Writing Reflections

In many of the classes I teach students are asked to write weekly reflections on course readings and discussions. Students are instructed to:

write a short paragraph at the end of each week in which you reflect upon and critically appraise what you have learned – no longer than one page, double-spaced. Use the following questions as a reflective guideline:  What have I learned this week?  What were the key concepts presented?  How are these concepts linked to ethnographic data (or not, as the case maybe)?   Does this new information make sense to me?  And, How might I apply this knowledge in a novel/different situation?

The objective is twofold: (1) to practice observational writing (that is, to describe to some effective key events that one is participating in) and, (2) to engage in a form of self-reflection and assessment of what one has learned.  Getting starting with reflective writing is often difficult as it is not simply descriptive nor is it argumentative or purely analytical. To help with this I have posted an example of an effective reflection.

This reflection is from a graduate method’s course.  Please consider how the author moves from the class discussions and activities to an issue that caused her to reflect and evaluate her own feelings and understandings.  You will also note that the author critically reflects on the incident described in terms of its relevance to her research.  This reflection meets all three reflection objectives: to reflect on the material presented in readings and lectures each week; to develop critical insight, and; to engage in a process of self-evaluation.

Today we finished discussions on the ethnographies and also talked about the ethics stuff.  The interesting thing came out of the ethics review, I think I mentioned last time, was re-contacting the interview participants.  I should somehow get back to the participants and provide them with either some sort of venue to evaluate or criticize or confirm my interpretations.  Also, some sort of formal thanks you for their efforts.  That’s important.  I have to look into the ethics of using a list of veterinarians that I have complete access to but is not public knowledge.  I never would have dreamed that it was a problem.

We had an interesting discussion in class today about tacit versus explicit knowledge.  It’s hard to know which is which sometimes.  Sometimes you assume that people know what you are talking about.  Sometimes you assume that you know what they are talking about because of your tacit knowledge.  Confusions can easily happen – so that’s a good lesson to learn.

The most interesting thing that happened today was the discussion around a classmate’s pet dog. The dog met an untimely death by being run over by a deaf person because he was a deaf dog.  The thing that struck me the most was my reaction versus the rest of the class. I guess when you see pain and misery due to episodes like this you no longer find them humorous, no matter how ironic.  You can’t laugh any more.  Anyway the whole thing upset me quite a bit.  But it is a good lesson because I can’t let myself get in that position during an interview.  Its ridiculous really, it clouds my view of things.  So I have to remember that not everyone has my experience or my feelings for animals.  That goes for veterinarians as well.  The other thing though that affected me was a comment that was made afterwards: “people shouldn’t have pets or keep pets;” something to that effect.    My immediate reaction was defensiveness.  Although I’ve been a vet in many different fields and my project does not exclusively involve pets, my work life does include pets and there are a number of very good reasons why people have pets. My defensiveness prevented me from acting on my concern and asking him why my classmate made the comment.  She may have a very good reason for saying that people shouldn’t have pets.  In an interview situation, I will have to try to be open and receptive. If something confuses me or doesn’t make sense or sounds critical or any of the above, then I should, rather than becoming defensive, try to determine exactly what is going on.  Our viewpoints may not be that much different but if they are, I should find out why they are and ask for clarification.

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