Thursday, 16 October 2014

Task 2c: A Critical Reflection on Reflective Practises

Reflective Practises offer alternative ways to look at your experiences, in order to compare them to your own and other people's existing understanding beyond its present capacity, and to learn something 'new' (1)


Whether your form of reflection is writing (I always find writing things down, and puzzling things through on paper is a useful way to make sense of learning), meditation (Concentrating and reflecting on a problem in this way, without outside distractions can be a useful way of solving issues when they seem particularly confusing), or talking them through with another person, (gaining another's perspective can be useful when trying to work things out: people often learn through teaching!) it is an invaluable tool when learning something new, whether physical or academic, whether we realise we are reflecting or not!

Learning about reflection has helped me see that I use this tool all the time in my day-to-day life and my professional practise, without even realising I was doing it!


...learning is always grounded in prior experience and... any attempt to promote new learning must take into account that experience...” (2)

As an example of this: I have recently been trying to learn a new language, Polish, as my boyfriends family are from Poland. Regardless of the fact that it is a difficult language anyway, I find that I am struggling to pick up even simple words and phrases and remember them when needed. Boud's statement resonated with me regarding this: I learned French from an early age, and continued studying French and Spanish during school. Because of this I can pick up elements of Italian and make myself understood, in a basic way, in these three languages. However Polish has Slovak roots rather than Latinate (the basis for many Western languages) and this is something I have never come across before. I believe this is the reason I am struggling so much with the language as I have no prior experience in anything similar.

From a dance perspective: Ballet is considered the root of all dance, and any dance training will base their foundations on this discipline. Without ballet, and the experience of this art form, it is harder to learn most other dance styles (even Tap and Contemporary: as the old saying goes “You have to know the rules before you can break them!)

Understanding what you don't know is important because it is the first stage of learning: seeing something is missing. Then you are open to finding.” (3)

Sometimes we know something without even realising that we know it: “One must understand what is being defined in order that one judge for oneself the accuracy... Moreover, the definition itself must be understood...” (4)
Recently on this course we were introduced to the idea of 'Web 2.0' – as someone who uses computers and the internet casually I immediately thought we were being plunged into the dark recesses of computer programming. However, we can refer to this simply as 'Social Media', which makes it, to my generation, a lot simpler, more accessible and more easily understood. I knew what social media was before I heard the term Web 2.0, however if I had no experience of the internet; specifically Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc – I would not have been able to make sense of this definition when presented with the alternative. My experience of social media, prior to beginning the course, allowed me to learn both a new term and investigate it further, building new learning on the foundations of previously existing knowledge.

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Learning and Reflection in the Arts

Dewey (educationist: professional educator/educational theorist) saw education as an 'experiential action': the quality of a persons education was linked to the level of engagement with and consciousness of this experience.

Studies have backed this up, time and time again - the more a child is stimulated by, and interacts with, their environment, the more they will learn: “...devote substantial time and effort to a task... care about the quality of their work, and when they commit themselves...the work seems to have significance beyond it's personal instrumental value.” (5)

Tristan de Frondville is a Project Learning Consultant in the USA who also advocates the use of journals. He makes the point that in Japan (ranked top in the world for education, based on student development and investment (6)) teachers make use of “...the last five minutes of class as a time for summarizing, sharing and reflecting... Students write regular reflections on the work they have done.” (7) This is used as a way to stimulate reflection and conversation, and a tool to initiate conversation between students and teachers.

...interaction with the arts led to a unique and valuable experience.” (8)

StageCoach is a UK-based network of part-time performing arts schools: they recently conducted a survey among the parents of their students: they were asked whether they thought their child had improved in several different areas since taking up an element of the performing arts as a hobby:

(9)

I believe, along with Dewey, that this is because the performing arts requires a level of engagement above and beyond simply sitting and learning: it is physically and mentally stimulating and, by its very nature, encourages interaction, skill-development and personal reflection-in-action.

As performers we naturally learn and develop by engaging with the material we are given: reading the script, practising those tendu's, etc. Naturally the harder we work (engage) in a Ballet class, the better we will become. Reflective practises can be used in this instance to study our movement and reflect on our progress ("How can I make this turn sharper?" "What do I need to do to jump higher?" etc.)

