Role of Reflection

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

– John Dewey (1933)

Reflection is a central feature of experiential education and serves the function of solidifying connection between what a student experienced and the meaning/learning that they derived from that experience (Denton, 2011). Without witnessing students reflections on an experience we cannot be certain of what learning occurred or what meaning they gathered from the experience.

At Brock and across Ontario, a graded reflection-based assessment is necessary for all courses with experience education as it supports student in making meaning of experiences and our understanding of the learning that took place.

Reflection in Your Course

Reflection is not a superficial process of introspection. Rather, it is an evidence-based, integrative, analytical, capacity-building process that serves to generate, deepen, critique, and document learning. Additionally, the development of reflective skills is central to students’ academic and professional development within a discipline. The ability to reflect on one’s practice when confronted by a novel, unusual, or complex situation distinguishes expert practitioners from novices (Schön, 1983).

Role of Reflection(Ash & Clayton, 2009)
Generates LearningArticulate question | Confront bias | Examine causality | Compare theory with practice | Connect to systemic issues
Deepens LearningChallenge simplistic/superficial conclusions | Invite alternative perspectives | Ask ’why’ integratively
Documents LearningProduce tangible expression of new understanding for evaluation and feedback

Reflection is a continuous, iterative process according to Schön (1983). To support students learning it is important that reflection take place before, during, and after an experience.

Pre-experience reflection prepares students for the experience and focuses their attention on their expectations, perceptions, assumptions, knowledge, and understanding prior to the experience. This can act as a point or comparison or baseline against which students can compare their perceptions during and after the experience.Reflections in-action support students in explicitly considering the tacit knowledge and skills they are using to navigate the experience and draws their attention to significant elements of the experience (either internal or external). These reflection prompts require students to compare their expectations to the reality of the situation in order to solve emergent problems.Post-experience reflections require students to reexamine and evaluate the changes in their perceptions, assumptions, knowledge, and understanding in light of the experience. Comparing this reflection to those that occurred before or during the experience is particularly impactful and supports rich analysis. Students can analyze the experience including their own reactions, behaviours and approaches in retrospect, and should be asked to consider what their expectations would be/ how they would approach similar experiences in the future.

Characteristics of reflection:

  • continuous (occurring before, during, and after an experience)
  • systematic and guided
  • synthesizes action and thought
  • supports metacognitive skill development


  • discipline-grounded
  • reinforces the course and program-level learning outcomes
  • focuses on the student’s individual, academic, professional, and/or social development

When designing a reflection activity, it is important to begin with the learning outcomes for the experience/course/program in mind. Understanding what you want your students to learn from an experience can help you shape the nature of the reflective assignment. How you choose to have your students exhibit their reflection should be meaningful aligned with the course expectations and the nature of the experiential education component of the course.

The medium of reflection should be relevant within the context of the course and the experience.

Medium of reflection:

  • written journal
  • video or audio recording
  • demonstration
  • exhibit
  • presentation


  • group discussion
  • artifact
  • case study
  • artistic representation
  • multi-media product

The value of assessing reflection is that it signals to students the importance of experiential learning and provides an opportunity for you to provide feedback on their learning. Rubrics are valuable tool for students as they articulate the learning and behavioural expectations of an assignment and demonstrate alignment between an assignment and the learning outcomes for the course.

The critical reflection rubric (adapted from Kember et al., 2008) provides a framework for evaluating reflection. This rubric can be used on its own or as a starting point upon which to layer course-specific expectations.

Critical ReflectionReflectionUnderstandingHabitual Action/Non-Reflection
A: 80-100%B: 70-79%C: 60-69%D/F: <60%
Reflecting on Existing KnowledgeCritically reviews existing knowledge, questions assumptions, and articulates new perspectives as a result of experienceActive and careful consideration of existing knowledge and articulates new understanding of knowledge as a result of experienceMakes use of existing knowledge without an attempt to evaluate/appraise knowledge; demonstrates understanding but does not relate to other experiences or personal reactionAutomatic/superficial responses with little conscious/deliberate thought or reference to existing knowledge; responses are offered without attempting to understand them
Connection to Academic ConceptsDemonstrates superior connection between experience and class content (concepts/theories) and literature; evidence of application of theory and reconstruction of perspectiveDemonstrates clear connections between experience and class content (concepts/theories); evidence of application of theoryConnects experience with class content (concepts/theories) but remains superficial or abstractConnections are not drawn between experience and class content (concepts/theories) or literature
Evidence of DevelopmentArticulates transformation of their perspective of themself or about a particular issue/concept/problem as a result of experienceArticulates new understanding/insights about self or particular issue/concept/problem as a result of experienceLimited/superficial insight about self or particular issue/concept/problem as a result of experienceNo evidence of insights about self or particular issue/concept/problem as a result of experience

Frameworks for Reflection

Academic reflection is a learned skill. Many students are unfamiliar with the process and benefit from student and guidance to help them derive meaning from an experience. Without this support reflections may be limited to descriptive accounts of an experience or “venting of feelings” (Ash & Clayton, 2009).

