Successful Reflection

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Course: Successful Study Guide
Book: Successful Reflection
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Date: Friday, 2 June 2023, 10:16 AM


succeed lite guide to reflection

Successful reflection

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reflection photo Reflection - reflective thinking and writing - is an important part of university life and work. The ability to reflect on your experience and knowledge, and use that to make improvements, is a key part of university-level thinking and work. 

First of all, do you know:

To reflect, and write reflectively, you need to know:

The next chapter answers the question "What is reflective thinking?"

Successful reflection

Successful reflection

What is reflective thinking?

To think and write reflectively you have to:
  • Experience something
  • Think about what happened
  • Learn from the experience
  • Apply what you have learned
You think reflectively all the time, you probably just don't realise you're doing it. Have you ever missed the bus and then thought 'next time I’ll leave the house 5 minutes earlier'? It's an example of you being reflective: you thought about an experience and decided to learn from it and do something different the next time.

As a student, and in the workplace, you will be asked to be reflective. Thinking or reflecting on the world around you, your experiences and actions will help you to develop and improve your skills.

Reflection is:
  • Self awareness: thinking of yourself, your experiences and your view of the world
  • Self improvement: learning from experiences and wanting to improve some area
    of your life
  • Empowerment: putting you in control of making changes and behaving in a different way

The next chapter covers How to think reflectively.

Reflective thinking and writing

How to think reflectively

There are several models of reflective practice which you can use to help you structure your reflective thinking and reflective writing.

Kolb's Learning Cycle (1984) has four elements of a loop which you can start at any point, though normally you start with an experience:

kolb's learning cycle

Figure 1: Kolb's Learning Cycle

The four elements of Kolb's Learning Cycle:

  • Experience: doing it
  • Observations and reflections: reviewing and reflecting on the experience
  • Development of ideas: learning from the experience
  • Testing ideas in practice: planning, trying out what you have learned
Example of using Kolb's Learning Cycle:
  • Experience
    You give a 5 minute presentation in class and received low marks for presentation style.

  • Observations and reflections
    You over ran the 5 minutes and kept forgetting what you wanted to say.

  • Development of ideas
    You spoke to your lecturer to get some advice on presentation techniques. You noted down some ideas on how to prepare differently next time.

  • Testing ideas in practice
    You prepared your presentation in advance. You had some notes to refer to. You practiced delivering your presentation within 5 minutes.

Schön (1983) presented the concept of 'reflection in action' and 'reflection on action':

Reflection in action Reflection on action
  • Experiencing
  • Thinking on your feet
  • Thinking about what to do next
  • Acting straight away
  • Thinking about something that has happened
  • Thinking what you would do differently next time
  • Taking your time

Schön's theory is that there are two types of reflection, one during and one after an activity or event.

Example of using Schön's model:
  • Reflection in action
    • You are in a lecture and keep being distracted by thinking about what to have for lunch!
    • You want to get the most from the lecture so need to find a way to help you focus.
    • You decide to start making some notes of the key points.

  • Reflection on action
    • You notice that sometimes after a lecture you can’t remember what was covered.
    • You find out about the lecture topic in advance and write down some questions you want answered.
    • You make notes during the lecture to help you focus.
    • You arrange to go for a coffee after the lecture and talk with your peers about what was presented, to help you understand and form your own opinions.
    • You file your lecture notes and any handouts.

You can put these models into practice through your reflective writing.

Reflective thinking and writing

How to write reflectively

Creating a piece of reflective writing is different to other academic writing as it is more personal and you are writing about your experiences.

The table below lists the differences between reflective and academic writing.

Reflective writing

Academic writing

Personal account Impersonal account
Consider your personal views Consider the views of others
First person Third person
Contemplates Argues and justifies
Finds solutions to problems Compares and contrasts

Structure for reflective writing

driscolls three whats image

Figure 2: Reflective writing structure - three Ws

When you write reflectively, use the three Ws:

  • What? (description)
    • What happened?
    • Who was involved?

  • So what? (interpretation)
    • What is most important/interesting/relevant/ useful aspect of the event/idea/situation?
    • How can it be explained?
    • How is it similar to/different from others?

  • What next? (outcome)
    • What have I learned?
    • How can it be applied in the future?

What to include in reflective writing

  • Don't just describe – explore and explain what happened.
  • Be honest – it's ok to admit to making mistakes as well as success. But you should also show how you understand why things happen and what you are going to do to improve.
  • Be selective – you don’t have to write about everything that happened, just key events or ideas.
  • Look to the future – reflect on what happened in the past and how it will have an impact on future ideas or activities.


Finally, do check how your lecturer wants you to structure your reflective writing, as they may want you to write it in a particular way.

This is the final chapter of the book.