Reflective Thought [is an] active, persistant and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends.” (10)

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Theories On Learning

David Kolb developed the idea of a 'Learning Cycle' to be used as a tool for reflection on how you learn, and a tool for approaching experience.


This is a representation of Kolb's Learning Cycle that I copied out myself as a way to make sense of what I was looking at... (11)

This 'Learning Cycle' can be used to represent practises and reflection in the arts: we watch the teacher demonstrate a move, we mark through a routine, we prepare ourselves to dance, then we perform the movement. Once this is over we reflect on our execution and the process begins again.

Kolb's Learning Cycle is a useful tool when faced with an immediate issue: I feel that it helps break down a problem solving process into easier steps, however in the example of a dance student I presented above, this process may be subliminal rather than explicitly recognized.

Although we all have concrete experiences, reflective observations, abstract concepts and actively experiment, the difference between us is the point at which we start to learn... (12)


Kolb... believes that one can learn by being a converger (strong in the practical application of ideas, approaching learning in an unemotional fashion and has relatively narrow interests), a diverger (one who has a strong imagination, is good at generating ideas and seeing things from different perspectives, and has a broad range of interests), an assimilator (one with a strong ability to create theoretical models, who excels in inductive reasoning, and tends to be more concerned with abstract concepts than with people), or an accommodator (one whose greatest strength is doing things, is comfortable taking risks, performs well when required to react to immediate circumstances, and solves problems intuitively)” (13)



Several studies have used this basis as a starting point for their own research: For example Honey and Mumford created four 'Stages' based on Kolb's 'Cycle' to put forward their own theory on how we learn:

(14)

These two theories both show that reflection on experience and personal development are considered to be essential components of the learning process.

At which point in Kolb's 'cycle' do you feel you enter learning?
Using the example of this blog: I already felt like I knew what I was doing as I have kept a blog for several years. When I set up my original blog site I relied mostly on trial and error to determine the layout, the backgrounds, the fonts, etc. I would visit other peoples blogs across the platform to see what the possibilities for design were, and experimented with different backgrounds, layouts and formats using the features available through the website. According to Kolb's Learning Cycle I enter Learning through a combination of Active Experimentation and Reflective Observation.

Other Insights
Richard Felder (co-developer of the Index Of Learning Styles) took Kolb's theory a step further and proposed that there are eight types of learners:

(15)

There is also the VARK Style: a guide developed by Neil Fleming to determine Learning Styles.

(16)

This theory gained popularity in the mid to late nineties and an attempt was made in several Primary Schools to adopt Fleming's theory as part of the methods of teaching: a personal source recalls taking a test and being labelled a Kinesthetic Learner. She was given a blue sticker to wear. This was supposed to enable the teachers to identify students who may struggle learning new information and allow them to adapt their teaching style for individual students. This source states that the children wore the coloured stickers for a couple of weeks, then the move lost momentum, possibly because it was difficult for the teachers (who probably fit into one of the learning styles themselves) to teach in individual styles.

From these examples we can see that most researchers agree that we all learn in different ways, however there is some debate on quite how many different ways there are! Maybe it cannot be defined exactly, as I believe most people will learn through a combination of different styles depending on the subject or activity they are learning from.

For the purposes of this task, and for my own interest, I took the VARK Questionnaire. My results were:


This is what Fleming terms a 'multi-model learning preference' and from it I can see that I take in and absorb information and learning in a variety of different ways, with a lean towards reading and writing: I accept this as true as I find that when I'm struggling with new information I have to either read it through several times or write it down, even if I am reading it from another text, the act of reading then writing allows me to make sense of the process of learning. Even when learning a piece of choreography I use my own form of notation to mark my movements and write down, longhand, each step of the routine. This also serves to support my earlier theory that people learn through a variety of different methods and in a range of styles.

An example of my personal notation when learning a new routine

Opinion
I would imagine that people in the Performing Arts have just as varied styles of learning: Actors would probably learn best through reading (scripts, stage directions, etc), Dancers obviously have to learn choreography through actually dancing (although there are several different styles of notation there are probably only a handful who could simply study a sheet of Labanotation and be able to perform the routine on stage!) and Singers would probably learn best Aurally or Auditory.

Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist who proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. He believed that a learning style “...should not limit you by making you feel you are one kind of learner, but they can be used as a tool for your understanding of how you and others learn. They give value to the different ways we can engage with real world experiences.” (17)

Gardner cited seven Criteria to determine when a behaviour can be called an 'intelligence', and eight Abilities that he chose to meet those Criteria. These included:

(18)

Gardner believed that intelligence was “...the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture [or] a set of skills that make it possible to solve problems, [or] the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.” (19)

However, an opposing argument against the Multiple Intelligences theory is that Gardner is challenging the view of 'intelligence' as it is traditionally understood and instead his 'Abilities' are actually real-world 'Skills'. In particular Robert White states that Gardner's “...application of criteria for his 'intelligences' is subjective and arbitrary...” (20) In his argument, White claims that the 'Abilities' are simply words chosen at random and that another researcher would have proposed completely different categorizations. I personally agree with White's statement, however I believe that the names of the 'Abilities' or 'Skills' are simply definitions for supporting the learning process and therefore it doesn't necessarily matter what they are called as long as there is a general agreement about what the abilities and processes are.

Honey and Mumford, who created the 'Stages' based on Kolb's Learning Cycle also proposed four different learning styles:

(21)

Honey believes that by knowing your learning style a person can “...become smarter at getting a better fit between learning opportunities and the way you learn best. This makes your learning easier, more effective and more enjoyable... However to be an effective learner you should also develop the ability to learn in other styles too.” (22) Once again this corroborates an earlier statement that people learn with a variety of different methods and styles, and that to pigeon-hole a learner into one style may actually have a detrimental effect on their overall progression and development.
All of the theories and models discussed show, either directly or indirectly, that Experience and Reflection on an Experience are crucial steps in learning.

Opinion
While this may have seem slightly removed from the original point of the essay I believe it is essential as it corroborates the earlier point that when a learner is engaged with the material being learned, the quality and depth of learning is enhanced.
By understanding your learning style and preferences you can gain insight into your own development whether academic, personal or professional. Reflecting upon the ways in which you have learned something can be useful in identifying your personal learning style.
It is important to have an understanding of styles of learning and types of intelligences when considering your own personal practice. For example: having trained as a dancer, it may be assumed that I have a Musical or Bodily-Kinasthetic intelligence (GARDNER) and learn through Active Experimentation (KOLB), However, through research and my own understanding of how I best assimilate new information I believe I have a Verbal-Linguistic or Intrapersonal intelligence and learn through Reflective Observation.
Reflective Practice is allowing me to understand more about the ways in which I and other people learn and develop skills.


Donald Schon (1930-1997) introduced two ideas of 'ways of learning' (and the personalities he felt they corresponded to), that are directly applicable to learning in the arts

(23)

He proposed that learning can happen at the time of the event, or that it can happen while looking back on the event, although Kottcamp argues that “...Reflection-In-Action is harder to achieve but more powerful for improvement of practise...[However] Reflection-On-Action is accomplished...when full attention can be given to analysis...” (24) Which he also likens to 'on-line' and 'off-line' engagement, or, that we can learn 'in the moment' or by reflection on the moment once it has passed.

Opinion
I believe that, as dancers and performers, our backgrounds impact on the way we reflect and therefore learn. I think that, without most of us realising it, we are utilising Schon's theory of Reflection-In-Action most of the time: when training we learn and remember the steps to a routine by doing them, when performing we correct our positioning, allow for variations in the staging and react to the music all while dancing our little hearts out! Personally I feel I use Reflection-In-Action whenever I perform; to adapt my routine to the audience reaction, to the shape of the stage, the layout of the room, any hazards (such as a stray glass of wine or a previous performers prop!) that might appear on the stage, etc...

However, I now realise that I also use Reflection-On-Action more than I initially thought: when choreographing or creating a routine I like to write notes for myself and occasionally film my routine so I can watch it back and attempt to view myself impartially. For me, a combination of the two styles of reflection work best.

