Increasingly, students in the UK are being encouraged to demonstrate reflective practice as part of continuing professional development. Reflective Portfolios are becoming a common part of assessments, especially in practical subjects like Education, Medicine, Business, and the Arts. Students are often confused about the requirements and expectations for Reflective Portfolios, but this summary will help you understand what’s involved.
What Is a Reflective Portfolio?
A Reflective Portfolio is a set of writings that summarise the insights and experiences a student has gained from practical assignments. It is used to assess the student’s engagement with their fieldwork, and their ability to use theoretical knowledge in an applied setting. The portfolio itself can take many forms, including an extended written piece, a notebook or binder of short writings and documentary evidence, or an online archive of such pieces.
How Is a Reflective Portfolio Different from Other Types of Academic Assignment?
The reflective portfolio is very different from traditional assignments because it allows students to explore their own learning process. Whereas traditional academic projects expect students to be objective and impersonal, a Reflective Portfolio asks students to highlight their own personal perspectives, opinions and feelings. It provides an honest summary of the work undertaken and the skill sets that were developed. The key to success is demonstrating genuine engagement with the course of study rather than a simple ability to score highly on an exam or essay.
What Does a Reflective Portfolio Normally Contain?
The contents of a Reflective Portfolio will vary according to the discipline, but in general it contains short written pieces that summarise and reflect on the experiences of practical work placements. It can include the following:
- Samples of your Work – This will vary according to your field of study. For example, Art students might be asked to provide photographs or scans of some of their work, while trainee Teachers might be required to include sample lesson plans. The important thing is to include samples that reflect your best practice, and that demonstrate depth and diversity as a practitioner.
- Journal Entries – Students are often asked to keep an informal journal during their practical work. This should contain a brief summary of the tasks you’ve completed, as well as critical reflection on the skills they helped you to develop. You should also make note of any situations that you found difficult or challenging, and any moments of professional insight.
- Critical Incidents Reports – These are typically short summaries of moments that significantly enhanced student learning. Critical Incidents can be either positive or negative experiences which provided strong opportunities for professional development. When writing about such incidents, students should reflect on the ways that they prompted new skill development, or provided an enhanced understanding of course material.
- Evidence of Achievement – This part of a Reflective Portfolio provides written evidence of student achievement. For example, students can show how they met course objectives through work placement time sheets, mentor/employer feedback, client ratings, and more. This section can also be referred to in your other portfolio writings to support your reflective statements.
- Personal Statement – The Personal Statement provides an opportunity for students to summarise their newly developed skills and professional philosophies. Based on the experiences you’ve gained, how would you describe yourself professionally? Has your practical learning led you to embrace a particular philosophy related to your profession, or subscribe to a certain body of methods? In other words, what kind of practitioner will you be, and how has this been shaped by your practical fieldwork?
What Use Are Reflective Portfolios to Students?
Many students feel that Reflective Portfolios are far more helpful to their academic development than traditional assignments. This is because it allows them to develop a critical awareness of their own skill development, which helps them identify their own strengths and weaknesses. The Reflective Portfolio also instils confidence in the student as they learn to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Through a Portfolio, students reflect back on the thoughts, feelings and insights that they developed over the course of their degree programme, and this creates a more holistic educational experience than many other types of assignment.
How to Write a Good Reflective Portfolio
Be critical. Although the content of a portfolio will be more personalised than other assignments, you should use the same level of critical analysis as you do for any essay or exam.
Be comprehensive. Make sure that you include a good range of experiences that exemplify your work throughout the duration of your practical assignment. You might choose to highlight one or two periods of your work, but these should be contextualised within your overall experience.
Don’t be afraid to reveal your weaknesses. Writing about your professional insecurities and weaknesses shows examiners how much you’ve developed throughout your course. It also enables you to reflect on theories and methods that might benefit you in future.
Devise a plan for development. Your Reflective Portfolio should testify to your development as a practitioner throughout the duration of your course. However, to write a really strong portfolio you should also demonstrate an action plan for future development. Think about what knowledge and skills might address the professional weaknesses that your reflections reveal, and indicate how you intend to develop these.
Mistakes to Avoid in Writing Reflective Portfolios
The most common mistake in Reflective Writing is to be either too objective and scholarly, or too emotional and non-critical. Either mistake is equally wrong. Students should aim for a middle ground in their writing, in which they highlight their own personal feelings and reflections but analyse these with reference to the theoretical course material.
Another common mistake is not providing enough relevant evidence to support your reflections. Be sure to include documents from your practical experience, including summaries of assignments, mentor/employer feedback, client ratings and so forth.
Finally, be sure to keep your portfolio well organised and professional-looking. It is true that Reflective Portfolios entail a less formal style of writing, but students sometimes believe that this allows for disorganised presentations with jumbled notes, illegible handwriting and poor grammar. Remember that this is still an academic assignment, and all the normal standards of achievement apply!