Kember et al, A Coding Scheme for Determining Level of Reflective Thinking in Students' Written Journals

Kember, D., Jones, A., Loke, Al, McKay, J., Sinclair, K., Tse, H., Webb, C., Wong, F., Wong, M., & Yeung, E. (1999). Determining the level of reflective thinking from students’ written journals using a coding scheme based on the work of Mezirow. International Jouranl of Lifelong Education, 18(1), 18-30.

Summary: These authors drew upon the work of Mezirow to define codes and create a coding scheme for evaluating the level of reflectivity in students’ written journals. The codes include : 1. Habitual Action, 2. Introspection, 3. Thoughtful Action, 4. Content Reflection, 5. Process Reflection, 6. Content and Process Reflection, and 7. Premise Reflection. Codes 1-3 are considered non reflective thinking. Codes 4-7 are considered reflective thinking. Codes 4-6 are the same level. Code 7, Premise Reflection, is considered the highest level of reflectivity. They used inter-rater reliability of eight independent testers to test the coding scheme and found it to be accurate in determining the level of reflective thought.


(See image)

Figure 1. The coding categories for reflective thinking (p. 25)

Categories in pink are considered non-reflective thought.


Definitions: (The authors created these definitions based on the work of Mezirow (1991).)

Habitual action: “Habitual action is that which has been learnt before and through frequent use becomes an activity which is performed automatically or with little conscious thought” (p. 20).

Thoughtful action: “Thoughtful action makes use of existing knowledge, without attempting to appraise that knowledge, so learning remains within pre-existing meaning schemes and perspectives. Thoughtful action can be described as a cognitive process” (p. 21).

“As practice becomes more repetitive and routine, and as knowing-in-practice becomes increasingly tacit and spontaneous, the practitioner may miss important opportunities to think about what he is doing. Through reflection, he can surface and criticize the tacit understandings that have grown up around the repetitive experiences of a specialized practice, and can make new sense of the situations of uncertainty or uniqueness which he may allow himself to experience” (p. 21).

Introspection: “Unlike thoughtful action, which is concerned with cognition, introspection lies in the affective domain. It refers to feelings or thoughts about ourselves. The feelings can be personal, such as recognizing that we feel happy, upset or bored with something. It can involve the recognition that we have feelings towards others such as liking or disliking them. It does not, whoever, encompass us deciding how or why these feelings developed as that becomes reflective thinking. Introspection remains at the level of recognition or awareness of these feelings” (p. 21).


Reflective action:

The authors draw upon Dewey’s (1933, p. 9) definition, “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (as cited by Kember et al, 1999, p. 22) and on Mezirow’s definition in particular, “Reflection involves the critique of assumptions about the content or process of problem solving…. The critique of premises or presuppositions pertains to problem posing as distinct from problem solving. Problem posing involves making a taken-for-granted situation problematic, raising questions regarding its validity, (Mezirow 1991: 105)” (p. 23).

Content reflection:

“Content reflection being concerned with what, while process examines how. Mezirow defines content reflection as: Reflection on what we perceive, think, feel or act upon. (Mezirow 1991:107)” (p. 23).

Process reflection:

“Process reflection is concerned more with our method or manner in which we think” (p. 23).

The authors quote Mezirow’s definition as being, “Examination of how one performs the functions of perceiving, thinking, feeling, or acting and an assessment of efficacy in performing them. (Mezirow 1991: 107-108)” (p. 23).

Premise reflection: “Premise reflection is seen as a higher level of reflective thinking as it is through premise reflection that we can transform our meaning framework as it opens the possibility of perspective transformation” (p. 23).

The authors quote Mezirow’s definition as being, “Premise reflection involves us becoming aware of why we perceive, think, feel or act as we do (Mezirow 1991:108)” (p. 23).

“Conventional wisdom and ingrained assumptions are hard to change, in part because they become so deeply embedded that we become unaware that they are assumptions or even that they exist” (p. 23).

“For writing to be coded as premise reflection, there needed to be evidence of a significant change of perspective” (p. 24).

“The segments within the square brackets in the quotation below are Mezirow’s (1991: 112-113) additions to Schon’s original quotation, ‘They may ask themselves, for example, ‘What features do I notice when I recognize this thing? [process reflection] What are the criteria by which I make this judgment? [premise reflection] What procedures am I enacting when I perform this skill? [process reflection] How am I framing the problem that I am trying to solve?’ [premise reflection] Usually reflection on knowing-in-action goes together with reflection on the stuff at hand [content reflection].


The authors conclude, “The testing process shows that the category definitions are unambiguous and usable in practice for determining the levels of reflective thinking from journal writing” (p. 29).


Resources and References:

Colaizzi, P. F. (1973). Reflection and research in psychology: A phenomenological study of learning. (New York: Hunt Publications).

Hahnemann, B. K. (1986). Journal writing: A key to promoting critical thinking in nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education, 25(5), 213-215.

King, P. M. & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1981).  A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education, 32(1), 3-24.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Powell, J. H. (1989). The reflective practitioner in nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 14, 824-832.