Successful Reflection

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.