Reflective thinking

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The term reflective thinking is not found in Wikipedia but it will yield many hits on the Internet only, and is a clumsy one. The word reflection means thinking itself, so the two words together sound like reflect thinking. An overview of the subject in this sense is found in a Stanford student website.

In any case it is meant to be thinking about thinking, which has the similarly clumsy name metacognition as defined in Wikipedia.

Further examples of the phrase "reflective thinking" are also found as book titles: (examples include: Reflective Thinking by Reverend Brian Branche, Athena Press, London 2005 and In Search of Thinking: Reflective Encounters in Experiencing the World by Richard Bunzl, Sophia Books, UK, 2008). Unfortunately, they are not about thinking or cognition, but something else.

But the most important usage of the term reflective is in "reflectiveness" as identified in the key competences in a PISA document of the EU.

Quote from the PISA document referenced above:

Reflectiveness – the heart of key competencies

An underlying part of this framework is reflective thought and action. Thinking reflectively demands relatively complex mental processes and requires the subject of a thought process to become its object. For example, having applied themselves to mastering a particular mental technique, reflectiveness allows individuals to then think about this technique, assimilate it, relate it to other aspects of their experiences, and to change or adapt it. Individuals who are reflective also follow up such thought processes with practice or action.

Thus, reflectiveness implies the use of metacognitive skills (thinking about thinking), creative abilities and taking a critical stance. It is not just about how individuals think, but also about how they construct experience more generally, including their thoughts, feelings and social relations. This requires individuals to reach a level of social maturity that allows them to distance themselves from social pressures, take different perspectives, make independent judgments and take responsibility for their actions.

Reflection[edit | edit source]

Reflective thinking is a series of logical rational steps based on the scientific method of defining, analyzing, and solving a problem.


"The reflective learning process

What is the role of reflection in the learning process?

Students sometimes view reflective writing as an annoying interruption to the serious business of developing content knowledge in their subject area. However, there are sound reasons why reflective writing is included in student assessment.

"Reflection is indicative of deep learning, and where teaching and learning activities such as reflection are missing… only surface learning can result." Biggs 1999 in King 2002

Reflective writing tasks are given to students to help students learn through reflection, precisely because of the established link between reflection and deeper learning. As well as facilitating learning and monitoring learning, the intention is to produce graduates who have acquired the habit of reflection as a means of continuing to learn and grow in their professions. Reflection can lead to:

  • personal growth
  • professional growth
  • meaningful change.

"Reflection leads to growth of the individual – morally, personally, psychologically, and emotionally, as well as cognitively".Branch & Paranjape, 2002, p. 1187

Reflection can help you to:

  • better understand your strengths and weaknesses
  • identify and question your underlying values and beliefs
  • acknowledge and challenge possible assumptions on which you base your ideas, feelings and actions
  • recognize areas of potential bias or discrimination
  • acknowledge your fears, and
  • identify possible inadequacies or areas for improvement.

Reflection can lead to greater self-awareness, which in turn is a first step to positive change – it is a necessary stage in identifying areas for improvement and growth in both personal and professional contexts. Taking time to reflect can help you identify approaches that have worked well, and in that way reinforce good practice."

Comment[edit | edit source]

In order to be able to write about the subject with any level of precision you need to identify the chunk of reality that is tagged by the gliph reflective thinking. This process is also called disambiguation, an obvious step to take when not just one word, but a phrase refers to different chunks in reality.

Disambiguation is basically decontextualization, or taking a word or phrase out of its original context with an aim to include it in a collection of knowledge representations usually sorted alphabetically, like the Wikipedia or any other body of lexical knowledge. As a result of such an operation you get a headword and an annotation, usually just the meaning, which is often just a little more than a definition.

All that is about making your knowledge available to others through communication, by using a language. But thinking takes part in the mind or in the brains and is performed even without the competence to speak a human or natural language. Children and animals can think, they also have emotion and will besides reason, or rationality which is supposed to be the core device for thinking.

In fact, as emotion and will will interact with thinking, it is necessary to see thinking in reflection as something neutral and organized despite the continuous flow or stream of thoughts that we experience. John Dewey calls it the disciplined mind as a prerequisite of the acquisition of knowledge as presented by using a language. See:

Quote from Dewey:

Discipline of mind is thus, in truth, a result rather than a cause. Any mind is disciplined in a subject in which independent intellectual initiative and control have been achieved. Discipline represents -original native endowment turned, through gradual exercise, into True and effective power. So far as a mind is disciplined, control of method in a given subject has been attained so that the mind is able to manage itself independently without external tutelage. The aim of education is precisely to develop intelligence of this independent and effective type a disciplined mind. Discipline is positive and constructive.

