Sarah Mullins example Learning Portfolio

What is Reflection?

Reflection is the act of thinking critically about an experience in order to gain greater clarity or understanding. This process of evaluating our actions helps us learn from our experiences and deepens our understanding of the world.

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning. When you reflect, you should not merely summarize the activities you completed and opinions formed. Rather, your reflection should be thoughtful, integrative, and substantive and share what you learned. Whenever possible, provide specific examples from your experiences that support your thoughts.

Why Reflect?

Reflection provides an opportunity to analyze our thoughts, behaviors, and actions to gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world. We can isolate instances in which we were successful or we need to improve and learn from these experiences. Reflection also allows us to make connections between academic classes, experiences, and other aspects of our lives. 

On a very practical level, reflection helps us synthesize and articulate our learning. This is especially important when interviewing and writing applications for graduate school, jobs, internships, or nationally competitive awards/scholarships.

How do I Reflect?

The University Honors Program encourages students to use a very basic model: What? So What? Now What?

As with anything, some people find reflection very easy whereas other need a bit more practice. Here are several brainstorming activities that can help you get started:

  • Free writing
  • Mind mapping
  • Create a life trajectory

Alternative Forms of Reflection

Although a written journal is very common form of reflection, there are many other ways you can reflect. It is less important which format you use and more important that you are pushing yourself to balance sharing details with big picture take-aways. By answering all three reflective questions (what? so what? now what?), you are more likely to complete a thoughtful, integrated reflection.

If the format for reflection you choose is not written, you must include 2-3 paragraphs explaining what you created and how it explains the what? so what? and now what? of an experience.

Interested in the the theory behind reflection? Check out the UHP Theoretical Framework page!

Examples of Reflection Formats

  • Maintain a written journal
  • Create a service contract and log
  • Participate in structured group dialogues
  • Maintain a written, audio, or video blog
  • Maintain a sketchbook
  • Maintain a lab notebook
  • Create a scrapbook
  • Develop a cookbook with personal narratives
  • Participate in and/or lead an online discussion board
  • Develop a collection of photographs with written captions
  • Create a short video
  • Write song lyrics, a musical composition, or a poem
  • Paint a picture or create a sculpture
  • Write a letter to a friend, member of the community, or public official
  • Interpretive dance or performance

Tips for Effective Reflection

  • Develop a list of guiding questions that will help focus your reflection and ensure that you are addressing the three reflective questions (what? so what? now what?)
  • If using an auditory form of reflection, use transitions (key words, numbers, etc.) to help the listener/viewer keep track of the points you are making.
  • Make sure your reflection is polished and professional. While you might start free writing to get started, your ideas must be cohesive, integrated, and thoughtful.