My opinion is supported by J.C. Polanyi, a Scientist who stated “...we can know more than we can tell.” (25) This upholds the importance of reflection to support learning in order to better articulate our process and practice by suggesting that all knowledge is tacit (understood), it is just the level of understanding that varies, so a range of practises to support reflection are essential learning tools.



Schon's theory of artists utilising Reflection-In-Action is also supported by Twyla Tharp, the choreographer, who believes that dance is a tacit knowledge: something that is simply understood: “...memory of movement doesn't need to be accessed through conscious effort.” (26)

Tharp is suggesting that reflection does not necessarily need to be written down. The course reader makes the point that Reflection does not have to happen as a written process but that it is still important to articulate the reflective process in order to recall ideas or plan for future actions:

The journal is not the process but becomes the outcome of the reflective practise with which you engage.” (27)

In an industry such as the arts, which is constantly changing and evolving, it is important to reflect on our personal professional practise in order to make sense of change, identify areas for improvement and growth, and allow us to chart our own development as performers. A combination of Reflection-in-action and Reflection-on-action is, in my opinion, the best way to learn, utilising our Kinesthetic preference as performers yet utilising other methods of reflection in order to make sense of our learning processes.

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Ethical Issues on Reflection

Keeping a personal, private journal does not necessarily carry any ethical issues: it is a record of our own thoughts, actions and emotions, and therefore we owe it to ourselves to be as open an honest as possible, even when considering difficult topics.

However when publishing personal reflections, ethical issues do arise. Work on the internet is protected by copyright laws in the same way that hard-copies are: always ask permissions when using other peoples work, or at the very least credit the creator and link to the original work online. Some website terms and conditions allow free use of work posted on their sites, so we should make it a habit to check these: it is also advisable to add your own terms and conditions on your profile page of any website where your personal work is displayed (Flickr, Instagram, etc).

Names of people and places are often changed when blogging online, or not mentioned at all: I make a point of referring to personal sources as “A friend” or “A colleague”, and never mention venues by name unless I have asked permission and the venue is happy for me to use their name in the context of my professional practise.



Ethical issues regarding children fortunately don't arise for me very often as my personal professional experience is strictly over-eighteens! However for teachers, dance teachers, social workers, nurses, etc, it is advisable to not post pictures of the children they work with online, as the world of Web 2.0 can be extremely small and we rarely have as much control over our privacy as we believe (This blog by a fellow student on the BAPP Arts course makes this point very well). It is fine to use personal images as long as those pictured have given their permission, however the law does not usually take into account or consider the permissions of those under the age of majority, which is usually age fourteen (28)

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Conclusion

This has been an extremely interesting task: I have been challenged in several ways and been made to consider both my own use of reflection in my professional practise and the ways others have approached and studied the tools at their disposal.

A variety of resources and approaches, to me, seems the best way to reflect on personal practise in order to aid both professional and personal development: since keeping my journal I have noticed a deeper personal engagement with my professional practise as it has encouraged me to consider questions and trains of thought that have previously been idle musings, and develop them into critical questions that assist me in questioning my code of practise and professional involvement. This opinion is supported by those I have studied, such as Honey and Mumford, and Fleming.

Finding out the ways I, and others, approach reflection allows me to experiment with different approaches that I would not have considered: a friend suggested using a dictaphone and showed me an app for the iPhone that writes, as notes, personal dictation! This is a wonderful tool for me and corresponds with the Learning Style I identified strongest with, as proposed by Fleming (Read/Write), and allows me to easily access any notes without having to listen to months worth of dictation.

All of the research into intelligence, styles and methods of learning uphold the important of reflection in order to support the learning process. It has impacted on me how essential reflective practices are, especially when studying something new, in order to make sense of both the information being learned and the process of learning. After all, as discussed at the start, all new learning must be built on a foundation of existing knowledge and reflection allows us to make links between knowledge already gained and new information.



