Design Your Own Reflective Practice
If you are looking to design your own reflective practice, but are unsure where to begin, you've come to the right place! On this page, you will find tips and ideas for reflection content and reflection method. The information provided is based on a literature review on reflections in experiential learning. All the best!
Not everyone is well-versed in reflection, so having some type of structure in place is a good idea for guiding learners through the process. Also, through structured reflection it is possible to tailor the level of depth of reflection and touch on specific ideas depending on the unique needs of each experience.
Creating a structure for reflection might seem intimidating, but luckily reflection has been a subject of study for decades! Over the years, scholars have developed different models for reflection, which can be used as a basis for reflective practice.
The common themes across many models indicate that reflections should generally include:
- A description of the experience, or subject of reflection
- Some degree of analysis of the experience, or subject of reflection
- A relationship between the experience, or learning from the experience, to the future
Some models that are commonly used for reference include: Borton’s model, Gibb’s reflection cycle, and the DEAL model.
- Description: Where the learner talks about what happened during the experience or event
- Feelings: Where the learner talks about how they felt during the experience or event
- Evaluation: Where the learner judges the experience
- Analysis: Where the learner considers different perspectives to understand the experience or event
- Conclusion: Where the learner determines other pathways they could have taken and what they leaned from the experience or event overall
- Action Plan: Where the learner discusses implications for the future
- Description: Where the learner discusses the objective details of the experience. What did they do? Where did the experience take place? Who else was involved in the experience? What did they do?
- Examination: Where the learner analyzes their learning and connects it with learning goals. The guiding questions for this section can be based off learning goals related to the program, experience, or the learner's personal goals.
- Articulation of Learning: Where the learner discusses overall learning and goals for the future. What did they learn? How did they learn it? What is the purpose or impact of this learning? How will this learning be used in the future?
Beyond the basic structure for reflection, there are several elements that can be incorporated to increase the strength of the reflective practice. These elements can be divided based on the learners' experience with reflecting and the desired level of depth of reflection. Based on our Framework for Reflection, the criteria within the 'Basic' reflection level should be considered the minimum for reflective practice. The 'Intermediate' and 'Capstone' levels indicate elements of reflection that may be more suited to reflections with increasing depth and/or learners with increasing levels of experience with reflection.
These elements of reflection include asking learners to:
- Use their reflection to connect their experience with personal experiences and/or academic education. This will allow learners to integrate different learnings, which is often one of the key purposes/benefits of reflection. This will also help them to understand how they can transfer skills from academic to experiential environments and vice versa.
- Consider their emotions and feelings during the experience. This is key for helping increase understanding and clarity of different situations and informing learners’ future actions. Certain professions, such as those within the medical field, will also ask learner’s to reflect on feelings and emotions, so including this in your reflective practice could prepare learners for future reflection in a professional setting.
- Consider the positive and negative aspects of their experience. Addressing what went well and what didn’t is key for improving performance and can help with increasing motivation, information recall, and connecting theory with practice. Considering what learners liked about an experience and any positive feedback they received also allows them to understand where their skills and interests lie, which can help them with developing their careers.
- Connect their reflection to contexts beyond the experience, such as the surrounding community. This would help learner's to understand the relation between their experience and the surrounding environment, the different identities and contexts that exist within their community, and the value of their learning to the community. Learners can also be prompted to think about ethics and culturally appropriate behaviour.
- Consider alternate perspectives and challenge their assumptions. This is important for increasing self-awareness, enhancing learning, and developing important transferable skills such as problem solving and critical thinking.
- Connect their reflection to a set of learning goals or outcomes. This helps to enhance learning and help learners develop their goal-setting skills, which will be useful throughout their careers.
Review our framework for suggestions as to what content might be most relevant for which level of learners. When deciding which elements of reflection to include, it is a good idea to keep in mind what you are hoping to achieve through your reflective practice.
The content of reflections is very important, but the way in which reflective practice is conducted can also have an impact on the strength and quality of reflection. There are several aspects of reflection method that should be considered when designing reflective practice.
