What is a reflective task?

Reflections usually require students to stop, pause and think about past experiences and existing evidence, evaluate and decide what will or might happen as a result of it in the future.

Dewey (1933) describes reflection as ‘active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge’. Sounds very much like critical thinking, right? At Macquarie we assess critical thinking in four stages:

  1. articulation of issue or problem statement
  2. analysis
  3. position
  4. critique

Reflection is an active and iterative process as is critical thinking – see the Critical Thinking Model (CTM) below.

critical thinking model

critical thinking model

Asking these questions in sequence will facilitate a step-by-step critical analysis and reflection.

How to reflect?

Apply DeBono Hats in analysing a problem or a situation (Activity idea for students: Assign DeBono hats and roles to students doing group work).

DeBono hats

DeBono hats


Another useful place to start is to consider your experiences from different lenses or perspectives (Brookfield, 2005):

  • the autobiographical lens (self-reflection) (e.g. revisit your Teaching Philosophy, your teaching portfolio if you have one, watch your Echo360 recordings (you’re cringing now, aren’t you), or try blogging for reflective learning, like Jenny)
  • your students’ eyes (e.g. revisit LEU and LET forms, conduct student focus groups, or ask students to respond to questions like ‘What was the most useful thing you learned today?’ , ‘How could I change my teaching to help you learn more from this class?’ in a minute paper at the end of class)
  • your colleagues’ experiences (e.g. casual chats or formal meetings with focused questions, even better: engage in Peer Review of Observation of teaching)
  • the theoretical lens (e.g. engage with Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) literature, do TIP, or sign up for the new MOOC on Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching)

Reflective writing usually involves three steps (guided by the CTM above):

Looking back What? Description
Analyising from different perspectives So what? Analysis (DeBono or Brookfield)
Thinking about what this means for now and the future, developing an action plan What now? Critique, evaluation, synthesis

Reflection in learning and teaching

“Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull over & evaluate it. It is this working with experience that is important in learning.” (Boud et al. 1985, p. 43)

“Reflection is a deliberate and conscientious process that employs a person’s cognitive, emotional and somatic capacities to mindfully contemplate on past, present or future (intended or planned) actions in order to learn, better understand and potentially improve future actions. “ (Harvey, Coulson & McMaugh, 2016, p.9).

Biggs (2003) has argued for strong relationships between deep learning approaches, engagement, motivation and reflective practice.


  • Learning from experience
  • Developing meta-cognitive skills
  • Developing skills for professional practise
  • Building capacity to reframe knowledge
  • Exercising responsibility for one’s own learning and actions
  • Continuous improvement 

How to mark reflections?

Reflections are personal in nature. However, if it forms (a part of) an assessment you’ll need marking criteria. What does a good reflection look like?

Hatton and Smith (1995) summarise 4 levels of reflection:

  • Level 1: Descriptive writing (what, where, when, who)
  • Level 2: Descriptive reflection (incl. reasons, justification)
  • Level 3: Dialogic reflection (writer steps back and analyses)
  • Level 4: Critical reflection (writer evaluates experience from a broader perspective)

Written reflection is rational, considered, and unemotional, yet personalised and clearly situated response to experience. Ideally, you want students to reach Level 4.

Reflection, like any other skill, needs practice. You may want to try the following with your students to support their reflection and critical thinking as well as marking their reflections:

  • Co-create a marking rubric with your students
  • Engage students in peer-and/or self-assessment

Examples from Macquarie

  1. In Accounting (ACCG250) students were asked to reflect on an experiential activity (EA) they undertook in tutorials in weeks 10-12. Students could select from a pool of questions in each 4 different foci of reflection:
  • activity/outcome: e.g. How did you feel about this EA? Why?
  • learner focused: e.g. What did you learn about yourself in this EA?
  • outward looking: e.g. What do you want people to notice about your work? Why?
  • forward looking: e.g. What have you learned from your classmates that you would like to implement in your own work next time?
  1. In PACE, students are asked to reflect on their skills, strengths and weaknesses in a pre-session survey. Students can save their self-assessment data and revisit the survey again after a placement or work experience and assess if and how they have changed. You could adopt this idea for a class collective reflection activity. Run a brief and anonymous class poll of participants’ expectations (or concerns) before and after an experiment, activity, or a field trip. Reflect individually, with a partner or in groups.

Download this Reflection for Learning resources with useful activities and templates for students and staff.

How do you facilitate your own reflection or reflection of your students?

Thanks to Stephanie Brooks from FBE for sharing her presentation on reflection.

Posted by Lilia Mantai

Lilia's PhD was on the role of social support in the development of researcher identities in the PhD. She is a Higher Ed professional, passionate about education, research, and providing support to staff and students.


  1. Thanks, Lilia! Looked through the resource! ‘BODY PART DEBRIEF’. How cool is that?


    1. Kath McLachlan 15 March, 2018 at 4:11 pm

      Hi Olga

      PACE has a number of the ‘body parts’ packs if you would like to borrow and use with staff or students? We also have other reflective resources that you can borrow on short term loan.

      Contact me if you are interested – kath.mclachlan@mq.edu.au


      1. Yes, please. I’ll email you now!


  2. […] by a post from the Teche archives, here are ways of looking through these […]


  3. […] Reflection for learning – The basics […]


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *