Your instructor just told you that your next writing assignment will be a reflective essay.
Reflective essays are about you, so you go home and take a good long look in the mirror.
Before you start writing about what you see on the surface, keep in mind that a reflective essay involves more than just a cursory glance. It requires taking a deeper look at yourself, stepping through the looking glass, so to speak, to discover and show important parts of yourself to your readers.
Image by sammydavisdog via flickr
Below, I’ll show you how to create a killer reflective essay outline, and I’ll even give you a downloadable template you can use to make your own outline.
What Is a Reflective Essay and How Is It Different from Other Essays?
So you may be asking yourself what a reflective essay is exactly. You’ve written many other types of essays for many different classes, so how is this any different?
First things first… a reflective essay is one in which you reflect on your personality, places you’ve been, people you’ve met, or experiences that have influenced you. This type of essay lets you tell the reader who you are and what/who has made you that way.
Unlike most other types of essays you may have written, reflective essays typically don’t deal with researching facts and figures. They are much more personal in nature and can be more fluid in structure and style.
It can be tempting to just jump right into writing, but hold on! A good reflective essay can be a great reflective essay with the proper planning.
Using a Reflective Essay Outline to Organize Your Thoughts
The goal of any essay is to write clearly and concisely about whatever topic you choose or are assigned. Unfortunately, with reflective essays, some people tend to get a little disorganized and start sounding like the Walrus, talking about anything and everything in no particular order.
Don’t be like the Walrus!
Using a reflective essay outline can help your writing in a few ways
- An outline can help lay out exactly what details you want to use before you start writing. This is tremendously helpful because you won’t end up on your last paragraph and suddenly realize that you forgot to include a crucial element or two.
- An outline gives you a clear roadmap instead of curvy paths and dead ends. You don’t have to wonder what’s supposed to come next because it’ll all be in the outline. In other words, you won’t have to spend time “in Wonderland.”
- Because you can look at your reflective essay outline and follow it as you’re writing, ultimately you’ll save some time in your writing. Second-guessing what comes next, in what order the supporting details should go, or going back for big revisions because you forgot something important are all wastes of time.
Are you convinced yet that creating a reflective essay outline is the best option?
Good! Now let’s get to actually making that outline!
How to Craft a Good Reflective Essay Outline
Because the subject of reflective essays is different from that of, say, an argumentative essay, the structure and organization can also be quite different. However, some rules still apply. To start organizing, your reflective essay outline should include sections for the introduction, body and conclusion.
For the purposes of giving examples, let’s say Alice just got back from her adventures in Wonderland and is working on a reflective essay outline to tell about her experience there.
Image by Jessie Wilcox Smith via Wikimedia Commons
As with any essay, your reflective essay should begin with an introduction. The parts of your introduction to include in your outline are:
- The hook: you want to grab your reader’s attention from the very start. If you’re telling about an experience, give a quick preview of the most exciting part of that story.
- The thesis statement: In a reflective essay, the thesis statement will usually include a brief statement of what your essay is about as well as how the specific person, place, or experience has influenced you. You will expand on this later, so don’t give away too much in the beginning.
Alice’s introduction might go something like this:
I don’t know how I had gotten myself into such a mess, but I found myself running down a seemingly endless path with the Red Queen’s entire court shouting, “Off with her head!” I had long yearned for adventure and excitement, but my time in Wonderland made me realize that adventure comes with some serious risks.
The next part of your outline is perhaps the most important. Without your reflective essay outline, the body can get muddled and confusing. I can’t tell you exactly how to organize the body of your essay because every essay is going to be different. However, I do have a couple of tips.
- If you are writing about an experience or an event, use a chronology that makes sense. It doesn’t have to be completely linear, but if you jump around in the timeline too much, it can confuse both you and the reader. Laying out the important parts in the outline will help you figure out in what order to put everything.
- No matter what you’re writing your reflective essay about–an experience, person or place–you should include the impact it has madeand what, if anything, you learned. This should be at least as long of a section as the description of the event, person or place. It’s what shows off who you are and it’s what the reader will be most interested in.
