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Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development

Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development Gillie Bolton. Paul Chapman Publishing London 2000. ISBN 0 7619 6729 X 240 pp. £16.99 First to define the background of the reviewer and my relationship to this work: I have worked with the author both as a colleague when co‐leading writing groups with undergraduate medical students, and as a co‐tutor of Masters courses. I have also had the pleasure of being part of a writing workshop led by Gillie with other members of my practice, and as one of a GP peer group when as a CME tutor I was first approached to facilitate the creation of such opportunities. I explain this so that the reader understands that I have an in depth knowledge of the work described in this book, and also some sense of what is involved in implementing such methods in medical education settings. The book’s main claim is that using writing as a means of reflective practice allows us to ‘express and explore our own and others’ stories: crafting and shaping them to help us understand and develop’ (p13). The rationale for reflective practice is briefly summarised, and the use of writing recommended as a process that is personal, expressive and explorative. Its particular usefulness to professional development is explained by the need to tune learning from experience to your own agenda, which cannot be either predicted, made logical, or indeed be time restricted, because the psychological impact of events is not linear. The beauty of the process (for both author and reviewer) is that it supplements other, more structured, approaches such as critical incident analysis with a method that allows one to explore different facets of an experience without the constraints of factual accuracy or any assumption of a future action plan. In this sense it is a process without specified outcome, though the author cites many examples from practitioners of ways in which they have found writing helpful, effective and highly empowering. Theoretically this approach is linked with models of affective learning, ‘reaching the parts other methods can’t reach’, achieving shifts in perception by catharsis and creativity. Insofar as this is valuable, it adds an important new method to the repertoire of practitioners in their approaches to CPD. The book also gives an overview of key relevant educational principles, siting the method within educational contexts where it is likely to be used. There are overview sections on issues such as group work, facilitation, assessment and evaluation, all of which give the reader an expanded sense of the way in which the method has and can be used. While perhaps not enough for a novice and too much for an experienced educationalist, these nevertheless demonstrate means of putting ‘theory into practice’, and are usefully extended by examples and three very practical sections (chapters 8–10) on beginning writing, the learning journal, and the reflective practitioner. Further sections use practitioners’ own views and work, including a whole chapter on one GP’s experience of using this method, and a playful section on creative approaches such as genre, stories and poetry. So, what can the reader interested in medical education get from this book? Most importantly, it subtly challenges many objectivist world views that would have us believe that turning experience into learning is primarily a task of thinking about, and analysis of, external events. Rather, it reasserts the centrality of the subjective, the plasticity of meanings and how they shift with time and reflection, and empowers the doctor (or whoever) with a firm belief in their ability to use this method productively. Even the sceptical reader may be surprised by the extent to which this approach appears simple, obvious, and eminently appropriate – probably a reflection both of the author’s expertise in translating her skills onto paper, and of her confidence in positive outcomes, borne of years of experience. What are the shortcomings, if any? None serious, if the topic appeals to you, or even if it just interests you. I have three qualms: the style is somewhat fragmented, persistently mixing theory and method with both literary citations and practitioner quotes to an extent that I sometimes found it hard to follow the theme: my left brain would just catch a concept when I was flung off by the text into a more elusive responsiveness – probably creative but periodically confusing. Second, the writer’s clear ability to cope with the challenges of this work did not always transfer fundamental guidelines to me as a potential user of the method: time implications, resources, training needed, dealing with a distressed member of a group, organisational barriers and how to overcome them … I found myself left with more questions than answers, and rather wished that the ‘how to do it’ aspect of the book had been strengthened. Finally, the book, while claiming to interface with CPD, does not explore either the contemporary systemic constraints on this for health practitioners, nor use the extensive literature from medical education to set the scene, the extensive references being predominantly from educational and literary sources. In conclusion then, do read this book, because both its specific content and its underlying message are important. Nothing I have said here can convey the excitement of the experience itself. Creative use of writing is a skill, and there can be no substitute for trying it rather than reading about it, but this is not a criticism and the book will certainly whet your appetite. Don’t expect either an academic treatise (though it has aspects of this), or a full idiot’s guide (it tries that, but is too complex in the implications). Do expect to be challenged, extended, a little disconcerted; and (I hope) excited enough to try it for yourself in your own personal and professional settings. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Medical Education Wiley

Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development

Medical Education , Volume 35 (8) – Aug 1, 2001

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
Copyright © 2001 Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
ISSN
0308-0110
eISSN
1365-2923
DOI
10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.0952c.x
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Gillie Bolton. Paul Chapman Publishing London 2000. ISBN 0 7619 6729 X 240 pp. £16.99 First to define the background of the reviewer and my relationship to this work: I have worked with the author both as a colleague when co‐leading writing groups with undergraduate medical students, and as a co‐tutor of Masters courses. I have also had the pleasure of being part of a writing workshop led by Gillie with other members of my practice, and as one of a GP peer group when as a CME tutor I was first approached to facilitate the creation of such opportunities. I explain this so that the reader understands that I have an in depth knowledge of the work described in this book, and also some sense of what is involved in implementing such methods in medical education settings. The book’s main claim is that using writing as a means of reflective practice allows us to ‘express and explore our own and others’ stories: crafting and shaping them to help us understand and develop’ (p13). The rationale for reflective practice is briefly summarised, and the use of writing recommended as a process that is personal, expressive and explorative. Its particular usefulness to professional development is explained by the need to tune learning from experience to your own agenda, which cannot be either predicted, made logical, or indeed be time restricted, because the psychological impact of events is not linear. The beauty of the process (for both author and reviewer) is that it supplements other, more structured, approaches such as critical incident analysis with a method that allows one to explore different facets of an experience without the constraints of factual accuracy or any assumption of a future action plan. In this sense it is a process without specified outcome, though the author cites many examples from practitioners of ways in which they have found writing helpful, effective and highly empowering. Theoretically this approach is linked with models of affective learning, ‘reaching the parts other methods can’t reach’, achieving shifts in perception by catharsis and creativity. Insofar as this is valuable, it adds an important new method to the repertoire of practitioners in their approaches to CPD. The book also gives an overview of key relevant educational principles, siting the method within educational contexts where it is likely to be used. There are overview sections on issues such as group work, facilitation, assessment and evaluation, all of which give the reader an expanded sense of the way in which the method has and can be used. While perhaps not enough for a novice and too much for an experienced educationalist, these nevertheless demonstrate means of putting ‘theory into practice’, and are usefully extended by examples and three very practical sections (chapters 8–10) on beginning writing, the learning journal, and the reflective practitioner. Further sections use practitioners’ own views and work, including a whole chapter on one GP’s experience of using this method, and a playful section on creative approaches such as genre, stories and poetry. So, what can the reader interested in medical education get from this book? Most importantly, it subtly challenges many objectivist world views that would have us believe that turning experience into learning is primarily a task of thinking about, and analysis of, external events. Rather, it reasserts the centrality of the subjective, the plasticity of meanings and how they shift with time and reflection, and empowers the doctor (or whoever) with a firm belief in their ability to use this method productively. Even the sceptical reader may be surprised by the extent to which this approach appears simple, obvious, and eminently appropriate – probably a reflection both of the author’s expertise in translating her skills onto paper, and of her confidence in positive outcomes, borne of years of experience. What are the shortcomings, if any? None serious, if the topic appeals to you, or even if it just interests you. I have three qualms: the style is somewhat fragmented, persistently mixing theory and method with both literary citations and practitioner quotes to an extent that I sometimes found it hard to follow the theme: my left brain would just catch a concept when I was flung off by the text into a more elusive responsiveness – probably creative but periodically confusing. Second, the writer’s clear ability to cope with the challenges of this work did not always transfer fundamental guidelines to me as a potential user of the method: time implications, resources, training needed, dealing with a distressed member of a group, organisational barriers and how to overcome them … I found myself left with more questions than answers, and rather wished that the ‘how to do it’ aspect of the book had been strengthened. Finally, the book, while claiming to interface with CPD, does not explore either the contemporary systemic constraints on this for health practitioners, nor use the extensive literature from medical education to set the scene, the extensive references being predominantly from educational and literary sources. In conclusion then, do read this book, because both its specific content and its underlying message are important. Nothing I have said here can convey the excitement of the experience itself. Creative use of writing is a skill, and there can be no substitute for trying it rather than reading about it, but this is not a criticism and the book will certainly whet your appetite. Don’t expect either an academic treatise (though it has aspects of this), or a full idiot’s guide (it tries that, but is too complex in the implications). Do expect to be challenged, extended, a little disconcerted; and (I hope) excited enough to try it for yourself in your own personal and professional settings.

Journal

Medical EducationWiley

Published: Aug 1, 2001

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