Reflective writing

Reflective writing tasks ​allow you to review and think critically about a personal experience related to your course.

Reflective writing

Reflective writing as an assessment is a great way for your marker to see your thoughts progress. You can ask questions, add suggestions, argue with the material and question your own experiences or previous understanding. It demonstrates you’re taking your understanding of your subject deeper.

—Ari Moore, Senior Student Writing Mentor

Reflective writing tasks at university are a way of asking you to critically evaluate and make connections between the theories and practice you are engaging with in your unit and can guide you to become more aware of your personal thoughts about your life experiences in relation to those theories. In some disciplines, for example Education, reflection is often used to build upon existing knowledge, to help improve professional practice.

Reflective writing is not just a description or summary of something that you have observed. Instead, reflective writing requires you to describe, analyse and evaluate. Describing, analysing and evaluating experiences enables you to develop new insights and perspectives. The quality of your analysis is improved by reading widely and thinking critically about what you are learning in your course.

Some examples of reflective writing assignments include:

  • analysing your experience of working on a group task
  • critiquing a teaching or learning activity (self-review or peer review activities)
  • critiquing your experiences on a placement or internship
  • describing a critical experience in your life that has shaped your view of the world
  • keeping a reflective journal or log on a work placement.

There are various reflective writing models, and this guide will discuss two used at Deakin. However, you should always check your unit assessment instructions for specific directions or preferred reflection models.

Language features

The language and style used in reflective writing tasks will depend on the assignment instructions and your discipline. However, in most reflections the reader will expect to learn about your personal experience, feelings, ideas and opinions. You may also reflect on and cite sources from your coursework. It is acceptable to refer to yourself and use personal pronouns when writing reflectively (I, my, me). The use of action verbs to express feelings and opinions can also be useful (“I felt…”, “I think…”, “I agree…”).

The ideas and phrases listed below are commonly used in reflective writing.

Type of reflection Example phrases
Reflecting on an experience
  • My experience of this leads me to believe/think/question...
  • I remember/recall...
  • I think/feel/believe/hope/am convinced...
  • This was difficult/ frightening/exciting...
  • I find it concerning/inspiring/challenging that...
  • My classmates and I decided that it would be more effective to...
Engaging with theory while reflecting
  • For me, this assertion is very difficult to agree with...
  • I do not agree with Smith (2013) when she argues that... This was not my experience of...
  • However, in my mind the key question is...

Reflecting on performance and how you might improve on future performance

  • On reflection, I would go about this differently next time, for example…
  • I am not sure that our group performed as well as they could have and I’ll outline three reasons why I think this was the case...
  • I was satisfied with the feedback I received, but...
  • My supervisor suggested that I needed some improvement in this area, which I will try to address by...

What? So what? Now what? model

What? So what? Now what? reflection model

The “What? So what? Now what?” model can guide your reflection on an experience and the actions that follow.  Use the suggested prompts under each heading to help you get started.

What?What happened? Establish a context by describing the experience with enough detail to support the following “So what?” section. For example, you can describe who, what, why, when, where.
So what?

What have you learnt from this? Why does it matter? This is the sense-making section where you can discuss what resonated with you or those things that challenged your opinions/beliefs.

  • What about this experience made an impact on you? Why?
  • How is this connected to concepts that are relevant to this unit?
  • Are there any links to readings, theories, discussions, journals, etc.?
  • What does it make you think about?
  • How does it make you feel? Why?
  • Does this make you think of any past experiences you might have had? What is the link? What about other current events?
Now what?

What are you going to do as a result of your experience? This section is where you make connections from the experience and link it to further actions.

  • What would you do differently / the same next time? Why?
  • How will you apply what you have learnt?
  • What are the key points/lessons learnt you would like to share?
  • What kind of critical questions does this raise that you might want to pursue further?
  • Where might this reflection lead in the future? Feel free to ask questions or propose new connections here.

4R's model

The 4R's reflection model

The 4R's of reflection model can be applied to suit many different contexts and provides you with a general idea of how to organise the information in your reflection.

Report/respond
  • Give a brief description of the event, situation or issue.
  • State your reaction to the situation or issue.
Relate
  • Make a connection between the issue/situation and your own personal skills, experience and understanding.
  • Relate this to any relevant theoretical understandings.
Reason
  • Find an explanation for the situation/issue.
  • Discover any relationship between theory and practice in order to seek a deep understanding of why something has happened.
Reconstruct
  • Draw a conclusion and discuss improvements that could be made.
  • Identify any changes or improvements for future planning.
  • Apply your learning to other contexts and your future professional practice.

References

Bain, J, Ballantyne, R, Packer, J, & Mills, C 1999, ‘Using journal writing to enhance student teachers' reflectivity during field experience placements’, Teachers and Teaching, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 51-73.

Page custodian: Division of Student Life
Last updated: