Reflections on Stierer’s Learning to Write

I found Barry Stierer’s chapter on Learning to Write about Teaching (1) helpful. It helped me widen my mental ‘frame of reference’ from that of a ‘scientist’ to one that includes ‘qualitative’ educational theories. I wish I’d read this article at the start of my pedagogical training. I think it would have help me transition into (what is for me) the new field of higher education.

The first part of the article focuses on the idea of critique, or critically appraising, ideas and proposals from the educational literature. It has a nice list about ‘how’ such a critique is constructed: compare and contrast ideas; distill themes; discuss assumptions, wider implications and influences; and/or methodology.

I’ll ship over the second part ‘reflectivity’ just now and come back to it later.

The third part of the article on ‘praxis’ was good: praxis being the idea (coming from Friere) that theory and practise come together in ‘action’ which leads to change. Especially insightful (perhaps with a bit of guilt in there too!) was the paragraph of the ‘two traps’. The first trap is to insert a reference that simply mentions some aspect of the sentence subject, and the second trap is to quote references (perhaps even use ‘buzz words’) linking their practise to some aspect of theory.  How many times have I fallen into one (or both) of these? I think I need to reflect on articles I read: if it’s not worth digesting (reflecting), it’s not worth eating (reading).

As I mentioned above, the second section of the article discusses reflection as part of an ongoing process of becoming an effective learner and practitioner in a technical field. That a learner who reflects on their actions, looks for advice, or reviewer the literature (in a critical way), and takes the time to write their finding up, will be a better and more effective operator (in this case educator) that someone who doesn’t reflect. However, it is on reflection that my question comes because I did a literature search on the effectiveness of reflective learning and couldn’t come up with much. One paper (Mann et al 2009) addressed the issue through a review of the medical literature. (The paper is also mentioned in the healthcare section of the wikipedia page on reflective practice.) However, Mann et al only appeared to have found 4 out of 29 studies that seem to have recorded ‘potential positive’ outcomes (and even those are subjective). My question is this: does anybody have other literature that might have better (more comprehensive) data on the benefits of reflective practice? Looking forward from Mann (to papers that had cited Mann et al as a reference) I could see that two more recent papers (Does Reflective Practice Enhance Clinical Competency in Medical Imaging Undergraduates? and Measuring reflection on participation in quality improvement activities for maintenance of certification) had proposed that reflective learning could be correlated with improved outcomes (as measured by clinical skills) and that reflective diaries could be shown to improve the outcome of Quality Improvement projects. It seems to make sense that reflection is an important part of ‘deep learning’ as proposed by Hattie and Donoghue in this long review article. However, Fook et al’s review (albeit in 2006) concluded that:

….there is little empirical research seeking to identify the changes brought about by reflection, or outcomes of the process, compared with that found in other studies.

Something to reflect about!

Reference 1: Stierer, Barry (2008) Learning to write about teaching: understanding the writing demands of lecturer development programmes in higher education. In: The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education. Society for Research into Higher Educaton & Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 34-45. Unfortunately this excellent article isn’t available online.



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