Bourner’s model below outlines who this can be approached.

Overview of Reflective Thinking

Some instructional assignments are designed to be reflective learning experiences, but the problem persists on how to measure reflection in any given student narrative, e.g. written work, video, oral presentation, etc.

The following summary of Bourner’s (2003) Reflective Thinking method attempts to address this challenge using indicators of critical thinking within the context of a reflective learning experience. Hatton and Smith (1995) provide a qualitative basis of assessment across four levels.

Origins:  Bourner proposes combining the technique of reflective learning with principles of critical thinking to identify instances of reflective thinking in student communication, independent of content knowledge. The outcome of this approach, given proper feedback and scaffolding, is intended to help build the capacity for learners to capture the lessons of their learning experiences and articulate them on a high level of critical reflection.

Definition:  Reflective thinking is the ability to apply the techniques of critical inquiry toward documenting experiences that describe how changes in knowledge, skills, or attitudes occurred over time.

Levels of ReflectionHatton and Smith (1995, p.40) describe four progressive levels of reflection with each increased level indicating greater depth and/or breadth in the reflection process. Level titles and descriptions below are adapted.

  • Level I – Descriptive Writing:  A description of events that occurred presented as a report but without evidence of a perspective. No attempt to provide reasons or justifications for events.
  • Level II – Descriptive Reflection:  A description of events that occurred presented as a report with some evidence of a perspective, but only at a surface level of inquiry to explain the reasons or justifications for events.
  • Level III – Dialogic Reflection:  A demonstration of “stepping back” from the events and actions in the learning process leading to an interrogative discourse with oneself. The author explores the experiences, events, and actions using qualitative judgement and possible alternatives for explaining outcomes; identifies connections, cause/effect, and patterns in its rationales and critiques.
  • Level IV – Critical Reflection:  Includes all the elements of Dialogic Reflection but also takes into account the larger/global social, scholarly, and professional context in which events occur; considers perspectives other than one’s own.
Operational Definition:  Reflective thinking is measured across four progressive qualitative levels of reflection found in communication where there are indicators of interrogative inquiry in a reflective learning assignment.

Pedagogical basis

In summarizing Bourner, when asked to reflect on learning experiences, only the learner can determine whether the learning experience was significant to them. This subjective perspective challenges whether an objective assessment of reflective thinking can be made, and if so, upon which standards.

If the learning experience is emergent – meaning that the outcome of learning is unique to the experience of the learner – it is difficult to know in advance how to assess whether outcomes have been achieved.

Bourner tackles these obstacles by performing a “mash-up” of reflective learning and critical thinking into a model of reflective thinking.

The first principle of reflective thinking is to separate the content of reflection from the process by which it was produced:

[ The rationale for this ] is because (1) the core of the reflective learning process is interrogating experience with searching questions, and (2) we can identify searching questions independently of the content of the reflection.

Reflective learning is not what happens to a student, it is what the student does with what has happened.  When we assess reflection it is important that we do not assess the content of an experience but rather that we assess what the student has done with the content (Bourner, 2003, p. 3).

From an assessment perspective, this strategy enables the instructor to more easily assess student work on the basis of the capacity to think reflectively:

In fact, once the content/process distinction has been made, it does then become possible to specify … a learning outcome at the level of the capacity for reflective thinking.  The intended learning outcome could then be phrased in terms of ‘the capacity to think reflectively’ or, less abstractly, ‘the capacity to capture the lessons of experience’ (Bourner, 2003, p. 5).

Bourner provides a set of guiding questions from which this form of assessment can be made, stating, “When we assess student work and we spot evidence of the use of these sorts of questions we can reasonably conclude that the student has developed the capacity for reflective thinking. (p. 4).”

Questions as tools for reflective thinking (p. 4):

  1. What happened that most surprised you?
  2. What patterns can you recognize in your experience?
  3. What was the most fulfilling part of it?  And the least fulfilling part of it? What does the experience suggest to you about your values?
  4. What happened that contradicted your prior beliefs? What happened that confirmed you prior beliefs?
  5. How do you feel about that experience now compared with how you felt about it at the time?
  6. What does the experience suggest to you about your strengths?
  7. What does the experience suggest to you about your weaknesses and opportunities for development?
  8. How else could you view that experience?
  9. What did you learn from that experience about how you react?
  10. What other options did you have at the time?
  11. Is there anything about the experience that was familiar to you?
  12. What might you do differently as a result of that experience and your reflections on it?  What actions do your reflections lead you to?