Discipline, however, is frequently regarded as something negative as a painfully disagreeable forcing of mind away from channels congenial to it into channels of constraint, a process grievous at the time but necessary as preparation for a more or less remote future. Discipline is then generally identified with drill; and Discipline drill is conceived after the mechanical analogy of driving, by unremitting blows, a foreign substance into a resistant material ; or is imaged after the analogy of the mechanical routine by which raw recruits are trained to a soldierly bearing and habits that are naturally wholly foreign to their possessors. Training of this latter sort, whether it be called discipline or not, is not mental discipline. Its aim and result are not habits of thinking, but uniform external modes of action. By failing to ask what he means by discipline, many a teacher is misled into supposing that he is developing mental force and efficiency by methods which in fact restrict and deaden intellectual activity, and which tend to create mechanical routine, or mental passivity and servility.

When discipline is conceived in intellectual terms (as or freedom tne habitual power of effective mental attack), it is identified with freedom in its true sense. For freedom of mind means mental power capable of independent exercise, emancipated from the leading string of others, not mere unhindered external operation. When spontaneity or naturalness is identified with more or less casual discharge of transitory impulses, the tendency of Freedom the educator is to supply a multitude of stimuli in order that spontaneous activity may be kept up. All sorts of interesting materials, equipments, tools, modes of activity, are provided in order that there may be no flagging of free self-expression. This method overlooks some of the essential conditions of the attainment of genuine freedom. Direct immediate discharge or expression of an impulsive tendency is fatal to thinking. Only when the thought impulse is to some extent checked and thrown back upon itself does reflection ensue. It is, indeed, a stupid error to suppose that arbitrary tasks must be imposed from without in order to furnish the factor of perplexity and difficulty which is the necessary cue to thought. Every vital activity of any depth and range inevitably meets obstacles in the course of its effort to realize itself a fact that renders the search for artificial or external problems quite superfluous. The difficulties that present themselves within the development of an experience are, however, to be cherished by the educator, not minimized, for they are the natural stimuli to reflective inquiry. Freedom does not consist in keeping up uninterrupted and unimpeded external activity, but is something achieved through conquering, by personal reflection, a way out of the difficulties that prevent an immediate overflow and a spontaneous success.

() The method that emphasizes the psychological intellectual and natural, but yet fails to see what an important part factors are of the natural tendencies is constituted at every period of growth by curiosity, inference, and the desire to test, cannot secure a natural development. In natural growth each successive stage of activity prepares unconsciously, but thoroughly, the conditions for the manifestation of the next stage as in the cycle of a plant's growth.

There is no ground for assuming that "thinking" is a special, isolated natural tendency that will bloom inevitably in due season simply because various sense and motor activities have been freely manifested before; or because observation, memory, imagination, and manual skill have been previously exercised without thought. Only when thinking is constantly employed in using the senses and muscles for the guidance and application of observations and movements, is the way prepared for subsequent higher types of thinking. At present, the notion is current that childhood is Genesis of almost entirely unreflective a period of mere sensory, motor, and memory development, while adolescence suddenly brings the manifestation of thought and reason,

Adolescence is not, however, a synonym for magic, mental Doubtless youth should bring with it an enlargement of the horizon of childhood, a susceptibility to larger concerns and issues, a more generous and a more general standpoint toward nature and social life. This development affords an opportunity for thinking of a more comprehensive and abstract type than has previously obtained. But thinking itself remains just what it has been all the time : a matter of following up and testing the conclusions suggested by the facts and events of life. Thinking begins as soon as the baby who has lost the ball that he is playing with begins to foresee the possibility of something not yet existing its recovery ; and begins to forecast steps toward the realization of this possibility, and, by experimentation, to guide his acts by his ideas and thereby also test the ideas. Only by making the most of the thought-factor, already active in the experiences of childhood, is there any promise or warrant for the emergence of superior reflective power at adolescence, or at any later period.

(c) In any case positive habits are being formed : if not habits of careful looking into things, then habits of hasty, heedless, impatient glancing over the surface ; if not habits of consecutively following up the suggestions that occur, then habits of haphazard, grasshopper-like guessing ; if not habits of suspending judgment till inferences have been tested by the examination of evidence, then habits of credulity alternating with flippant incredulity, belief or unbelief being based, in either case, upon whim, emotion, or accidental circumstances. The only way to achieve traits of carefulness, thoroughness, and continuity (traits that are, as we have seen, the elements of the "logical") is by exercising these traits from the beginning, and by seeing to it that conditions call for their exercise.

Genuine freedom, in short, is intellectual; it rests in the trained power of thought, in ability to "turn things over," to look at matters deliberately, to judge whether the amount and kind of evidence requisite for decision is at hand, and if not, to tell where and how to seek such evidence. If a man's actions are not guided by thoughtful conclusions, then they are guided by inconsiderate impulse, unbalanced appetite, caprice, or the circumstances of the moment. To cultivate unhindered, unreflective external activity is to foster enslavement, for it leaves the person at the mercy of appetite, sense, and circumstance.

Evaluation[edit | edit source]

Reflective thinking is NOT a school subject, as critical thinking is in the UK. Reflective thinking is an emphasis on teaching to think as opposed to learning lexical knowledge. Reflective thinking is not about logic, especially not about formal logic. But it is a very useful and enlightening study. It is meant to be a multidisciplinary or complex subject, and a course in multidisciplinary studies, a theory as well as practice related to cognition, computing and language. The difficulty in writing about reflective thinking or thinking at all lies in the speed of thinking and the tendency of thoughts to flow, hence blocking the effort for self-inspection, or introspection with any tangible result to record the process apart from saying or writing a part of the ongoing stream of consciousness. (After these introductory lines some lectures on the subject broken down into a number of subpages are to follow soon.)