Reflection frameworks are a valuable tool to help student develop this reflective skills. While there are many models for reflection, a common feature is their scaffolded/developmental approach – each level of reflection builds upon the last and moves learners from basic observation to critical reflection.

One of the most straight-forward frameworks to support reflection is the What? So What? Now What? model (Borton, 1970):

What? Describe the nature of the experience, your role, observations and reactions.

What happened? What did you do? What did you expect? What was different? What was your reaction? What did you learn?

So What? Explain the significance or relevance of the experience and your interpretations.

Why does it matter? What are the consequences and meanings of your experiences? How do your experiences relate to the course content? How do your experiences link to your academic, professional and/or personal development?

Now What? Discuss what impact of this experience and your interpretations will have on future actions and thoughts.

What are you going to do as a result of your experiences? What will you do differently? How will you apply what you have learned? How would you approach this experience next time?

You can also ask students to complete the following prompts:

  1. I learned …
  2. I learned this when …
  3. This learning matters because …
  4. In light of this I will …

The DEAL model (Ash & Clayton, 2009) frames experiential learning as a cyclical process that begins with students engaging in an experience, moving through phases of reporting, critical reflection, and goal setting.

Describe. Students describe the experience objectively and in detail, noting significant or noteworthy elements that were aligned with the learning outcomes.
Where and when did the experience occur? Who was there and was anyone absent? What actions did you/others take? Who did not speak/act? What goals did you want to work on in this experience? Did you attempt to test/understand conclusions that you drew in previous experiences? How did you act/communicate differently in this experience compared to previous experiences?

Examine. Students examine the experience from different perspectives/through different lenses.

  • Academic Perspective. What concepts/theories are relevant to this experience and are these adequate? What academic/disciplinary skills did you use or could have used? How did the experience enhance your understanding of a concept/theory? Did the experience confirm your understanding or challenge it? Do you have enough information to adequately understand the experience?
  • Personal Perspective. What was your reaction to the experience? Did you enter the experience with expectations/assumptions and were these confirmed or refuted? What surprised you about the experience and why? What skills or knowledge from previous experiences did you draw on and how did this influence how you acted? What strengths helped you and did you identify gaps in your knowledge/skills that you intend to address? Did you uncover biases or attitudes as a result of the experience and do you need to address these?
  • Civic Engagement Perspective. Identify what you and others were trying to accomplish through the experience and highlight which goals were shared and which were different. Did you and others focus on the symptoms or causes of the issue and was this appropriate? What role did each person play and could this have been different? How was the situation connected to larger systems/issues? What privilege did you and others bring to the situation? What were the sources of power and who benefited/who was harmed? Were there any trade-offs (e.g. individual good vs. common good)? What changes would you suggest? How does this experience help you understand the organization, system, and the relationship with those it serves?

Articulate Learning. Using their responses in the describe and examine phases, student summarize their learning as a result of the experience and reflection. Students set goals and future directions for learning that can be applied in subsequent experiences.

Express what you learned and the importance of this. Explain how your understanding of concepts changed as a result of the experience and reflection. How is what you learned valuable to others (e.g. the organization) and how could you influence change? In light of what you learned what goals do you intend to set for yourself for future experience? What conclusion did you draw and how do intend to test these? What are the limitations of your learning/conclusions?

The ICE model developed by Fostaty Young and Wilson (2000) offers a framework of learning growth whereby a student progresses from novice to competence to expertise. ICE stands for ideas, connection, and extensions.

Ideas: Students identify the fundamental elements/basic facts of an experience

What is happening? What were the steps or processes involved? What skills or knowledge are needed? What ideas or questions do you have?

Connections: Students articulate relationships between what they learned from the experience to course concepts and prior knowledge; students make connections between their skills and the experience

How can course concepts/theories be applied? What skills are you developing or need to develop? What are connections between this experience and other situations you’ve encountered?

Extensions: Students extrapolate what they have learned to apply it to novel situations and consider implications of learning and hypotheses

How could you apply what you have learned? What you might do if you encountered a slightly different situation in the future? What do you think would happen if you … ? How has this experience changed your perspective?

Ryan’s (2013) framework for reflection is valuable for students who may not be familiar with reflection. It provides a scaffolded approach – students can begin at the entry stages and move up over the course of a term or over the course of their degree if this model of reflection is woven throughout an entire program.

Reporting & Responding: Students are prompted to notice aspects of their experience, report what happened and their reaction/response to it

What happened and why is it relevant? What did you observe? Do you have questions? What was your initial reaction?

