Reflective essays may seem simple on the surface, but they can be a real stumbling block if you’re not quite sure how to go about them. In simple terms, reflective essays constitute a critical examination of a life experience and, with the right guidance, they’re not too challenging to put together. A reflective essay is similar to other essays in that it needs to be easily understood and well structured, but the content is more akin to something personal like a diary entry.
Reflective writing is different from most other assignments because it is probably the only time you will be required to use “I” and “me” in an essay. You will be writing about your own personal experience and feelings, and in reflective writing, it is important to tell the reader what you think and feel about things. Many students find this difficult to get used to, as they have always been told to avoid the use of “I” in assignments and to avoid giving their own opinion.
Gibbs’ model of reflection
There are six stages in Gibbs’ model, and each will be discussed in turn here. There is also a sample assignment at the end of this guide, which is written using Gibbs’ model and is structured using headings for clarity.
In this section, you’ll need to explain what happened. There might be some background information, such as where you were working at the time (being careful not to identify individual people or places). Tell the reader who was involved and describe the incident itself without discussing your feelings yet – just the facts are required at this stage.
Discuss your feelings and thoughts about the incident in this section. How did you feel at the time? What about afterwards? What did you think at the time? What did you think about the incident afterwards? You can discuss your emotions honestly in this section, but make sure to remember at all times that this is an academic piece of writing. Be careful not to be offensive, make sure not to identify any of the people involved, and remember that it might not only be your tutor who reads the assignment.
In evaluating the incident, you’ll be looking at how well things went. How did you react to the situation, and how did other people react? What was good and what was bad about the experience? If you are writing about a difficult incident, did you feel that the situation was resolved afterwards? Why/why not? You will probably need some theory and the work of other authors (references) in this section.
Leading on from your evaluation, your analysis will look in greater depth at what might have helped or hindered the situation and how or why the incident came about in the first place. Importantly, you will need to bring theory and other authors’ work in here. The most common reason why students get poor marks for reflective assignments is that they don’t bring the theory and experience together in this section.
In this section, think about whether you could have done anything else during the incident, and what you have learned from it. Could you have responded in a different way? If you are talking about a positive experience will you do the same again to ensure a positive outcome, or is there anything you could change to improve things even further? If the incident was negative, how could you have avoided it happening or how can you make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Your action plan sums up anything you need to do in order to improve things for next time. Do you perhaps need to learn about something or attend some training? Could you ask your tutor or placement supervisor for some advice? What can you do which means that, if the situation arises again, you will be better equipped to cope with it?