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Befitting its status as the sole module in the Reflection Tier, the USP Senior Seminar focuses on critical reflection: the process by which we gain new insights into our learning experiences at USP and NUS by re-situating them. Such reflection will have to be intentional and evidence-based, and will often happen in conversation or community with others.

Though we will discuss, debate, and develop the definition, we can preliminarily define critical reflection by specifying what it is not. Reflection is not recollection: it is not simply the remembering of an experience followed by its articulation. Rather, reflection is integral to learning; it is the process through which we gain further insight into what we have learnt beyond the immediate objectives of the learning experience. In reflection, we revisit the learning event not merely to recount it but to re-situate it, in order to learn something new about it. We do so by putting it in connection with other experiences in order to discover observations and conclusions that had previously gone unnoticed or to create new ones.

This tentative definition draws on the work of American pragmatic philosopher, John Dewey, who also contributed immensely to the philosophy of education. For Dewey, learning is a process of doing that entails the “reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience” (Democracy and Education 76). Reflection is what enables this process of reconstruction and reorganization. “To reflect,” Dewey writes in Experience and Education, “is to look back over what has been done to extract the net meanings which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experiences. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind” (87). Deweyan reflection is thus an intentional, sustained, rigorous, and purposeful act that serves to distil and make meaning, the point of which is not only to make meaningful the learning experience but to transform both that experience and oneself as well.

In “Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking,” Carol Rodgers, a contemporary scholar of educational theory, provides a useful four criteria summary of Dewey’s theory of reflection:

  • Reflection is a meaning-making process that moves the learning from one experience into the next with deeper understanding of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and ideas.
  • Reflection is a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking, with its roots in scientific inquiry.
  • Reflection needs to happen in a community, in interaction with others.
  • Reflection requires attitudes that value the personal and intellectual growth of oneself and of others.

Differently put, reflection is the asking of the question “What do I know?” with a few qualifications: first, that the answer is not mere confirmation of what one already knows but the construction of new knowledge; second, that the questioning is not a general musing but is goal-oriented and contextualized; third, that the question involves connecting and engaging with other people, ideas, and learning situations; and lastly, that the answer contributes to the on-going evolution of your identity, values, and commitments.