The body paragraphs of Alice’s reflective outline may look something like this:
- Following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole
- Description of what happened
- Learning to look before I leap
- Meeting the Caterpillar
- Description of what happened
- I learned how to control my size
- I started to realize just how strange the people were in Wonderland
- Mad Tea Party
- Description of what happened
- Although a lot of fun, the tea party was very stressful
- The people I met were progressively crazier
- Croquet with the Red Queen
- Description of what happened
- It’s very hard to play croquet when the other person is cheating and threatening to behead you
- It was at this point when I realized that Wonderland had no rules, and that a world without rules is insane
As you can see, Alice’s timeline includes different events within the entire experience and with a moment of reflection on each. The final lesson learned is the epiphany–the aha! moment.
Your outline does not have to look just like this. It could be a summary of the entire experience, followed by what you learned from it. Like I said, every essay is different.
The conclusion of your reflective essay should be the finishing touch that brings the whole piece of writing together nicely. Include a brief summary of your main points (as stated in the body paragraphs), as well as the overall takeaway from your reflection.
For example, Alice’s conclusion would be similar to this:
The White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, and the Red Queen are certainly faces that I’ll never forget. They each contributed to the sheer madness of Wonderland. But those people–that madness–made me thankful for the peace and security of my own home and family and its rules.
More Resources to Help with Your Reflective Essay Outline
I hope you have a better understanding of why and how to draft a good outline. To give you a bit of extra help, here’s a downloadable reflective essay outline template.
Reflective Essay Outline Template.
This outline template follows a 5-paragraph format, but you can add paragraphs and rearrange the body paragraphs to fit your needs. Just fill in the blanks with your own information, and you’ll be one step closer to a stellar essay.
Need more inspiration? Check out these reflective essay examples.
If you’re looking for topic ideas, check out 15 Reflective Essay Topics to Inspire Your Next Paper.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Proficiency Analysis and Reflection
Evidence of a teachercandidate’s growth and development toward meeting the teaching proficienciesand evidence of the candidate’s ability to facilitate student learning comefrom a variety or sources. The courses you have taken, your own lifeexperiences, the designing and implementation of the teacher work sample andthe Field Experience do not occur in isolation from each other. They areclosely linked through theory, conceptual understanding and philosophy to practice.At this point in the education program you will have the opportunity toarticulate the links as they relate to the WOU Teaching proficiencies byanalyzing and reflecting about all of the proficiencies. Note that you do nothave to reflect on every element within a given proficiency. Finally, you willwrite a summary or concluding statement that ties your experiences together.
Seven WOU Teaching Proficiencies must be addressed in themini-work sample.
1. ContentKnowledge and Pedagogy
2. HumanDevelopment and Learning
4. Assessmentand Instruction
5. ClassroomClimate Conducive to Learning
8. Philosophy, BestPractice and Reflection
Part 1: The organizingtable:
Create an organizer thatillustrates the relationships between the proficiencies and sources of evidencefrom the different components of the work sample, field experience, otherexperiences and courses. Be specific about which part or parts of the worksample, field experience, courses, etc… are used as evidence. For example, ifyou believe that your lesson adaptations from your lesson plans are goodevidence for Human Development and Learning or Diversity, list “lessonadaptations” or “varying needs” in lesson plans as the evidence rather thansimply listing lesson plans.
Each one of the sevenproficiencies should have at least two lines of evidence.
Sources of evidence:Many sources of evidence may be in your work sample. But work sample sources ofevidence should not be your only sources of evidence. This table should illustratea variety of different kinds of evidence. Beselective about the evidence you choose. Make it a best fit. The evidence you select can represent your best work in aparticular proficiency category or could be a work in progress. All evidenceshould demonstrate how you are moving toward meeting that proficiency. Examplesof evidence beyond the work sample include projects, observations in theclassrooms, essays, analysis and response to readings in coursework, workshopsattended, events attended etc.
Sources of evidence thatare not part of the work sample should be placed in the Appendix of the worksample.
Part 2: Analysis andReflection
1. Foreach proficiency write an analysis about your growth. In the analysis connectprofessional readings, projects or assignments from teacher education or othercourses, theory to practice, and/or field experience to the evidence and to WOUteaching proficiencies.
2. Thinkabout professional goals. Where do you think your next steps should be or whereshould your professional growth be directed?
