What is Reflective Practice Anyway?
Reflective practice is a well-known process in many professional disciplines. It is a deliberate and disciplined approach to continuous learning. There are many models of reflective practice, but the majority of them consist of four major elements.
- · Experience. First, you experience something, such as a ride with your horse.
- · Observations. When the experience is over, make observations about what just happened. Observations include asking yourself questions like: What did we do? What worked well? How did I feel when it was working well? How did my horse feel when it was working well? What didn’t work so well? How was my body feeling when it wasn’t working so well?
- · Reflection. At this stage in the process, we try and make sense of what we have observed. The most useful questions are “why?” and “what did I learn from this experience that will help me next time.”
- · Plan. Make a plan for what you will do the next time you ride, based on what you have learned from this experiment.
It seems like a simple enough process, but it is surprising how many riders do not take a disciplined approach to reflection, which in numerous professions has been clearly linked to improved practice. As Linda Finlay says: “Done well and effectively, reflective practice can be an enormously powerful tool to examine and transform practice.”*
There are several different tools that you can use to help with your own reflective practice. A few of my students keep written journals, some more detailed than others. Another riding friend writes a blog about her experiences with her horses and the process of writing is also a practice of reflection for her. I often use a video for reflective practice. My rides are all videoed and after the ride I think about what worked particularly well or not, and then find that segment of the ride on the video and play it back several times. Based on what I see on the video I formulate a plan for next time to build on what I have learned and experienced. Another way of constructively using reflective practice is to reserve five minutes at the end of your lesson with your instructor to discuss the riding experience.
However you choose to approach the process, reflective practice is a key learning tool to further your development as a rider.
Take home message for equestrian educators:
It is important to support your students in using reflective practice as an approach to learning. You can do this at the end of every lesson by asking good questions. At the end of the lesson, don’t give immediate feedback to the student. Instead ask them to make observations by asking questions such as what they believe went well about the ride; ask them how their horse felt at the beginning compared to the end of the ride; ask them if they noticed anything change in the way that either their or their horse’s body moved by the end of the ride. There is a myriad number of questions you can ask that are designed to make the rider make observations about the experience they just had.
And then ask them “why do you think that happened?” or some other similar question that enables the student to reflect on the meaning of the observations. You may have the answer to the question, but it is important to let the student try to formulate an answer even if it is wrong and then discuss it with them until together you find the correct answer through discussion, or validate the answer as correct. The five minutes you spend fostering this reflective practice will quite possibly facilitate far more learning than having the student continue to ride for five more minutes at the end of the ride.
*Finlay, Linda. (2008). Reflecting on reflective practice. http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf