Qtls Reflective Essay

Reflective Essays

Ernest L. and Zac E., writing center tutors

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

A reflective essay is a form of writing that examines and observes the progress of the writer’s individual experience. While reflective essays explain and analyze the development of the writer, they also discuss future goals. Reflective essays are often associated with academic portfolios and especially writing portfolios. As part of a writing portfolio, reflective essays will critically analyze your development as a student. This should include a discussion of the strengths you have developed as a writer as well as your weaknesses. Closely related to these weaknesses, writers could also discuss how they plan to improve in the future. When writing a reflective essay, it is important to use descriptive language. In doing so, your reader will understand that you are familiar with the subject matter and that you have thought critically about your development as a student. Reflective essays are based upon your own experiences, so it is expected that you write about yourself, your ideas, and your opinions. As a result, it is completely acceptable to use first person pronouns such as “I” or “me” in these essays. Since the reflective essay is built upon personal experience, the writer has the liberty of being as creative as necessary. At the same time, do not let a focus on creativity take precedence over the important task of proving to your reader how you have grown as a student.


The structure of a reflective essay is very similar to the structure of most academic writing. Unless you are trying to argue a point, position, or perspective through your reflection, it is not required that your essay contain a thesis statement. Reflective essays can be formatted in all writing styles, including MLA, APA, and Chicago Style. A common structure for reflective essays is as follows:


Introductions to reflective essays do not need to be longer than one paragraph in length. When writing an introduction, present the purpose of your reflection without giving your reader too much detail about the body of your paper. In the introduction, it is also helpful to tell your reader if you met your goals or the goals of the class/project. Later, in the body of the reflection, you can explain how these goals were or were not met in greater detail. Think of the introduction as a brief preview to the rest of your reflection.


The body should discuss in detail your development as a student. For instance, if writing a reflective essay at the end of the quarter for a certain class, how did you grow over the course of the class? What have you learned? Can you apply what you have learned to your future academic or life pursuits? How did you or did you not meet your goals or the goals of the class/project you were involved in? This is slightly different from what you should discuss in your introduction. Do not just tell the reader whether or not you met these goals. Rather, show the reader by using illustrations from class or other relevant experiences. Are there any skills you can improve on? If so, how do you plan on doing so in the future?


In the conclusion of a reflective essay, you should remind the reader of the ways in which you have developed as a student. This may seem redundant since you already discussed these things in detail in your essay’s body, but remember that the conclusion is the last thing your audience will read. As a result, leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that your essay clearly demonstrates how you have grown.

Other Helpful Resources

California State University provides examples of what a strong reflective essay might look like.

St. Mary’s University of Minnesota gives a useful overview on reflective essays.

2 What is critical reflection?

Critical analysis and reflection is a key tool in helping us learn from the contradictions and complexities we encounter.

Critical reflection allows us to synthesise different perspectives (whether from other people or literature) to help explain, justify or challenge what we have encountered in our own or other people’s practice. It may be that theory or literature gives us an alternative perspective that we should consider, it may provide evidence to support our views or practices or it may explicitly challenge them.

Critical reflection also allows us to analyse what we have learned and how we have learned to enable us to take control of our own development. It is in light of these two functions that a great deal of importance is placed on critical reflection in the professional development of teachers.

The rest of this course will help you to understand critical reflection and introduce some tools to support effective reflection.

Activity 2: Importance of critical reflection

Listen to the clip of Dave and Sarah explaining what is meant by critical reflection and the importance of critical reflection in learning to teach. (Please note that The Open University’s PGCE course mentioned in this audio has now been discontinued.)