These questions can be consolidated into a set of heuristics that may be presented to learners prior to a reflective learning exercise, such as in a discussion forum or narrative writing assignment.

In actual assessment work, however, we should be mindful of whether the learner has actually responded to their internal inquiry in alignment with what the questions inquire about. In other words, we should look for the presence of self-questioning strategies in reflective thinking as well as the actual responses to those questions.

The following text can be integrated into a discussion forum prompt to foster reflective thinking.

Example:  

Before you post your responses to this week’s discussion question, think about whether your post includes any of the following:

    • Does your post show how your learning experience changed how you think about the topic compared to how you thought about it before?
    • Does your post show how you could have approached the learning experience differently, other options you could have considered, or other opportunities that emerged?
    • Does your post show anything about your strengths, weaknesses, development assumptions, values, or biases?
    • Does your post identify any patterns that contradicted or confirmed your beliefs?

Effective Implementation

While the heuristics of reflective thinking may be easily understood as part of a discussion or assignment prompt, learners must know in advance of their engagement in instruction that they will be tasked with reflective deliberation about it (either along the way or at the end of instruction). Learners must be instilled with the presence of mind to capture “a-ha moments” as they occur as well as adequate time to process their thoughts into a form that meets assignment expectations.

The following are recommended practice when designing a reflective learning assignment:

  1. A set of reflective thinking heuristics should be provided to learners in advance of the reflective learning activity along with an opportunity to discuss what the questions mean, if needed.
  2. An opportunity should be offered for learners to practice assessing samples of reflective thinking against the four levels of assessment prior to engaging in graded assignments.
  3. Students should be given advance notification when reflective learning assignments will be due and which topics, subject matter, or experiences should be the focal point of their deliberation.
  4. The levels of assessment and their respective descriptions should be available to learners as a point of reference while they are composing their work.
  5. Instructors should provide feedback to learners on where their work needs improvement and how that improvement could be attained. Ideally, if feasible, a completed draft of the assignment should be reviewed for feedback prior to final submissions. This will ensure that if learners were unclear about what reflective thinking means or how it is to be interpreted, they can benefit from an opportunity to discuss and clarify with the instructor

A Reflective Thinking rubric

The following rubric applies the levels of Reflective Thinking into a simple rubric along with typical writing criteria.

Criteria Level I - Descriptive Writing Level II - Descriptive Reflection Level III - Dialogic Reflection Level IV - Critical Reflection Points
Demonstrates reflective thinking

(40 points) A description of events that occurred presented as a report but without evidence of a perspective.

No attempt to provide reasons or justifications for events.

(45 points) A description of events that occurred presented as a report with some evidence of a perspective, but only at a surface level of inquiry to explain the reasons or justifications for events.

(50 points) A demonstration of “stepping back” from the events and actions in the learning process leading to an interrogative discourse with oneself.

The author explores the experiences, events, and actions using qualitative judgement and possible alternatives for explaining outcomes; identifies connections, cause/effect, and patterns in its rationales and critiques.

(60 points) Includes all the elements of Dialogic Reflection but also takes into account the larger/global social, scholarly, and professional context in which events occur; considers perspectives other than one’s own.  60
Organization (13 points) Lacks organizational narrative. Does not follow a clear sense of storyline or logic. (15 points) Organizational narrative is clear with some exceptions. Story follows a logical path with some exceptions. (18 points) Organizational narrative is clear, with minor exceptions. Story follows a logical path, with minor exceptions. (20 points) Organizational narrative is clear. Story follows a logical path. 20
College level writing (13 points) Writing mechanics do not meet college writing standards. (15 points) Writing mechanics sometimes meet college standards. (18 points) Writing mechanics meet college standards, with minor exceptions. Writing mechanics meet college standards. 20

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