What Is a Reflective Report?
As the name suggests, a Reflective Report is a piece of writing that summarises a student’s critical reflection on a subject. While traditional academic writing discourages first-person accounts, Reflective Reports rely on them. Reflective Reports are frequently used as part of the assessment of practical projects. In group projects, individual Reflective Reports can document each student’s own contribution to the collective work.
How Is a Reflective Report Different from Other Types of Academic Assignment?
The reflective report is different from traditional assignments because it allows students to explore their own experiences and viewpoints. In these assignments you will not be expected to maintain impersonal objectivity; instead you are expected to highlight your own actions, emotions, and opinions. To be successful, students should critically evaluate their own actions and progress, and demonstrate an ability to link their personal experience with theoretical knowledge.
What Does a Reflective Report Normally Contain?
The contents of the Reflective Report will vary according to the discipline, but it typically provides an overview of the practical project and a thorough account of its progression. Students should highlight their own role in the project if it is a group assignment, and they should always provide a critical analysis of their own achievements. In general, Reflective Reports often address the following points:
• What were the project goals and how did you attempt to achieve them? Describe your project plan and how it addressed the requirements of the assignment and your broader area of practice.
• What did you learn? Connect theoretical knowledge from your course to the practical work you undertook. Discuss how particular actions reflect major theories in your field.
• What did you do and feel? Describe your own opinions about the project, including choices that were made and actions that were taken. What were your own contributions and why did you perform in the way that you did?
• What did others do and feel? If this is a group project, discuss the opinions that other group members conveyed to you, and the actions they took. Did you disagree about any points, and if so how did you resolve these issues?
• What was the outcome? Critically assess the success or failure of your practical work. Point out the ways that it benefited users, and/or met the project objectives.
• What were your personal strengths and weaknesses that were revealed? What have you learned about your own professional development from this project? What skill areas do you still need to develop?
• What would you do differently next time?
What Use Are Reflective Reports to Students?
Many students enjoy assignments that contain Reflective Reports, because they allow them to think critically about their own scholarly development and practical progress. Reflective Reports also develop a capacity for critical reflection on professional performance. This is key to developing ethical practice in a wide range of fields, from business to medicine to teaching. People who have experience with Reflective Reports are better able to reflect on their day to day practice, and they also have the ability to summarise and contextualise their performance for colleagues and governing authorities.
How to Write a Good Reflective Report
Be critical. Although the content of a reflective portfolio will be more personalised than other assignments, you should use the same level of critical analysis as you do for any essay or exam.
Be thorough. Make sure that you write about all the stages of your project, from the planning phases through to completion. You also need to include a comprehensive post-project analysis.
Don’t be afraid to state what went wrong! Writing about the least successful aspects of your project allows you to demonstrate a capacity for true critical analysis. It also lets examiners see that you are self-aware and capable of independent professional development.
Don’t be afraid to state what went right! Some students find it difficult to write confidently about the most successful parts of their work. Scholars are normally expected to be highly objective, and they are often discouraged from celebrating individual achievement or personal contributions. However, in the Reflective Report you should be sure to state clearly and concisely how your own actions contributed to a successful outcome.
Analyse outcomes and suggest future improvements. To earn the highest possible marks your Reflective Report should include a detailed critique of the project outcomes. Part of this should include a few well-thought-out suggestions for improving similar projects in the future.
Mistakes to Avoid in Writing Reflective Reports
The most common mistake in Reflective Writing is to be either too objective and scholarly, or too emotional and non-critical. Either mistake is equally wrong. Students should aim for a middle ground in their writing, in which they highlight their own personal feelings and reflections but analyse these with reference to theoretical course material.
Avoid blaming others for things that went wrong. Try to maintain some level of objectivity with regard to both failures and successes. To avoid being overly personal, emphasise the way that theories from your field could address any weaknesses that you encountered.
Finally, be professional. It is true that Reflective Reports require a less formal style of writing, but students sometimes believe that this allows for illegible handwriting and poor grammar. Remember that this is still an academic assignment, and all the normal standards of presentation apply!
Higher Education Academy, 2009. Reflective Learning. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/hlst/resources/a-zdirectory/reflectivelearning. Last Accessed 01 May, 2013.
University of Kent, 2013. Reflective Learning Study Guide. Available: http://www.kent.ac.uk/learning/PDP/reflectivelearningstudyguide1112.docx. Last Accessed 01 May, 2013.
Ursula Lucas and Leng Tan, 2007. Developing a Reflective Capacity Within Undergraduate Education: the role of work-based placement learning. York: Higher Education Academy.
Three studies were carried out regarding the role of small-group settings, the teaching and learning methods used, and teachers’ competencies. An instrument was developed (Student perceptions of their Teachers’ competencies to Encourage Reflective Learning in small Groups: STERLinG) to assess teacher competencies in teaching reflective skills to small groups. A last study was carried out to gain an understanding of the difficulties students experience in responding to unprofessional situations in practice.
Students are quite positive about professional development courses especially in small-group settings. However, to make small-group settings effective, specific conditions (such as a safe environment) have to be met. Also the role of the teacher is a key factor in facilitating reflective learning. Students were positive about their teachers’ competencies apart from competencies regarding supporting self-insight. Apparently, teachers have difficulty in teaching students to analyze the rational and emotional aspects of experiences and apply the resulting insights.
Students recognize unprofessional situations, but they have several excuses for not responding. However, students must be taught to check and discuss the validity of their excuses. At the same time, supervisors have to be aware that their behaviour may evoke excuses from the students for not reacting to (un)professional situations.
Small groups are beneficial for reflective learning for which teachers need specific competencies. Teachers need to be trained in facilitating students’ reflective learning. To further develop the reflective competence of students during clinical practice it is important to discuss unprofessional situations in small groups. Students should learn to check the validity of excuses for not responding. Clinical supervisors play an important role in this process.
Mirabelle Schaub-de Jong
was born in 1964. She graduated consecutively as dental hygienist, language teacher and humanistic counsellor. As a staff member of the Groningen dental hygiene school she was involved in developing curricula. Following graduation in Humanistics she coordinated the professional development in the School for Speech and Language Therapy at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. This evoked the research leading to her doctoral thesis.