Practice and Portfolio Reflective practice


The objectives of this module are that participants will be able to:

  • Explain and develop strategies to stimulate learners to reflect on their own learning process/progress.
  • Explain and develop strategies to support learners in recording and structuring reflection.
  • Have an understanding of appropriate methods and formats of documenting reflection


The purpose of this module is to introduce you to reflective practice and provide some techniques to help you become a reflective learner.

Reflective practice is an evaluation tool as part of the learning process associated with personal development and growth. Having an experience does not necessarily mean that learning has taken place, it is only through internalising the experience that you can then begin to make sense of the experience in order for it to help with future action. (Blake & Bishop, 20017)

Reflection, particularly in the work integrated approach to the associate degree curriculum has a prominent place. What you learn is determined by YOU, and to a certain extent, your peers and teacher. Mostly you will learn skills and knowledge without realising that you are learning. Reflection before, during and after an activity will help you realise what you have learnt and what you did not achieve and perhaps what you could have done better.

What is reflective practice | (3:41min)

Definition of reflection

Reflection is a natural activity. To a greater or lesser extent, we all spend time going back over what we have said or done, or what we wish we had said or done. Often, reflection accompanies hindsight: we realise long after an event how things might have been different, or how some small event was more significant than we realised. This is reflected in everyday expressions: If only I had known then what I know now...With hindsight, I now realise...If I had the chance, I would do it all over again...

Reflection is an important skill as it enables us to look at past events and make the most of those experiences. This helps us to identify what went really well so we can keep doing it, what didn't go so well and if there is anything you would do differently in future. Do not fall into the trap of focusing on the past. The most important part of reflection is looking forward to future events. This helps us use knowledge gained from our previous experiences to keep doing the things that have worked previously, or to try new things when things have not gone so well in the past.
It is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting on this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. (Gibbs, 1988, p9)

The benefits of reflection are that it:

  • Enables individuals to think more deeply and holistically about an issue, leading to greater insights and learning
  • Connects the rational decision-making process to a more effective and experiential learning process
  • Challenges you as an individual to be honest about the relationship between what you say and what you do
  • Creates opportunities to seriously consider the implications of any past or future action
  • Acts as a safeguard against making impulsive decisions.

According to research reflection can be two main types

  • Reflection in action (Thinking on your feet)
  • Reflection on action
Reflection in action is the way that we think and theories about practice while we are doing it. It involves bringing what are often subconscious processes into the conscious mind and being more aware of what we are doing and why in the moment. This is why reflection in action is sometimes called thinking on your feet.
Reflection on action involves us consciously exploring experience in retrospect. It assumes that the practice is underpinned by knowledge. Reflection on action is therefore an active process of transforming experience into knowledge and involves much more than simply thinking about and describing practice.

What reflective writing is not?

Reflection is not:

  • Conveyance of information, information or argument in a report, essay or ‘recipe’;
  • Straight forward description, though there may be descriptive elements;
  • Simple problem solving like recalling how to get to the nearest station

Reference: Moon (2004)

Initially you may find yourself writing in a descriptive style, simply re-stating facts or the event. By using the frameworks within this module will enable you to move from storytelling to writing accounts of events which show what you have learnt and how you plan to take that learning forward

Why reflect?

A positive by-product of engaging in the reflective process is that it can help you grow in self-confidence. Some of the other areas of self-change could include:

  • gaining control over your own thoughts and emotions, especially when confronted by others and new situations
  • developing deeper insights
  • make more informed judgements
  • monitoring your own performance
  • gauging not only your progress, but also your speed of change
  • tapping into your true motivations for doing something (e.g. examining your commitment to others)
  • establishing your learning preferences and thinking styles
  • developing a realistic image of yourself.

Therefore, whether you are examining yourself or your academic work, you need the ability to stand back and see the broader picture.

Reflection is an important skill as it enables us to look at past events and make the most of those experiences. This helps us to identify what went really well so we can keep doing it, what didn't go so well and if there is anything you would do differently in future.
Do not fall into the trap of focusing on the past. The most important part of reflection is looking forward to future events. This helps us use knowledge gained from our previous experiences to keep doing the things that have worked previously, or to try new things when things have not gone so well in the past.

What does reflection involve?

Critical Thinking

At the heart of reflection is critical thinking. In short, this means you must 'question' everything about your experiences, about what you are felt and with what you read. For an assignment, you need to use evidence-based research or theories by academic writers alongside your personal experience. If you wish to succeed at university, you have to start thinking and writing in an academic manner. The core themes you must consider are:

  • objectivity (stand back, be factual and do not take sides)
  • detachment (avoid emotional responses)
  • theories / models / concepts (abstract ideas)
  • compare and contrast (relative thinking)
  • judge evidence based upon reliable research (facts, not feelings)
  • methodologies (quantitative v. qualitative)
  • experimental approaches (empirical approach).
This is where and why your reflective writing comes into its own. The more your reflective writing includes critical and analytical questioning, the more beneficial it will be for your academic achievements and future prospects. In order to take an objective, balanced stance, you need to reflect carefully upon the evidence you have reviewed in the academic literature and adopt an analytical approach to experimental results. That is, question everything. Critical thinking and reflective writing go hand-in-hand. If you do not develop your critical thinking skills it can bring your grades down so it is an important aspect of reflection to develop.

Self Discovery

Reflective thinking and writing involve a large element of self-discovery. Cottrell (2010) pointed out that the reflective process is challenging. This is because we do not always like to discover the truth about ourselves and the things we most need to know can be the hardest to hear. It takes time and practice for anyone to develop good reflective skills. You should not be discouraged if the process of reflection does not come naturally or quickly. If you do face up to difficult aspects of our approach to learning (e.g. not being organised) then there will be great benefits.

Three processes for reflective thinking

Reflective thinking essentially involves three processes: experiencing something, thinking (reflecting) on the experience, and learning from the experience. Here is an example: a student receives a low mark in an assignment and reflects upon the experience.

Experience | Think | Learn

The three processes above outline the most simplistic model for reflective practice

There are models that are more complicated and frameworks that you can use for reflection and this section will later consider models by Prpic, Gibbs and Schön.

A lot of students struggle with reflective thinking as it seems a very alien skill to those used in the majority of academic reports and essays. This is not the case. Reflection can almost be seen as an extension of critical thinking, applying that critically to yourself, your practice and your actions.

Theories of reflective practice

There are frameworks that you can use to aid your reflection process. We will introduce you to three models here and in ZAP102 we will put these models into action.

Reflection before, during and after a learning process (Schön, 1991)

Schön’s Reflection in action/Reflection on action provides an additional element by making a distinction between reflection during the event and reflection after the event. It may be helpful to take account of the distinction between the two during your own reflective practice.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1988)
Graham Gibbs developed a reflective learning style, including the role of feelings

Refer to this checklist to make notes and then record in your Wordpress blog.

Step 1: Description

First describe the situation in detail. At this stage, you simply want to know what happened - you'll draw conclusions later. Consider asking questions like these to help him describe the situation:

  • When and where did this happen?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was there?
  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was the result of this situation?

Step 2: Feelings

Next, what were your thoughts and feelings during the experience? At this stage, avoid commenting on emotions. Use questions like these to guide the discussions:

  • What did you feel before this situation took place?
  • What did you feel while this situation took place?
  • What do you think other people felt during this situation?
  • What did you feel after the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?

Step 3: Evaluation

Now you need to look objectively at what approaches worked, and which ones didn't.

  • What was positive about this situation?
  • What was negative?
  • What went well?
  • What didn't go so well?
  • What did you and other people do to contribute to the situation (either positively or negatively)?

If appropriate, use a technique such as the five Whys (this will be covered in Tools and Techniques)

Step 4: Conclusions

Once you've evaluated the situation, you can help your team member draw conclusions about what happened. Think about the situation again, using the information that you've collected so far. Then ask questions like these:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for everyone involved?
  • If you were faced with the same situation again, what would you do differently?
  • What skills do you need to develop so that you can handle this type of situation better?

Step 5: Action

You should now have some possible actions that you can take to deal with similar situation more effectively in the future.

In this last stage, you need to come up with a plan so that you can make these changes.

Once you've identified the areas you will work on, commit to taking action, and agree a date on which you will review progress.

Reflective Learning Spiral (Prpic, 2005)

These of course these are not all of the models that can be adopted in reflective practice. In the practice and portfolio subjects going forward we will be focusing on the reflective spiral model as it provides a concise and structured approach to reflective learning.

These models of reflective practice can allow you to construct a greater depth of reflection than the experience (1), think (2), learn (3) model introduced previously. It is worthwhile researching other other models for yourself - all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Ppric The Learning Cycle emphasises reflective observation as a way to analyse and draw conclusions from an experience. The aim is to take this learning into new experiences through an action plan, completing the cycle.

Gibbs: The Reflective Cycle has six distinctive stages, leading from a description of the event/experience through to conclusions and consideration for future events.

Schön: This model has the strength of considering reflection in action (during an event/experience) with those that happen in hindsight (after the event).

Readings and Resources

Reflective Thinking guide – University of Reading

Reflective Writing guide – University of Reading

Resources for reflective learning

References: Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. [London]: FEU. Moon,J. A. (1999) | Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice. Psychology Press Moon,J. A. (2004) | A handbook of Reflective and experiential Learning: Theory and Practice. Routledge Falmer, London. Schön, D. A. (1983) | The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.


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