Critical and reflective writing support (21/22)

R21–0874 MGDI71441

Synchronous Session


Learning objectives:

  • Understanding reflection and assessment task
  • Building a bank of useful reflective questions
  • Developing and practising a strategy for critically reflective writing


Facilitators to introduce themselves and outline the session. Session will focus on discussing critically reflective writing and reflective strategies to help students with their upcoming assignment.

Assessment brief

Facilitators to (re)introduce the assessment brief and discuss how this session will be structured in three parts to help students prepare for this assessment (slide 3)

Part 1: General discussion about reflection to clarify expectations around what critical reflection means and to look at a useful reflective model to help us with this.
Part 2: Will talk about Section 1 of the assessment — the short description of the event. Looking at what to include and what not to include here
Part 3: Will talk about Section 2 of the assessment — will introduce and practise a strategy for critically reflective writing.

Part 1

Facilitators to introduce definitions of what reflection is (slide 4)

I’m sure we are all familiar with what the general idea of reflection is. It is something that we can often over-complicate for ourselves — this definition makes it seems a bit complex! A simpler definition of reflective writing is provided by our previous Royal Literary Fund Fellow, Lizzie Nunnery.

“…reflective writing is a way of ensuring that you’re looking at your work objectively and that you’re always moving forward as a thinker or a writer, always developing your skills” (Nunnery, 2020)​

Activity 1 — What is critically reflective writing

Ask students to discuss and list what they believe are the key elements / characteristics of reflective writing. What would you expect to see in a strong piece of critically reflective writing. (Slide 5)

Share their thoughts in the Google Jamboard.

Facilitators to discuss answers/suggestions as they come in and then relate key elements to the balance between academic and journal writing (Slides 6 / 7). Critical reflection is neither solely academic writing (evidence, theories, references etc.) or journal writing (descriptive, personal, feelings), but a balance between the two that links your personal thoughts and feelings to the evidence and theories).

Gibbs Model

Introduce Gibbs model as a way to help achieve this balance. Discuss the 6 steps of Gibbs and how it relates to the sections of this assessment:

  • Section 1 = Description / Feelings (and a bit of evaluation)
  • Section 2 = Evaluation / Analysis / Conclusions (action plan)

Activity 2 — Ask the right questions

Strong critical reflection is all about asking and answering the right questions. To help generate your thoughts and ideas on the activity being assessed and to think about how you might analyse the event from your own perspective.

Asking and answering the right type of questions can be really helpful in making sure you are giving the reader enough information to understand your own critical viewpoint.

In this next activity, we would like you to discuss and share what questions (or types of reflective thoughts and ideas) you think you should be trying to answer in each stage of the Gibbs Model. (Some examples in the Google Jamboard to help get you started).

Section 1

Introduce the expectations of this section — a written description of the event looking at:

What happened? Seminar, lecture, tutorial, conference, guest speaker?

When? Last week, last month, last 6 months?

Where? On campus, online, professional capacity?

  • Why? Professional development, course requirement?

You may also engage with the literature by discussing the type of learning theories that were used in the learning event and the learning objectives that were set.

Post session activity

We won’t focus too much on this section today (as its the shorter of the two and individual to each). However, we have designed a post-session activity that we would encourage you to use.

Once you have written your first draft check it against this checklist:

  • Have I asked / answered the right questions (use our bank of reflective questions to help with this).
  • Does it cover the key aspects of the learning event (What happened, When, Where, Why)
  • Does it describe what the teacher did and the learning theories they utilised?

Section 2

Outline that this is the main part of the essay and this is where you will do the ‘Evaluation’, ‘Analysis’ and ‘Conclusion’ steps of the Gibbs model — start to be critically reflective by relating your learning event and your experience of it to the literature and theories.

For example, (looking back at our bank of questions) you may evaluate the success of the learning event by reflecting on questions such as: “what did you like about it?”, “what did you think was effective?” “what did you think was less effective”. You can then start to Analyse your own evaluations and reflections by linking them to evidence from the literature to explain why you think these things worked or didn’t work, were effective or weren’t effective.

Writing reflectively

Introduce expectations from assessment brief:

Critical analysis. Analyse in depth being specific about parts of the learning event that you enjoyed and the parts which challenged you. Support this through the approaches to learning theories and academic justification.

Synthesis. Ensure that you follow a clear path for your discussion using a reflective model to support your opinions. Combine your own reflective thoughts with academic theories and concepts to form a connected whole discussion.

Evaluation. Present judgements and defend your own perceptions within the learning event context and ensure that you draw conclusions using relevant models to support your work. Consider not only what has happened at the event but how this may have shaped your learning for the future.

Finding information

The first step to success in this section of the assessment will be finding the evidence and theories that you will talk about in relation to your learning event.

Briefly introduce Library Search, Google Scholar and Subject guides as best places to start searching for information.

Share links to MLE resources for those who want to refresh their knowledge of search strategy. Highlight drop-ins if students would like individual support and help with this.