Resources
  1. READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  2. BOUD – USING JOURNAL WRITING TO ENHANCE REFLECTIVE PRACTICE: 2002
  3. READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  4. McFEE, 1992
  5. NEWMAN, 1986 – FROM EDUCATION.COM
  6. EDUDEMICS MAGAZINE, BBC NEWS, WORLDTOP20.ORG
  7. EDUTOPIA.ORG
  8. DEWEY, 1993: FROM READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  9. SOURCE: STAGECOACH-WORLDWIDE SURVEY
  10. DEWEY, 1993: FROM READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  11. SOURCE: D.A. KOLB – ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY (4TH EDITION)
  12. READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  13. SIR KEN ROBINSON – PhD: SOURCE – FINDING YOUR ELEMENT: 2013
  14. P. HONEY, A. MUMFORD, 1992 – FROM READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  15. R.M. FELDER, S.K. SILVERMAN 1987 – LEARNING AND TEACHING STYLES IN EDUCATION
  16. N.D. FLEMING,1995: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION
  17. SOURCE: READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  18. IMAGE SOURCE: EDUCATORSTECHNOLOGY.COM
  19. H. GARDNER, 2000 – INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED: MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES FOR THE 21st CENTURY
  20. R. WHITE – QUOTED FROM 'THE THEORY OF MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES: THE CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK OF INTELLIGENCE, 2011, R.J. STERNBERG, B. KAUFMAN
  21. INFORMATION SOURCE: PETERHONEY.COM
  22. P. HONEY, A. MUMFORD, 1982: A MANUAL OF LEARNING STYLES
  23. INFED.ORG – DONALD SCHON: LEARNING, REFLECTION AND CHANGE
  24. KOTTCAMP, 1990 - SOURCE: READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  25. POLANYI: THE TACIT DIMENSION, 1966
  26. THARP AND REITER, 2006. SOURCE: READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  27. SOURCE: READER 2 WBS3730 BAPP ARTS – MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY 2014
  28. PERSONAL SOURCE

2 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, especially the methods of learning ie. audio etc! It was interesting when you mentioned how dancers learn as in my job at the moment there are a mix of singers and dancers learning complex routines and there was a massive variant on how we all learnt the routines. As a rule it is mandatory that we all write down our routines and some of the dancers found this very strange because we were so used to learning choreography from "doing" but in the long run its vital that we have our shows noted because 6 months down the line, with 6 shows and bumpers and cabs on top, details can be lost.

    As a dancer I find that reflection is vital and almost becomes second nature but this post made me consider maybe trying new methods and potentially more effective methods of reflection! I always take notes after a run but sometimes its easy to not put these notes into practise as writing it down sometimes leads to you forget them. Since starting my contract, us dancers have got into a habit now of reading our notes before every show and just vocally reminding each other of the corrections so we can then put them physically into a run!

    I found the theory by Schon an interesting read as I often find myself deep in thought but sometimes I find myself bogged down in contemplation and I dont feel this is positive reflection, as performers I feel it is too easy so self criticise and this isnt always beneficial as it can hinder performance and knock confidence!

    Overall I really enjoyed this post! Thank you!

    Ant x

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    Replies
    1. That's an interesting idea: does contemplation actually hinder progress? If we think about things too much, could it lead to us not being able to move forward? My family often accuse me of 'overthinking' everything!

      Something I found useful when overthinking things was to use 'reductio ad absurdum' - that it, taking a scenario through to it's illogical conclusion to make you realise how ridiculous you're being by over thinking: i.e.: I'm really struggling with this dance step, if I don't get it I'll look ridiculous and it'll make all the other dancers look stupid too then everyone will hate me and the show will get awful reviews and close and I'll never work again because everyone knows I can't get this dance step....
      See, ridiculous but effective for me at least!

      Another thing I found useful (through reading books on things like NLP and Psychology) is that we are our own biggest critics. Talk to yourself as you would a friend: if a friend was struggling with a dance step you would help them, be patient, offer advice and constructive criticism, whereas to ourselves we go straight to the "Well I can't do it therefore I'm a terrible dancer" conclusion. Be your own best friend and work things out as you would with another person.

      These are a couple of things I use to help myself not completely get bogged down in thinking and overthinking things!
      xx

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