Relating: Students are expected to make connections between the experience and their own knowledge, prior experience, or skills

Have you encountered this type of situation before? What skills/knowledge do you have to deal with this experience? Are there skills/knowledge you need to gain?

Reasoning: Students connect course concepts, theories, and literature with the experience and consider different perspectives

What theories/concepts align with the experience? Based on a particular theory/concept, were you surprised by what you experienced? How would an expert approach this situation? What are the factors that underlie the situation?

Restructuring: Student articulate how their new insights/ideas will guide their action in future experiences.

How would you approach the situation next time? What do you wish you would have considered/known/asked when you entered the experience that you know now? What are alternative options? Why would your plan of action work? What theory supports your plan? Can I influence the situation to benefit others?

Domains of Reflection Prompts

What you ask students to reflect on depends on the learning outcomes for your course and the experiential education component. Ask yourself – what do I want my students to learn from their experience? This can help clarify the learning outcomes for the experience.

Providing students with questions or prompts ensures that their reflection is focused on the learning outcomes and can support their development of reflective skills. The domains outlined below can act as a launching point to help you in developing reflection prompts/questions for your students depending on the nature of the learning you are focused on. Each domain should not be thought of as discrete; in fact, the domains naturally and fluidly intersect with each other. Reflection can be richer when students are asked to consider prompts from multiple domains that authentically relate to the experience.


Theories, concepts, and skills related to the discipline

Reflective prompt examples:

  • What theories/concepts are relevant to the experience?
  • What do you need to know or research before engaging in this experience?
  • Which theories/concepts do you anticipate being helpful in understanding this experience?
  • In light of a particular theory/concept, what do you expect to experience? Were you surprised by what you experienced?
  • Did the experience enhance your understanding of a theory/concept? Did it support the theory or did it challenge it?
  • What similarities or differences are there between the perspectives offered by the academic concepts discussed in class and the experience? Describe how you could apply different frameworks to the experience. Which fit best? Which do not fit?
  • How would an expert in the field approach this situation?
  • What academic/disciplinary skills did you use or could you have used to approach the situation?


One’s own personal characteristics and qualities; metacognition skills

Reflective prompt examples:

  • What experiences from your past have prepared you for this upcoming experience?
  • What are the personal strengths that you relied on during your experience?
  • What are characteristics that you need to develop in light of the experience? What will you do to improve?
  • How did this experience make you feel? How did you handle your emotional reactions?
  • In what way did this experience challenge or reinforce your values, beliefs, or attitudes?
  • What do you understand better about yourself as a result of the experience?
  • What is the most interesting thing that you discovered about yourself from the experience?
  • Did you give your best effort? If so, what supported you? If not, what hindered you?


Interpersonal engagement, collaboration, group dynamics, and communication with a variety of audiences

Reflective prompt examples:

  • Who was involved in the experience? What roles did they play? What role did you play?
  • What objectives or goals were you trying to achieve? Were these shared by the group?
  • How were decisions made? Did everyone have the same goals? How did you know?
  • What strengths did each person bring to the situation? Were these leveraged effectively to meet the goal?
  • How well did you communicate with others? How do you know if you were communicating effectively?
  • Were there things that other people did that helped you learn or work toward your goal? Were there things that you did that helped others with their goals and learning?
  • Was there conflict or disagreement? How was this handled? Do you think it was handled effectively?


Social change, understanding, and investigating the root causes of social problems and the actions needed to change the systems that perpetuate these issues

Reflective prompt examples:

  • How was the situation connected to larger systems/issues?
  • What role did each person play? How was this decided? Could this have been different?
  • What privilege did you and others bring to the situation?
  • What were the sources of power and who benefited? Who was harmed? Who was excluded?
  • Who has a voice in decision making and priority setting?
  • Did your actions support social change or provide immediate relief (i.e. charity)?
  • Evaluate your approach/others’ approaches in terms of the prospect for long-term, sustainable, and/or systematic change


Exploring and navigating professional paths, competencies, and skills

Reflective prompt examples:

  • What insights did you gain from the experience about your professional goals, skills or expertise?
  • What is a professional skill that you saw others using during the experience? Describe these skills.
  • What professional skills do you want to practice during the experience? Why are these important to you? How will you go about this? How will you know if you are improving?
  • Did the experience confirm your expectations about careers and roles in this area or were you surprised?
  • How does your experience impact your career path?

Brock’s Career Development Model can also be used as a framework to guide reflection related to professional development. For more information about the Career Development Model contact Marisa Brown, Career Curriculum Specialist.

Reflection at Brock

Consider some examples of reflection-based activities and assignments being used by faculty and instructors at Brock.