Recommendation: Reflections should be continuous throughout the course or experience (eg. taking place once before, during, and after an experience).
The amount of opportunities learners have to reflect will likely vary based on the nature of the course or experience. However, allowing learners to reflect continuously can help them improve their reflecting and communication skills over time. Throughout their careers, learners will feel the need to reflect on their experiences, decisions, and performance to decide the next steps for their future. Incorporating continuous reflection can help learners to develop this habit of reflecting throughout their careers. Consistency of reflection could also have more impact than spending a significant amount of time on one instance of reflection. It is also important to note that reflecting too frequently, such as on a daily basis, can also be unnecessary and lead to 'reflection fatigue', which would prevent learners from reflecting properly.
Recommendation: Reflections should be guided in some way, either by a facilitator and/or through reflection prompts and questions.
Different learners will have different levels of understanding and experience with reflection, so providing some level is a good idea for making sure everyone is able to participate fully. Guiding reflections can also help make sure that specific elements of reflection content are addressed, based on your desired outcomes of reflection. Facilitating activities can also lead to increased engagement, creativity, and learning!
Recommendation: Learners should be provided with multiple formats for expressing and engaging with the reflective practice.
Varying the format of reflective practice can increase accessibility, help sustain interest, and increase authenticity, as some formats might resonate more with some learners. As is consistent with teaching practice at the University of Guelph, the Universal Design of Learning guidelines should be consulted to increase accessibility for all learners. Some different formats for reflection can include writing, poetry, images, songs, verbal discussions, and even exercise! Feel free to get creative and encourage learners to get creative.
Recommendation: Evaluation will vary based on the experience, but for learners new to reflection, a Pass/Fail system would be beneficial.
Having some form of evaluation or assessment can provide motivation for learners to participate in reflection. The pass/fail method of assessment allows learners to focus on learning and honest reflection, rather than how to get the best grade. This method might be best for courses or experiences where reflections are being newly introduced, or where you want to ensure reflections are as truthful as possible. For courses or experiences where reflections are embedded throughout, grading might make more sense. It is important to note that graded reflections may not promote honesty, especially with respect to emotions. For resources on reflection evaluation, see our More Resources page.
Feedback and Collaboration
Recommendation: One should look for opportunities for feedback and collaboration as they make sense within the context of the reflection.
Collaborative activities, such as group discussions or collective problem solving, can be a good way of exploring alternate perspectives, improving communication skills, and increasing learning. While such activities may not always be possible, they are an important option to consider. For examples of peer reflection in STEM, see our More Resources page. It is also recommended that some form of feedback be provided to learners, for improving learning.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI), and Universal Design Learning (UDI)
Recommendation: Reflections should follow good practices in EDI and UDL to ensure accessibility and inclusion.
Inclusivity and accessibility are incredibly important for ensuring all learners are able to participate in the reflective practice. Some good resources are available at the Office of Teaching and Learning – Inclusive Teaching and the Office of the President – Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
To increase the quality of reflection, it is very important for both learners and facilitators to receive adequate training. Learners should have some understanding of the purpose of the reflective practice, how to participate, and the expected level of reflection depth. This knowledge can be provided in a variety of ways, which could range from providing guidelines and examples, to holding a dedicated lecture or seminar session.
A framework for reflection depth, as well as examples for helping learners understand varying levels of reflection depth, can be found in Moon's (2007) Paper on Reflection Definition and Depth. Additionally, facilitators should also receive some level of training on the reflective practice, especially if they are unfamiliar or less experienced with reflection.
It is also important to consider whether the environment in which learners will be reflecting, is one that is conducive to reflection. The reflection environment should be one of trust and act as a safe space, especially for reflections that ask learners to consider challenging or sensitive topics and emotions. Incorporating principles of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and taking steps to ensure learners are protected from physical and emotional harm is an important step.
Another step towards creating a safe space is to ensure learners are informed about who will have access to their reflections and to create an environment where learners are allowed to make mistakes and encouraged to grow through the reflection process. These measures will help make learners more comfortable with reflecting and open to learning.