A comparison of two methods of teaching reflective ability in Year 3 medical students

Med Educ. 2012 Aug;46(8):807-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2012.04299.x.


Context: Little is known about best practices for teaching and learning reflection. We hypothesised that reflective ability scores on written reflections would be higher in students using critical reflection guidelines, or receiving feedback on reflective skill in addition to reflection content, or both, compared with those in students who received only a definition of reflection or feedback on reflection content alone.

Methods: Using a 2 (guidelines) × 2 (feedback) × 2 (time) design, we randomly assigned half of our sample of 149 Year 3 medical students to receive critical reflection guidelines and the other half to receive only a definition of critical reflection. We then randomly divided both groups in half again so that one half of each group received feedback on both the content and reflective ability in their reflections, and the other received content feedback alone. The learners' performance was measured on the first and third written reflections of the academic year using a previously validated scoring rubric. We calculated descriptive statistics for the reflection scores and conducted a repeated-measures analysis of variance with two between-groups factors, guidelines and feedback, and one within-group factor, occasion, using the measure of reflective ability as the dependent variable.

Results: We failed to find a significant interaction between guidelines and feedback (F = 0.51, d.f. = 1, 145, p = 0.48). However, the provision of critical reflection guidelines improved reflective ability compared with the provision of a definition of critical reflection only (F = 147.1, d.f. = 1, 145, p < 0.001). Feedback also improved reflective ability, but only when it covered reflective skill in addition to content (F = 6.5, d.f. = 1, 145, p = 0.012).

Conclusions: We found that the provision of critical reflection guidelines improved performance and that feedback on both content and reflective ability also improved performance. Our study demonstrates that teaching learners the characteristics of deeper, more effective reflection and helping them to acquire the skills they need to reflect well improves their reflective ability as measured by performance on reflective exercises.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Self Efficacy
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Teaching / standards
  • Thinking