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Models of reflection

Learn about models of reflection and see examples of from Atkins and Murphy, Gibbs, Johns and more.

Models of reflection

Models and stages of reflection

There are many different models of reflection – you will find some examples in this guide. Although the structure and format of these models may vary, they share many common features.

Reflection usually begins with a description of what has happened. It is important at this stage to identify exactly what the key elements are – what makes this an incident worthy of reflection? This starting point relates to a low or superficial level of reflection .

Very often a negative or uncomfortable situation (a ‘critical incident’) prompts reflection. 'We learn from our mistakes' is certainly true! However, positive experiences can also provoke reflection. It can be very powerful to reflect on what worked, in order to reproduce that again.

The next stages of reflection require you to relate what you already know to the situation – how is theory relevant? Awareness of your own feelings, assumptions and lack of knowledge should also be recognised and challenged – what did you bring to the situation that had an impact? What didn’t you bring (knowledge, openness) that may have made the situation different? Making sense of all of these factors allows you to recognise what has been learnt and what changes you should make for future situations.

The final stage of reflection is one of change – for example, of how you see yourself, how you see others, your beliefs, your values, your views and/or opinions. It is the deepest level of reflection.


Atkins and Murphy model of reflection: Identify learning which has occurred - awareness of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts - Descirbe the situation including thoughts and feelings - analyse feelings and knowledge relevant to the situation - evaluate the relevance of knowledge

Atkins, S. and Murphy, K. (1994). Reflective Practice. Nursing Standard, 8(39) 49-56.

Gibbs’ reflective cycle has 6 stages. They are usually given the following headings: 1. Description 2. Feelings 3. Evaluation 4. Analysis 5. Conclusion 6. Action Plan

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. London: Further Education Unit.

The following cues are offered to help practitioners to access, make sense of, and learn through experience.


  • Write a description of the experience
  • What are the key issues within this description that I need to pay attention to?


  • What was I trying to achieve?
  • Why did I act as I did?
  • What are the consequences of my actions?
  • For the patient and family
  • For myself
  • For people I work with
  • How did I feel about this experience when it was happening?
  • How did the patient feel about it?
  • How do I know how the patient felt about it?

Influencing factors

  • What internal factors influenced my decision-making and actions?
  • What external factors influenced my decision-making and actions?
  • What sources of knowledge did or should have influenced my decision making and actions?
  • Alternative strategies
  • Could I have dealt better with the situation?
  • What other choices did I have?
  • What would be the consequences of these other choices?


  • How can I make sense of this experience in light of past experience and future practice?
  • How do I NOW feel about this experience?
  • Have I taken effective action to support myself and others as a result of this experience?
  • How has this experience changed my way of knowing in practice?

Experiential learning cycles in occupational therapy: 1. Experience: the activity phase. 2. Publishing: sharing reactions and observations. (what?) 3. Processing: discussing patterna and dynamics. (so what?) 4. Generalising: developing real world principles. (now what?) 5. Applying: planning effective usage of learning.

Adapted from: Pfeiffer, J. W. & Ballow, A. C. (1988). Using structured experiences in human resource development. (UATT Series, vol. 1). San Diego, CA: University Associates.