Course: RECL 3P86 – Advanced Outdoor Leadership Theory & Practice

Instructor: Dr. Tim O’Connell, Professor

Many people think of journal writing as the childhood practice of keeping a personal diary . . . However, journals have been more frequently used to open the doors and windows of society and to community on what the observer sees and feels, placed in the context of the times.

– O’Connell & Dyment, 2013

O’Connell, T. S., & Dyment, J. E. (2013). Theory Into Practice : Unlocking the Power and the Potential of Reflective Journals. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.[/caption]

Course: KINE 4P31 – Reflective Practice in Physical Education

Instructor: Dr. Tim Fletcher, Associate Professor, Kinesiology

Reflective practice is the central feature in this course and students reflection skills are developed through a number of assignments. Dr. Fletcher purposefully builds in opportunities to model reflective practice for his students.

I try to model reflective practice to students. Quite often I share my written reflections with my classes using Sakai or in the following class. We will discuss any critical incidents and think about why things might have happened the way they did in class and what could have been done differently to facilitate students’ learning. Because many of my students are hoping to become practitioners (teachers, coaches, clinical work) I am trying to get them to step into my shoes in a way to begin thinking like a teacher.

While I am teaching I will often think aloud and try to ask students to identify why I did something a particular way while I was teaching. Here I am using Schön’s ideas about reflecting in-action, where the moment-to-moment decisions are placed in the spotlight. This is challenging because often practitioners do things without being able to explain the reasons for doing so. By thinking aloud and inviting questions and critique of my practice I am again trying to get students to begin thinking like teachers or coaches by being highly conscious and aware of the many decisions being made.

In one of the first assignment in the course, students interview each other about their prior experiences of physical education and sport to identify what they liked, didn’t like, what peers who are unlike them might have liked or disliked, and to identify certain things their teachers or coaches, schools or clubs did that made physical education and sport meaningful. This requires students to think about their own experiences (by being interviewed) but also to understand that everyone’s experiences can be different and similar to your own.

Course: HLSC 3P96 – Developing Healthy Communities

Instructor: Dr. Pauli Gardner, Associate Professor, Health Sciences

The video reflection assignment for HLSC 3P96 is a culmination of students’ experience working with senior citizens as part of a service learning project; their engagement in in-class simulations, readings, and academic course work; and their reflective journalling over the course of the term. Students are asked to reflect on these experiences through the lens of their personal growth, civic engagement, and academic enhancement.

Examples of students’ video reflections:

Course: SOCI 2F60 – Foundations of Community Engagement

Instructor: Dr. Mary-Beth Raddon, Associate Professor

Reflection is scaffolded throughout this course to support students learning related to their engagement in service-learning as well to their academic skill development. Students engage in four major reflection-based assignments throughout the course:

  1. Written critical reflections on out-of-classroom learning experiences (8-10 in total)
  2. Meta-reflections on their engagement in online discussion forums
  3. Artifact and story to represent their learning throughout the course which is presented at an end-of-term showcase event to their peers and community members
  4. Multi-media portfolio which includes their most meaningful reflections from the three previous assignments plus reflection artifacts to culminate their experience and development throughout the course

Course: KINE 4P93 – Physical Activity Across the Lifespan

Instructor: Ashley Johnson, Instructor

The active lab-based activities in KINE 4P93 have a two purposes: to have students engage in the types of physical movement and social skill building activities that they can incorporate into the Active Living Program that they design for children between the ages of 1-12  as part of Brock’s Children’s Movement Program; and to engage students in reflecting on the learning, skills, and professional expertise that they have developed through the service learning program and the course.

The reflection activities involve active discussion, movement, group dialogue, and creative expression. Each activity is between 5-15 minutes long to sustain engagement and energy. An example of an activity is a ‘Body Part Debrief’ which has students reflect on their experience implementing their active living program. The students trace  their bodies on a large piece of chart paper and relate their reflection to different body parts. Examples of the types of guiding reflection questions include:

  • Eyes – Represents something new that you saw in yourself or someone else
  • Stomach – Something that took guts for you to do; Something that pushed you out of your comfort zone
  • Brain – Something new you learned about yourself, a peer, or the group.
  • Heart – A feeling that you experiences
  • Hands – Ways that you did your group or community partner support you or ‘give you a hand’?
  • Ear – Feedback that you received from participants about their experience, including both positive and constructive feedback

The thought paper format is used across multiple departments in the Goodman School of Business in both graduate and undergraduate courses. This individual assignment asks students to reflect on their experience from the perspective of a team member, future professional, and community member.

Courses & Instructors:

  • OBHR 2P91 – Organizational Behaviour: Kemi Anazodo, Lecturer
  • OBHR 4P96 – Recruitment and Selection: Adam Kanar, Associate Professor
  • MBAB 5P05 – Marketing Management: Eric Dolansky, Associate Professor
  • MBAB 5P52 – Intro to Human Resource Management: Deborah McPhee, Associate Professor