3. Afteranalyzing and reflecting about all six proficiencies, write a summary orconcluding statement that synthesizes and/or evaluates your student teachingexperiences as they relate to the teaching proficiencies. This is an overallessay. It should not include adding more evidence.
Use a variety of sourcesof evidence to support your statements about your professional growth.
Use the “Guidelines forWriting Strong Reflective Essays” to help write your analyses.
Guidelines for WritingStrong Reflective Essays
Reflection is anessential component of becoming an effective teacher. Your reflective essaysare a critical component of your mini-work sample. Without them, the worksample becomes little more than a collection of lessons. These essays requirethat you think about what you are doing, why you are doing it, what theoutcomes are, and how the information can be used to help you to improve andgrow (McLaughlin & Vogt, 1998). The reflection process offers insights intovarious dimensions of your teaching and learning that can lead to betterteaching. If you never reflect on your actions or beliefs, you will miss avaluable opportunity to improve your teaching (Schon, 1987). Your reflectionsin the mini work sample should be aligned with the teaching proficiencies.
Key Components of Reflections
In thereflections, you are assessing information or events, thinking about andanalyzing them, and then using the results to change or enhance your teachingin the future. Bullock and Hawks (2001) have identified three key componentsfor you to consider:
The descriptioncomponent provides the foundation for the reflection. In this section, you aredescribing the information, evidence or event selected - who, what, when,where, and how. You are also describing why these were chosen to demonstrateyour growth towards meeting a particular proficiency.
In this section,you are identifying the strengths of the selected information, evidence orevent, and areas on which to improve. For example, if you were to reflect abouta lesson plan that you had developed, you would identify the positivecomponents of the plan and its implementation and then emphasize areas toimprove the lesson the next time that you teach it. You need to be honest aboutyour strengths and weakness. Some evidence, such as a workshop certificate, maynot require you to reflect on how you might improve. You need to determine ifthe certificate is relevant as evidence to demonstrate your growth towardmeeting a particular proficiency and then explain in your analysis how thecertificate demonstrates growth.
This is a veryimportant component because it is here that you write about how theinformation, evidence and events have influenced you. What did you learn fromthem and how will this knowledge impact your future teaching?
Other Things to Consider
- Write in the first person because the reflection is a personal account of your teaching and learning and your reactions to it.
- The reflections should be accurate and go beyond superficial analysis.
- You should formulate a thesis sentence in which you state clearly what the reflection will be about and then support that thesis.
- Use your best writing skills. Your reflection should be clear and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Write clearly and concisely.
- Be accurate and honest. It should demonstrate your ability to write about your strengths and weaknesses and provide insights into your development as a professional
- Draw on your own expertise and synthesize the range of experiences you have had over the three terms- professional readings, observations, course assignments, workshops or inservices attended, and field experiences.
Example: Astudent impacted by your teaching
- Describe him/her
- Who is this child?
- What is he/she like?
- What impact did you have?
- What specific examples can you give about the impact?
- What positive impact did you have?
- What interventions were tried?
- What interventions worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What interventions could you use with other students?
- What interventions might you never use again?
- What impact did this student have on your philosophy?
- How did your values change as a result of this experience?
*Adapted fromBullock, A. A., & Hawk, P.P (2001) Developing a teacher portfolio. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
McLaughlin, M.,& Vogt, M. (1998). Portfolio assessment for inservice teachers: Acollaborative model. In Professional portfolio models: Applications ineducation. Norwood, MA:Christopher-Gorden Publishers.
Schon, D. (1987).Synthesis of research on teachers’ reflective thinking. EducationalLeadership, 48(6),37-44.
Proficiency Analysis and Reflection Checklist
q Reflects upon experiences and shows a developing understanding ofthe total practicum experience.
q Identifies successful and unsuccessful lessons, experiences,activities and assessments. Discusses what contributed to whatwent well, what was learned, and what could have been done differently toimprove your teaching and improve studentlearning.
q Refers to your own philosophy of education if/when appropriate.
q Uses specific educational research, theories and philosophies toreflect on abilities, skills, and disposition.
q Within each of the proficiencies, identifies professional goals toimprove performance and understanding that emerge based on the insights andexperiences discussed.
q Includes an overall summary that synthesizes and/or evaluates yourstudent teaching experiences as they relate to the teaching proficiencies.