‘It’s like eating a dry cracker!’: How can Reflective Practice become more Meaningful?

By Catherine Best posted Wed July 31,2019 06:28 AM


On 19th July Dr Kirsten Jack presented her work at a concurrent session at the Sigma: Phi Mu All-England Chapter Annual Conference on the importance of ensuring that as nurse academics we encourage meaningful reflective practice.

Being an advocate of reflective practice, I was alarmed when one of our undergraduate nursing students described it as something more commonly associated with cheese. I admired her honesty, she was speaking from the heart, and I knew that she was not the only student who felt this way. Often, reflective templates, a requirement of the undergraduate nursing programme, were left only half written and I knew that many were completed to ‘tick a box’, rather than in any meaningful way.

I must confess my part in the ‘reflection problem’. I had contributed to the dry cracker analogy through development of a summative reflective assessment and my team had always formatively assessed pieces as part of portfolio development. Was it any wonder that students felt constrained and unable to write from the heart, in the knowledge that I was going to judge their writing and offer them a mark?

It was my answer to this problem which formed the basis for my talk at the Sigma Nursing Society Phi Mu Conference at Oxford Brookes University in July 2019. I have a passion for the scholarship of learning and teaching and am committed to developing our students learning experiences to be meaningful and enriching.

My talk explored how I have used the arts (creative writing, drawing and collage) to support students to reflect on their practice. Indeed, offering students an option to develop a creative piece is helpful on many levels. First, it supports a more inclusive way of working; students do not need to be experts in grammar in order to complete a reflective piece. Second, being creative helps students tap into their affective domain; something often lost in the more traditional reflective pieces. Third, being creative helps students to focus on the individual interactions they have with people on a daily basis. For example, students will often write poems about a person for whom they have cared, writing from the other person’s perspective. What better way to learn empathy than by writing as if you were that person?

Sharing the creative pieces in small groups helps students to understand their peers and what being a nurse means to them. Sharing thoughts and feelings also helps to reduce the isolation felt by nursing students. For example, students can worry that they are the only ones who feel sad when caring for a dying person. Often qualified staff seem to cope easily with such events, and it can be hard for students to articulate how difficult it might be. Sharing feelings through the arts can reduce the isolation often felt by students. One such way is through the poetry website ‘Caring Words’ , a website dedicated to the sharing of poems about nursing practice.

So, rather than a dry cracker, I hope my talk at the Sigma Conference inspired colleagues to think about ways to enrich reflective practices in their own institutions, so that their students will never come up with the same or similar analogy and instead will richly benefit from the world of reflective practice.


Kirsten Jack RN, PhD, PFHEA
Is a Reader in Learning & Teaching Development at Manchester Metropolitan University

1 comment


Wed July 31,2019 11:40 AM

It is important that as nurse academics and nurse leaders we ensure that our nursing students and registered nurses engage meaningfully in reflective practice. 
Many reflective models exist that help support the development of reflective practitioners but it can often leave nurses wanting more and simply reflecting at a surface level, especially if reflecting in isolation. Introducing a creative approach to reflection, one that encourages a deeper level of thinking is perhaps just what is needed. I am sure using poetry to reflect is not without its challenges, but the outcomes could be well worth it. 

Thank you Kirsten for a very inspiring presentation and blog.

Catherine Best