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Reflection ‘in action’ and ‘on action’: does it matter?
By Dr Arunima Ghosh-Nodiyal
In medical school, students are often asked to
‘reflect’ on what they have learned. For trainees in Psychiatry,
portfolios almost always have reflective notes. My understanding
had been, albeit naively, that we reflected once something had
happened. It seemed to be a process after the event, and reflection
helped think about ways to improve.
Schön (1983) talked about ‘in action’ reflection. Such
reflection was during the event, akin to ‘thinking on your feet’.
It involved looking at our
experiences, connecting with our feelings, and attending to our
theories in use. It entailed building new understandings to inform
our actions in the situation that was unfolding. Schön also
proposed ‘on action’ reflection. This was after the event and is
what we as medics commonly do (by writing reflective notes and so
on). The act of reflecting ‘on action’ enables us to spend time
exploring why we acted as we did, what was happening at the time,
etc. In so doing we develop sets of questions and ideas about our
Together, reflection ‘in action’ and
‘on action’ can greatly enhance professional practice. So, as well
as reflecting on what you have already done, why not think about it
while you are doing it?
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