It Says, I Say, And So

This seems like a lot to try and do — however, we have a really useful model to help do this.

It Says: quote/paraphrase/summarise (data/ references/ evidence)
I Say: your analysis of the data/references/evidence
And So: Why is this significant? How does it connect to your learning event?

Explain the example (slide 17)

Activity — Free Writing

Introduce free writing as a useful strategy to get started with reflective writing (or other types of writing).

In this activity we would like you to use the bank of reflective questions we have all worked on to create together today to help free write about your own learning event.

Free writing is a useful writing strategy to help you get started with reflective writing activities in particular. Free writing is all about getting down information and ideas down on a page without worrying about structure, references or even making sense to someone else.

Pick as many of these questions as you can / want and write your answers / reflections on them without stopping to worry about structure, the correct references etc.

After students have done free-writing: Another aspect of free-writing is called ‘looping’. This is where you go back to your free-writing and continue to develop and adapt it (you may look at where you can turn things into paragraphs or identify where you need references etc.).

Recap and further support

Asynchronous Content


This content will help prepare you for your upcoming assessment by providing guidance on reflective writing, and how to ensure that your essay is able to effectively integrate the writing and ideas of others into your own work. It will support the activities and strategies that we introduce in the live session on 24th November.

Assessment review

Your 3000 word assignment requires you to write an essay with the following title:

“Critically evaluate a learning event which you have attended sometime over the last 12 months”.

The assignment brief tells us that your answer should:

  1. include a short overall description of the event in question (500 words);
  2. engage with relevant academic literature on subjects such as learning theories, learning preferences and training needs analysis (2000 words).

In addition it is important to understand that your essay will be marked against the following elements:

  1. Your ability to describe the event fully providing reference to reflective practice theory.
  2. Your ability to engage fully with the literature providing a critical review of specific learning theories, learning preferences, training and evaluation.

To do well in this assignment you will need to demonstrate clear evidence that you are able to produce a piece of well evidenced reflective writing. You will also need to demonstrate evidence of critical thinking relating to the supporting literature which you choose to include. This will require you to employ the skills of critical reading and thinking. My Learning Essentials provides some very helpful resources which will help you to develop and refine these skills. You will find links to these further down the page.

Reflective writing involves a slightly different approach to writing than in other assignments you have completed so far. You will need to communicate your own thoughts, experiences, feelings and opinions around a particular topic. While you will be expected to write in the first person (I, me, myself), you do still need to show evidence of critical engagement with the literature, and include evidence which can corroborate, or contrast with, your own reflections.

Reflective writing

There is guidance on how to write in a reflective style for this assignment available in your course handbook. You should study this first before continuing.

Reflective writing is different to regular essay writing so it can be helpful to consult the advice of others before beginning! Listen to our podcast with Lizzie Nunnery to find out how to approach reflective writing and how you can adapt your writing style. Lizzie is a published author and playwright and a Royal Literary Fellow. In this podcast students interview Lizzie on the art of reflective writing and how students can approach this kind of assignment.

Lizzie makes it clear that an approach to thinking reflectively can be guided by committing to honest reflection to reveal more than a simple description of what occurred. To write reflectively you need to position yourself in your writing and write more personally. A good way of doing this is to identify questions that you can ask yourself.

Reflective Questions and the Gibbs Model

Asking the right kinds of questions is important to generate deeper critical reflections. We will discuss what these questions can be in more detail during the live session, but you can see a number of example questions linked to the different stages of the Gibbs model in this Reflective Writing Strategy document.

Incorporating theory into reflective writing

Reflecting in depth needs to show both your own experiences and your ability to connect those experiences to the research, wider discussions in your discipline and the experiences of others. This will allow your writing to demonstrate connections between your own experiences and your knowledge of educational theory.

References to how theory intersects and impacts on your reflections should feature throughout your assessment. To do this you can ask questions such as:

References to theory should feature in the critical analysis and synthesis sections of your writing. The key here is to relate your experiences with the theory and using this to answer questions such as:

  • How does my experience link with something that I have studied?
  • How does my experience challenge or substantiate the theory that I have read about?
  • What theories can support the analysis of my experience?

Asking yourself questions like this will guide you to write a deeper analysis that will move your piece of writing into more than a description.

Thinking and reading critically

In order to do well in this assessment you will also need to engage critically with relevant academic literature which focuses on themes such as:

  • Learning theories
  • Learning preferences
  • Training needs analysis
  • Training evaluation

You will find lots of information on these topics available through the University of Manchester Library. Library search and Google Scholar are good places to begin looking for relevant information. You should also explore some of the databases which are listed on the Library subject guide for Education.

If you have any difficulty locating relevant material then please do get in touch with us here in the Library as we will be able to help you with this.

Once you have found some relevant information, your next step is to critically evaluate what you discover, and think about how you can use this to evidence the points you wish to highlight from your own reflections. My Learning Essentials — the Library’s skills development programme can help you with this. The resources which are linked below will provide you with some tips and strategies which will help you in the process of thinking, reading and writing critically.










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