In 1988, the American sociologist and psychologist Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle model in his book ‘Learning by Doing‘. Gibbs Reflective Cycle encourages people to think systematically about the experiences they had during a specific situation, event or activity. Using a circle, reflection on those experiences can be structured in phases. This often makes people think about an experience, activity or event in more detail, making them aware of their own actions and better able to adjust and change their behaviour. By looking at both negative and positive impacts of the event, people can learn from it. The Gibbs Reflective Cycle starts at Description and then continues clockwise to Feelings, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion and ends at Action plan, to finally return to Description. Here the cycle is complete.
Uses of Gibbs Reflective Cycle
Gibbs Reflective Cycle can be used in a variety of ways. First of all, any individual can use the cycle. If you’re open to actively changing yourself, the Reflective Cycle can be a helpful tool. Coaches also use the Cycle to make their coaches aware of (unwanted) behaviour and find ways together for the coach to react differently to a situation. In addition, the Reflective Cycle is often used in higher education. Especially when carrying out internship assignments, the cycle can be a good tool to make an intern aware of his or her actions. The part about how you’ll handle a similar situation differently in the future is specifically aimed at reflecting on one’s own actions. After all, at the end of an internship period an intern should have developed him/herself enough to carry out internship assignments independently and behave professionally. This model is a good way to work through an experience. This can be either a stand-alone experience or a situation you go through frequently, for example meetings with a team you have to collaborate with. Gibbs originally advocated its use in repeated situations, but the stages and principles apply equally well for single experiences too. If done with a stand-alone experience, the action plan may become more general and look at how you can apply your conclusions in the future.
For each of the stages of the model a number of helpful questions are outlined below. You don’t have to answer all of them but they can guide you about what sort of things make sense to include in that stage. You might have other prompts that work better for you. Many people find that they learn best from experience. However, if they don’t reflect on their experience, and if they don’t consciously think about how they could do better next time, it’s hard for them to learn anything at all. This is where Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is useful. You can use it to enable your people to make sense of situations at work, so that they can understand what they did well and what they could do better in the future.
The 6 Stages
Here you set the scene:
When it occurred?
Who was there?
What did they do?
What was the outcome?
It’s important to remember to keep the information provided relevant and to-the-point. Don’t waffle on about details that aren’t required. If you do this, you’re just using up valuable words that you’ll get minimal marks for.
Discuss your feelings and thoughts about the experience. Consider questions such as:
How did you feel at the time?
What did you think at the time?
What impact did your emotions, beliefs and values have?
What do you think other people were feeling?
What did you think about the incident afterwards?
You can discuss your emotions honestly but remember that this is an academic piece of writing, so avoid ‘chatty’ text and ‘dear diary’.
How did things go? Focus on the positive and negative even if it was primarily one or the other.
What was good and what was bad about the experience?
What went well? What didn’t?
Were your contributions positive or negative?
If you are writing about a difficult incident, did you feel that the situation was resolved afterwards?
This is where you make sense of what happened, using the theory and wider context to develop understanding.
Gibbs actually proposed two conclusions: a general one, which could be transferable and a specific one, focused your personal situation. These are now normally merged but the idea may help focus your conclusion.
What have you learnt? Generally, and specifically
What can I now do better?
Could/should you have done anything differently?
What skills would I need to handle this better? My experience compares to the literature?
What research/theories/models can help me make sense of this?
Could I have responded in a different way?
What might have helped or improved things?
6. Action Plan
Now you know what actions you and your team is supposed to do in a similar situation in the future. In this stage, you need to make a plan to make these things changed. When you have identified the areas you will work on, let your team takes action and fix a date on which you and your team review the progress.
This section is very important, particularly for higher level writing. Many students receive poor marks for reflective assignments for not bringing the theory and experience together.