Academic journal article College Student Journal

Making It Applicable: Using Introspective Essays in Abnormal Psychology Classes

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Making It Applicable: Using Introspective Essays in Abnormal Psychology Classes

Article excerpt

In the quest for new and effective teaching methods, there is little doubt that activities and lessons which bring course material to students in an applied way that is relevant and pertinent to their lives and interests help to foster more effective learning and retention. A prominent pedagogical tool for this is the use of reflective writing. The present study evaluates student satisfaction with a reflective paper integrating the students' own experiences in an undergraduate abnormal psychology class. As part of their final grade for the class, students in seven different sections were assigned to write a self-analysis essay integrating concepts learned in class and exploring themselves as a person. This activity was designed to challenge students to engage with course material in an applied manner that, in many ways, is very personally relevant. Students then completed questionnaires rating the assignment and its perceived effectiveness. Overall results showed that students believed the assignment to be effective, helpful, and facilitative of their learning of key psychological concepts.

Keywords: teaching psychology, self-analysis, applied learning

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For quite some time, professors and those engaged in research about teaching have been working to discover how to create the active learner--in Palmer's (1998) metaphorical terms, lighting a fire rather than filling a vessel. One tool in this process is reflection and reflective writing in particular, a pedagogical methodology that has received considerable attention since Dewey's (1991/1910) work suggesting that it might foster self-reflection, critical thinking, and the development of professional skills and values. Boud, Keough, and Walker (1985) proposed a conceptual framework to articulate the ways in which reflective learning is an active process. They proposed four elements to this process--an associative element in which new material is related to what is already known; an integration component where relationships among the data are sought; validation, where the learner determines the authenticity of the ideas and feelings that have resulted; and appropriation, where the knowledge becomes one's own.

Chimera (2007) applied Boud et al.'s framework to 42 nursing students' use of journals. They reported that student writing may or may not demonstrate the presence or absence of reflective thinking--specifically they were able to identify non-reflectors, reflectors and critical evaluators. They noted, however, that journals did prove to promote both reflection and learning, though not all students benefited equally from using them. Similarly, Pee, Woodman, Fry, and Davenport (2002) have demonstrated that requiring students to reflect on their experiences in a structured manner did, indeed, lead to reflective functioning at deeper as well as descriptive levels. While this does not mean that all students reflected deeply, it does suggest that the opportunity to do so was provided.

Mann, Gordon and MacLeod (2009) reviewed 29 papers on reflective learning in the health care professions ranging from qualitative to observational and quasi-experimental studies that were published in nursing, medical and educational journals. They reported that practicing physicians and nurses use reflection--though the ways in which it is used varies widely from person to person. Students, too, vary widely in the extent to which they use reflection, and few demonstrate the deepest levels of reflection. Reflection was not, however, a spontaneous event, but something that was deliberately stimulated within the educational setting. The most effective stimulation for reflection included a supportive environment, an authentic context and perceptions of relevance as well as time for reflection.

It is easier to measure the relationship between the ability to reflect and good performance academically than it is to demonstrate that reflection can be taught and that this, in turn, leads to improved academic functioning (Lew & Schmidt, 2011), at least as measured by achievement test grades (the dependent variable in their study). …

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