Reflective practice -free writing a tool to start the process!

Reflective Practice – Ideas for how to begin: Free Writing

NOTE: I wrote this Blog on the 14th May 2013 and it was posted on the Research Blog of the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK.

Its content is relevant to my practice as I guide and support organisations through their own self-reflective gender reviews/ audits/assessments to improve practice for gender equality work.  

I encourage and support Gender Focal Points/leadership to use Personal Learning Journals as a tool to reflect on what they are thinking and doing about gender in their own organisation and in their practice.

After writing for a period of time, individuals share 'themes' that emerge from their weekly writing practice.

The outcome is a deep understanding of the complexity of what it means to 'mainstream gender' into policy and practice, internally and externally.

In my experience of working with individuals and groups on reflective practice I am struck by the fact that for some people it is hard to get the writing process going. In this my second Blog on Reflective Practice I would like to share with you a writing technique that may assist. The technique is called ‘Free Writing’. I will first describe the technique and then briefly discuss some of the benefits and why I think it might be a useful pre- writing exercise before writing in your Personal Learning Journal.

What is Free Writing?

Free writing is a powerful technique which allows your thoughts to flow onto the page, in a stream of consciousness kind of way. Setting up a free writing exercise is easy. Choose an opening sentence to start you off. This might be a sentence with no particular focus, for example “I woke up this morning and ….” or it might be a sentence to help you with your thinking on a particular topic, for example, “I am struggling with my research topic and ….” Then decide how long you want to write for. At the beginning it is a good idea to write for 5 minutes. In this short time you will experience the benefits of the free writing technique. You can then build up your time as you do more free writing. It is a good idea to set an alarm clock so that you don’t have to look at your watch while you are writing. With this preparation you are now ready to start the clock and write. The rules for writing are as follows: Write your chosen sentence at the top of the page and carry on writing. The idea is that you keep your pen moving across the page, writing down whatever thoughts come flooding into your mind. This means that you don’t stop to correct spelling, grammar or spend time on editing. In fact if you get stuck you can write “I don’t know what to write, repeatedly until, your ideas flow back. That’s it!  Easy to set up and rather strange at first to write in this way but if you follow the rules you will invariably feel a great sense of relief and often be surprised at what lands up on the page!

Why is Free Writing helpful for Reflection?

I think the Free Writing exercise can be helpful for reflective writing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps us make the shift from formal to informal writing. The rules for free writing are very different to rules for formal academic writing for example. There is an inherent freedom in the instruction to write and keep on writing without worrying about spelling, punctuation and grammar. And this experience of writing freely is one that can be usefully carried over into the Personal Learning Journal. Secondly, the free writing exercise is personal. You might choose to share what you write or ideas that have come up but essentially the reason for doing the exercise is to help you. This might be to clear your mind, to de-stress or to focus.  “Wow, I am surprised by what came out onto the page”  “I feel a weight off my shoulders” “I have unblocked a barrier to writing” are examples of the kinds of things people say after a 5 minute free writing exercise. To me this is all quite extraordinary. In a very short period of time and by following the rules there are powerful benefits. There is a tangible sense of relief and a freeing up which I think is exactly what one needs for reflective practice.

In my first Blog (20th March) I spoke about the Personal Learning Journal and I think it is worth thinking about that name again. It is a ‘Learning Journal’ and it is ‘Personal’. The audience is you and only you. This is not a Journal that you give to someone else to read or indeed mark!  Doing a personal free writing exercise first may help you to tune into what you are thinking and feeling and deepen your reflection when it comes to writing in the Personal Learning Journal. - See more at: https://www.uea.ac.uk/devresearch/post?p=reflective-practice-ideas-...What is your experience of Free Writing? Do you think Free Writing might be helpful as a step into building your reflective practice?  What other ideas and experiences do you have that can help? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

I also want to thank everyone who looked at my last blog on Reflective Practice and a special thanks to all those who contributed with written comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!

- See more at: https://www.uea.ac.uk/devresearch/post?p=reflective-practice-ideas-...

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Comment by Penny Plowman on April 9, 2016 at 19:29

Dear Fabiola - this is great - I am so excited about the fact that my blog will reach more communities - thank you ! And yes, from my experience using  pen and paper and using a book is really an effective way of writing. The book keeps all your writing in one place and even if you are away from you book you can always write on a piece of paper and then stick it in the book!! I hope it goes well for you. I look forward to hearing how you have got on. Perhaps commit to writing once a week for 10 to 20 minutes and then review how you are doing after four weeks. For each week you can give yourself your own prompt sentence ... I look forward to hearing from you. All the very best Penny

Comment by Fabiola Amariles on April 9, 2016 at 19:13
Thank you, Penny, I like the fact that you talk about "letting the pen flow", I personally prefer to write ideas by handwriting and not through the computer. I will do it and share my experience with you. Also I would like to share your blog and summarize it for the Spanish speaking group in this community, we are trying to make bridges to broaden the exchange of experiences between languages and cultures.

Regards from Weston, FL, USA (I am a Colombian citizen living here for more than 10 years).
Comment by Penny Plowman on April 9, 2016 at 13:48

Dear Fabiola - I meant to say Greetings from a very WET Norwich on this Saturday morning ! 

Comment by Penny Plowman on April 9, 2016 at 13:46

Dear Fabiola, thank you so much for being in touch.  Delighted to hear that you are going to start your own Personal Learning Journal. It is such a good idea to have a separate book that you keep for your reflective writing - you can then keep all your ideas together and over time it is interesting to look back over your journal entries and see how your ideas change and what ideas keep on coming up. I wish you well. If you find it helpful you can start your journal with an opening sentence " When I think about gender in my work I ....." - let the pen flow across the paper and write non stop for 10 minutes and see what happens! You can then carry on writing in a more 'normal' way by pausing to think about ideas. If you would like to do let me know how you get on, I would love to hear. All the very best and thank you again for reading my blog and getting in touch with me. It is always very exciting when this happens. Greetings from a very Norwich in the UK.  Best wishes Penny.

Comment by Fabiola Amariles on April 9, 2016 at 0:58

Thank you, Penny for sharing the "Reflective Practice" and the free writing technique with us. 

I use to write ideas in Post-In little papers and sometimes I lose them or can't find them when I need them. I will start using your guidance. 

It's very interesting that you associate this technique with the complexity of mainstreaming gender into policy and practice. I am reflecting on that and will start my "Personal Learning Journal"! 

Best, Fabiola 

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