So, what I was going to do to start is what we’ve always done in the past which is ask you to try and identify rather than just a general talk about ‘it went well, it didn’t’, but try and identify two or three things that you think were very positive either because you’ve met targets or that you think someone coming in for a snapshot will’ve seen that would be a good feature of your teaching. And then obviously another two or three where you think if you did it again you might consider doing it slightly differently.
The good things… (x) targets... I deliberately tried to slow the pace down, fit less in. Instructions-wise I made an attempt of giving nice clear instructions – don’t think it came off...
I’m Dave Smith, Open University tutor on the PGCE course. A reflective practitioner is someone who isn’t just able to say ‘ooh that went well’, or ‘that didn’t go well’, or, ‘oh dear, I feel terrible today’, but is actually able to begin to analyse different elements of what they’ve done and crucially look at a range of evidence that can give them some idea of the effectiveness of what they’ve done. Every child’s a black-box, every classroom is a black-box; we never know exactly what’s going on, but we can aim to look for a range of evidence and we can aim to link that evidence to what we’ve done and therefore to get an idea of whether what we’ve done has been effective and whether it needs to be modified both in general, or whether it needs to be modified for this particular class; and, perhaps a higher level of thinking, whether even though it was effective here, under which situations might it not be effective.
I’m going to talk about your extension work and you gave out that sheet with the multiple choice questions. Do they have any feedback on whether they got them right or wrong?
No, I didn’t get them feedback.
What about if you’d collected those sheets in? What could you have done?
Yeah, okay – that’s a good idea, I could’ve marked it. There’s also credit systems I could use. I could also have printed off an answer sheet and said ‘look, how did you do? Let me know how you’re getting on.’
Absolutely. So, what I’m saying is that I thought the work was appropriate, but I felt in a sense they were doing extra work and they got nothing for it and you’ve just told me two or three ways you could’ve done it or could do it if you did that another time.
My name’s Neville Ashcroft and I’m a student teacher. Reflective practice has been useful. There’s one example in the last placement where a particular lesson didn’t go well; the main problem was that the pupils were not focused at the beginning of the lesson, they were very excited and that level of inattention, unfocusedness prevailed for the rest of the lesson. So, the next lesson I had to try something different. I got them to focus really quickly – gave them a task immediately on the door when they came in to set the tone of the lesson. And that appeared to work.
I think an effective learner as a student needs first and foremost to be able to analyse their practice and, probably even before that, to analyse other people’s practice. So, observation of other teachers can really reveal whether a student has that ability, because if they can’t analyse the practise it’s very difficult to reflect on it and adapt it and modify it. So, the student who tends to make very broad, general, sweeping statements about ‘well, yes, that lesson went well’ – immediately you’ve got to try and pin them down to either particular aspects of the lesson that went well or to go a little further and explain why those aspects of the lesson went well. Once they’ve done that then they are in a position to think about how their practice could be changed, to think about the evidence they’ve got for the impact of their practice and, crucially, to think about the impact they’re having on student learning.
I’m Sarah Vaughn. I’m Simon’s PGCE tutor. And we’re here with Simon to give him some feedback and to talk about teaching and learning. It’s a sort of tutorial really, to draw together some of the threads of what I’ve seen this morning and also the work that he’s been doing at home in his study. First of all, Simon, I just wanted to say thank you very much for letting me come into the lesson this morning and it was a really interesting lesson and it really was just the teaching and learning bits that you need to work on. So you’ve got something quite concrete there that you know you need to work towards and address for the next time I come in. And I think those are going to be two of the main targets that I’m going to focus on when I come back in – looking at the differentiation strategies. So, looking at how you can support children who’ve got literacy difficulties and also it’s the other end as well – the stretch and challenge bit – so that you can open out the tasks for the gifted and talented children that you’ve got.
I know that’s something that I need development. The thing that I was more annoyed at myself this morning for was not scrapping a bit of the lesson, because I know who they are in that class – I know who. It’s predominantly boys who are the ones who are going to struggle with this, that and the other, but I just didn’t deal with that so well. But I knew in my head what I would probably want to do.
So what we’re talking about is the ability to reflect critically on your own practice. That is, to look at it in detail and to take it apart and to think about different aspects of what you have said or how you have phrased something, or how you have put together instructions, or how you have scaffolded the steps that you expect your pupils to go through and looked at what worked and what didn’t work. And if something hasn’t worked, is that because you missed out a critical point in your sequence of events.
…Have a couple of minutes afterwards. I know you thought I’d forgotten you.
I’m Simon Bland, I’m a PGCE student. The first placement school I realised that I was maybe delivering an alright level of teaching to a tiny minority of the students because x number of them will quite happily while away a lesson doing nothing, x amount of them don’t want to talk to you and want to completely disrupt. It’s so easy to go with just either those that disrupt: concentrate on them, concentrate on them, concentrate on them... and then find that all your best students did nothing as well because they got sick of it, or those that just want to stare out the window did nothing. It was a realisation of how little I’d achieved in a lesson, even if I may have made progress with one or two students. And of course it was down to me – the students were behaving like students do. But, you have to be in control.
A good student will be a person who is reflective, thinks about their own practice, thinks about their own behaviour, thinks about the way they present themselves to the children in their classrooms. Somebody who will be able to recognise when they need to ask for support and help, and somebody who will act upon any support and information that’s given to them. They need to be somebody who’s open to positive criticism, to coaching and mentoring. And you have to be very well organised in order to make sure that you’ve addressed all those things and make them all piece together successfully.
Your practice improves every time you get a new class and particularly if, when you get that new class, you make a conscious attempt to adapt what you’ve done before to that class. That is, I suppose, how the experience can build provided you are a reflective practitioner. That can be complemented by specific training by training days, by advice from other people, but once you’re a practitioner the most important aspect of development comes from your own reflections.
End transcript: Audio 2
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Both Dave and Sarah emphasise the importance of being able to analyse lessons and basing that analysis on the evidence available.

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