One possible solution to observing and grasping ideas in their transient status may be to set up a theory of thinking in terms of data and operations on those data. Everybody understands a computer model and how a PC works, so a useful metafor or a different paradigm could be a description of cognitive operations - regardless of their physical realization in the brain, which is another approach to the problem. But since I am not interested in devising new medication or drugs for manipulating the processes in the brain, or to alter consciousness, I do not find neurocognitive research particularly useful for the moment. Later it may well happen that the theoretical model and the empirical research converge and will be offering mutually beneficial insights and a suitable terminology.

It is a fact that the entries on thought, thinking and the related pages are a mess in Wikipedia, and reflect the lack of a suitable model for the description of what goes on in the mind. Usually people talk about thinking in connection with emotions and will as well, which is a mistake, as thinking as a term should be limited to reason and rationality, in other words unaffected by feelings and determination relying on reason and reasoning only. Reason and reasoning are often identified with logic, and logic is mainly thought of as formal logic with its roots in ancient philosophy and mathematical logic.

I am going to show that informal logic is better suited for the purpose of describing reflective thinking, however besides logic and philosophy we need to address a number of other disciplines to demonstrate that the subject is best understood in a multidisciplinary setting.

But before doing so, I need to admit that Reflective writing is a school subject in HE and it is claimed that reflective writing is the evidence of reflective thinking.

"In an academic context, reflective thinking usually involves:

  1. looking back at something (often an event i.e. something that happened, but could also be an idea or object)
  2. analyzing the event or idea (thinking in depth and from different perspectives, and trying to explain, often with

reference to a model or theory from your subject)

  1. thinking carefully about what the event or idea means for you and your ongoing progress as a learner and/or practicing professional. Reflective writing is thus more personal than other kinds of academic writing. We all think reflectively in everyday life, of course, but maybe not to the same depth as that expected in good reflective writing at university level."

See the sixth hit on the list below:

(citation needed)

Why we need reflective thinking addressed as a separate subject[edit | edit source]

If you want to refer to authoritative opinions, then the best source to quote is PISA, and the European Union Framework 7 research subjects where the idea of reflective thinking is identified as an objective in education. Both in PISA and in the EU Framwework 7 subject it appears that the world is ready for bringing reflective thinking and the application of reflective thinking in the fore. In the future the competition between the trends to design more intelligent devices and to educate more intelligent people may once converge and it would be possible to teach children informal logic instead of syllogisms, etc. Critical thinking has already made its way to schools but that treatment of reality is more useful in debates to support moral views and rhetoric than in science where facts matter more There is a wide gap between what we know individually and collectively, and there is no interconnectivity between the two. Reflecting our own knowledge against collective knowledge representations and pinpointing any open and unsolved problems are therefore a timely issue. I reckon that by laying down the foundations of a new ontology based on genesis, i.e. the evolution or the emergence of concepts through mental operations that are directly not observable becasue of the speed they feature in an individual which seem to be replicating the same process as humandkind has been going through over a long time, several problems may be solved, including:

  • The unification of upper (and middle) ontologies
  • The correct (non-statistics-based) solution to machine translation (NLP)
  • Harmonisation of the language of the school subjects (through an audit by using concordance programs)
  • Open ways to access any knowledge in any directions (up and down the specific - generic , concrete-abstract continuum)
  • Quantitative assessment of knowledge (intellect) (by tracing the number of levels and items on each level)
  • Practical route to life-long learning (using templates to acquire new trades)
  • Eliminating the wide gap between academically inclined and non-academically inclined students (narrowing the gap in the generalist-specialist divide)
  • Rethinking library classification systems (where relations are extended by introducing verbs)
  • Rethinking the common grounds for scientific knowledge

Reflective thinking is therefore an approach of self-observation in order to document the mental operations that take place in your mind with an aim to put them right if they show some irregularities or abuse. Introspection is not enough, you need to document your understanding in commonly accepted format which is then the basis of mutual understanding and resolution as opposed to controversion.

Thinking takes place so fast that we have no direct access or introspection of the details, what you can grasp is then output in terms of speaking aloud, making decisions or anything tangible in your behaviour. By recording it and analysing the consequences you can se clearly how you have come to a conclusion and judge it that path taken is justified.

That way the most basic mental operations the existence of which is a question of having common sense to see and use the terminology already in circulation. Interestingly enough a book with similar subject but a reverse objective was written a long time ago about the "art of becoming the upper hand" or how to reason so that you always come on top of the debate regardless of any other considerations in reason, emotion or will.


Genezistan 12:50, 5 December 2009 (UTC)

See my lecture on the subject of synchronizing thinking:

See also[edit | edit source]

Examples[edit | edit source]