Reflection Toolkit

What? So what? Now what? 

One of the simplest frameworks of reflection - by moving through three reflective stages, you will think about an experience, its implications, and what that means for the future.


Driscoll (1994) developed this model of reflection based on the three simple questions – What? So what? Now what? – originally asked by Terry Borton (1970). The model provides one of the simplest frameworks for reflection. In practice you should ask yourself the three questions after a critical incident that has taken place and you want to extract learning from.

  • 'What?' helps you describe the situation you want to learn from. You should identify the facts and feelings of the situation.
  • 'So What?' allows you to extract the meaning of 'What?'. Moreover, you should question what knowledge you and others had in the situation, and what knowledge or theories that could help you make sense of the situation.
  • 'Now what?' allows you to create an action plan for the future based on the previous questions. 


Below is further information on the model – each stage includes guiding questions to ask yourself and a couple of examples of how this might look in a reflection.

This is just one model of reflection. Test it out and see how it works for you. If you find that only some of the outlined questions are helpful, focus on those. However, by thinking about each stage you are likely to engage more critically with your learning experience.

The model

A circular diagram showing the three stages of Rolfe et al.'s model
Rolfe et al's (2001) reflective model

The simplicity of this model is both a great strength and a possible limitation. It is very easy to remember and can be applied to any field or experience. However, there is a possibility that by just answering the three main questions the reflection does not achieve a meaningful and critical depth.

To ensure that you have depth and breadth it can be helpful to work through the question prompts outlined below for each stage. You don’t have to answer all of them, but they can guide you to what sort of things make sense to include in that stage. You might have others questions that work better for you.

Some people might also recognise this model as work done by Rolfe et al. (2001). This is also correct as many theorists have changed and adapted the original approach by Borton.



The experience of the situation

Helpful questions to answer could be:

What ...

  • ... is the context?
  • ... is the problem/situation/difficulty/reason for being stuck/reason for success?
  • ... was I/we/others trying to achieve?
  • ... was the outcome of the situation?
  • ... was my role in the situation?
  • ... was the role of other people in the situation (if others were involved)?
  • ... feelings did the situation evoke in me? And in others (to the extent you know)?
  • ... were the consequences for me? And for others?
  • ... was good/bad about the experience?

Examples of 'What?'

Getting an assignment back Participation in workshops

I just got an essay back with a mark I’m not happy with. I wrote it in one day, but I read it thoroughly before handing it in. I was hoping to get a B, and have previously been able to do so. I'm fairly disappointed in myself and starting to feel stressed about the overall mark for the course.

One of my friends had offered to give feedback on it, however I said that I didn't have time to get it to them before the deadline.

In a workshop this week, I didn't contribute to the discussion despite having ideas. I was in a group with people I haven't worked with before. I think I was afraid of being wrong as I find the new topic difficult. The other students in the group seemed to know each other and just started talking and discussing as soon as the workshop began.

Nobody asked for my ideas and therefore it was easy not to contribute. I also lost focus at some points as I wasn't a part of the discussion and I still don't understand all the material.


So what?

The implications of the situation

You might want to supplement your own knowledge and thoughts with other people’s ideas, references, and theories. This can be to show what helped shape your thoughts and further explore them. This comes down to how much you are looking to formalise your reflections. This can especially be important if the reflection is assessed.

Helpful questions could be:

So what...  

  • ... does this tell me/teach me/imply about the situation/my attitude/my practice/the problem?
  • ... was going through my mind in the situation?
  • ... did I base my decisions/actions on?
  • ... other information/theories/models/literature can I use to help understand the situation?
  • ... could I have done differently to get a more desirable outcome?
  • ... is my new understanding of the situation?
  • ... does this experience tell me about the way I work?

Examples of 'So what?'

Getting an assignment back Participation in workshops

My experience tells me that I hadn’t given myself enough time to work on my essay. I'm basing this on the fact that I had the opportunity to get feedback from my friend which would have been really useful, but I didn't have the time to both finish the essay and get the feedback. Moreover, I was stressed when writing it so I didn't really spend enough time thinking about the content - my head was just filled with 'how will I get this essay done in time'.

In general, I think that I leave things until the very end, which means I don't have time to do them properly. I end up being disappointed in myself. I think I need to give myself more structure, to save myself time and allow time to receive and act upon feedback from others.

I think there are a lot of things I can do differently. I remember that I was aware of not saying what I wanted to in the workshop. I think I acted as I did because it's easier not to challenge myself. I tried to speak out in a tutorial in year one, but was shut down by another student. I know everyone is not like that, but I think it still holds me back. 

I need to give myself challenges to improve myself. I spoke with my personal tutor about this at the beginning of the year and they gave me some resources with tips - I think I need to have a look at those resources.


Now what?

The action plan

Ensure that you are concrete in your action plan and not only saying generic comments such as 'I will do things differently/better'. The more concrete you can be regarding what you want to do, how you will do it, and how you will remind yourself, the easier and more likely it will be to implement.

Helpful questions could be:

Now what...  

  • ... do I need to do in the future to do better/fix a similar situation/stop being stuck?
  • ... might be the consequences of this new action?
  • ... considerations do I need about me/others/the situation to make sure this plan is successful?
  • ... do I need to do to ensure that I will follow my plan?

Examples of 'Now what?'  

Getting an assignment back Participation in workshops

I realise that I have to develop a better structure for working and time management. When I do my essays this means ensuring I get them finished with enough time for others to review and offer feedback.

Once an essay question is released, I will immediately write a deadline 4 days earlier in my planner/calendar. I will also plan times when I have to work on it and set a reminder on my phone. I will then make plans with friends to read it through and commit to having it reviewed by my new deadline so I can revise any issues identified. This will keep me accountable for the new deadline.

I think this will help me start essays earlier and hopefully have less stress when writing them.

This weekend, I will read the resources that my personal tutor suggested to me, which can help me revise this current plan. I think I will have to pair-up with a friend during workshops and tell them that I am working on contributing more. I will invite them to ask me questions during tutorials so that I can get used to speaking and then hopefully from there begin speaking even when I'm not addressed. 

I need to know what I am going to say and be confident in this before I will speak up. To be able to do this, I will prepare for the workshop by reading the material which will be used in the session. I already have a study plan that I can use for this.

If I contribute more, I think I will also become better at asking questions when there is something I don't understand. Therefore I will get a better understanding of the material and hopefully this will improve my grades.


Adapted from 

Borton. T. (1970). Reach Touch and Teach: Student Concerns and Process Education. McGraw-Hill, New York

Driscoll J. (1994). Reflective practice for practise. Senior Nurse, 13, 47 -50

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.