Reflection Toolkit

Structured or free-form reflection

When producing reflections you can either choose a structured or free-form approach, or a combination of the two.

Within any type of reflection you can choose to adapt a very structured approach and use models (see ‘Reflecting on experience’), or you might want to use free-form reflection. The latter allows your mind to run free. See ‘Free-form reflection’ for below for information on this.

Reflecting on experience (within Reflectors' Toolkit)


Reflections often fall on a spectrum between structured and free-form

Some people might prefer a lot of structure and, especially if you have never reflected before, using models to start can be helpful. Other people prefer just to start thinking and see where each tangent takes them.

Both can work as a pure form, either answering questions methodically and to the point, or just allowing words to flow, but often people and reflections can benefit from using both.

For instance, you might start with a model and read the relevant questions and descriptions for each of the areas. Now, with an idea of the sorts of things that go in a particular area, you freely reflect and explore everything and every tangent you can think of for that area. Then you simply repeat that process for each step in the model.

By using a model you ensure that you touch on each aspect that is important for producing and presenting reflections, but you don’t limit yourself to answer a particular set of predefined questions.  


Personal reflections do not require structure, where reflection for others often does

Reflection that you produce for others to read typically has an expected shape or structure. This is particularly seen if the reflection needs to be assessed. If that is the case make sure you are aware of any structural, and other, requirements.

Even if you prefer to reflect in a certain way, make sure that you either use the proposed structure for the reflection process, or at least represent your reflections using that framework. That is, you might be asked to use a particular model, but you prefer to reflect without structure; therefore you might capture your reflection in whichever way you like and then rework it to fit the structure.

However, keep in mind that trying out different techniques may help you develop and grow in your reflective practice.

In contrast to reflections for others, when doing any kind of personal reflection you can be as creative, free, unstructured, or structured as you want to be. That being said, personal reflections in whatever shape or form should still fall within a definition of reflection and must therefore include a purposeful examination of thoughts and practice.

Free-form reflection

While reflection has certain characteristics, structure is not necessarily one of them. Sometimes you just want to let your thoughts go where they want to, or put pen to paper and start writing.