Learning Outcomes

When learning a language independently, we will encounter many learning experiences, such as reading text dense articles, doing complex language exercises or talking to people with unusual accents.

John Dewey, the famous American educator maintained,

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”(1933, p.78)

Clearly, Dewey acknowledged the importance of reflection. The experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; it is the reflection that makes sense of the experience to us and hence makes the experience meaningful for us.

By the end of this package, you will learn about

What is Reflection?

Very often we find that we don’t make as much progress with our language learning as we might expect even though we have been spending a lot of time doing a variety of useful language enhancing activities. For example, when we try to develop our vocabulary or improve our grammar skills, we might find that we keep forgetting the vocabulary that we have learned or still make the same old grammatical mistakes.

Because of this, it is wise to review these learning experiences and consider the implications. If we do this, then it might help us to avoid making the same mistakes again.

In language learning, repetition and practice help us to learn and to consolidate what we have learned, but they cannot take the place of the process of actively thinking about how we learn, what we do well and what we should improve in the future. To do this, we can simply ask ourselves some simple prompt questions. For example,

  • What might I do better next time?
  • What can I do differently if I do it again?

In this way, we can learn lessons from our past experience to guide us in the present and hopefully direct ourselves into a better future. This is the power of reflection.

Activity 1

Definitions of Reflection


affective: adj. relating to or having an effect on the emotions

generic: adj. relating to a whole group of things rather than to one thing

increment: n. [formal] the amount by which a number, value, or amount increases

perspective: n. [countable] a way of thinking about something, especially one which is influenced by the type of person you are or by your experiences; [formal] a view, especially one in which you can see a long way into the distance

replica: n. an exact copy of something, especially a building, a gun, or a work of art.

- Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, www.ldoceonline.com



Reflective practice can be viewed as both a structure to facilitate critical thinking and a better understanding of learning experience and a method for promoting autonomous learning through deep enquiry into learning experiences.



  1. “Reflection is a generic term for those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to a new understanding and appreciation.” – (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985)
  2. “The act of reflecting is one which causes us to make sense of what we've learned, why we learned it, and how that particular increment of learning took place. Moreover, reflection is about linking one increment of learning to the wider perspective of learning - heading towards seeing the bigger picture.” – (Race, 2002)
  3. “A reflection in a mirror is an exact replica of what is in front of it. Reflection in professional practice, however, gives back not what it is, but what might be, an improvement on the original.” - (Biggs, 1999).
  4. “Learning to learn, or the development of learning power, is getting better at knowing when, how and what to do when you don't know what to do.” - (Claxton, 1999).


After reading above definitions, write down the working definition of reflection in your own words? What does reflection mean to you?

My Own Definition of Reflection

Why reflect?

You might now have a better understanding of the concept of reflection. It is one of the key skills that we should learn to equip ourselves as life-long learners. Let’s further explore its importance by doing the following activity:

Activity 2


alternative: n. something you can choose to do or use instead of something else

transferable: adj. if a skill, idea, or quality is transferable, it can be used from one situation to another, or it can be used in the new situation

- Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, www.ldoceonline.com



  1. True.
  2. False. It is increasingly recognised that reflection is an important transferable skill, and is much valued by all around us, in employment, as well as in life in general.
  3. True.
  4. False. Reflection is equally useful when our learning has been unsuccessful. In such cases reflection can possibly give us some insights into what may have gone wrong with our learning, and how on a future occasion we might avoid now-known pitfalls.
  5. True.


Learning Through Reflection

Where did the concept of reflection come from? Why should we pay attention to it in the process of learning? The theoretical roots of reflection can be found in the works of John Dewey, David Kolb, and Donald Schön. Let’s learn about what they thought about reflection.

Dewey (1933) looked upon reflection as a rational and purposeful act that considered actively, persistently and carefully any belief or form of knowledge supported and led by its context.

Schön (1983, 1987) argued that reflection-on-action, i.e. the analysis of experience, could lead to a state of expertise, and reflection-in-action, i.e. reflection as part of active thought, could help professionals to tackle the problems in their work. Both concepts emphasize the importance of reflection in the process of becoming professionals.

Kolb (1984) developed the Learning Cycle and suggested that deep learning comes from a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Moon (1999, as cited in Barrett, 2005, p.20) elaborated it to highlight the importance of reflection in supporting deep learning.

From Moon (1999, as cited in Barrett, 2005, p.20)

Boud and Walker (1998) suggested that reflection should not be taken as an intellectual exercise only but a holistic act, addressing the challenge of incorporating ideas about reflection into teaching contexts to explore inner discomforts, uncertainties, and dissatisfactions. They argued that emotions were central to all learning.


rational: n. rational thoughts, decisions etc. are based on reasons rather than emotions

persistent: adj. continuing to exist or happen, especially for longer than is usual or desirable

expertise: n. special skills or knowledge in a particular subject, that you learn by experience or training

intellectual: adj. relating to the ability to understand things and think intelligently

holistic: adj. considering a person or thing as a whole, rather than as separate parts

discomfort: n. a feeling of embarrassment, shame, or worry

uncertainty: n. a situation which you are not sure about because you do not know what will happen

- Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, www.ldoceonline.com


Activity 3


Academic Theory
John Dewey Reflection as rationality
Donald Schön Reflection in action & reflection on action
David Kolb The Learning Cycle
Boud and Walker Reflection as holistic act


Fostering Reflection on Language Learning Experiences

1. Reflective Activities

Reflection is mostly an individual action. We think about what we have done, how well we have done and what we could do better next time. We can keep these thoughts in a diary or on a blog or an ePortfolio and often these reflective activities can be very personal and private.

However, reflection does not mean that we have to do it individually. We can work together with others to reflect on our learning experiences collaboratively irrespective of whether the experiences themsleves are individual or collaborative. We can benefit from such collaborative reflection because we can inspire each other and view things from different perspectives.

To do this, we can do some writing activities or reflect orally, or even record ourselves visually. We can have fun and there can be multiple outcomes from reflecting on our own learning experiences.

Activity 4

Reflective Activities


Activities of No. 1, 2 and 10 are individual, but activities of No. 3-9 are sociable and collaborative. You can refer to the package about the social and affective strategies of language learning for more detail.


2. Reflection Questions

To facilitate our reflection on language learning activities, we need some prompt questions to help us critically review experiences. Most people tend to look backwards. However, reflection can be much deeper if we use it to generate thoughts not only about the past but also about the present and future. For example, a trio set of questions could be:

  • what worked really well for me in the past?
  • How is this helping me now?
  • What am I going to do in the future as a result of this having worked well for me?

These questions can guide us to view our own learning experience from various perspectives whether we reflect individually or with others. As a result, we can often have a much better understanding of our learning experiences as well as ourselves as learners.

Activity 5

Reflective Questions

Try to recall a recent language learning experience and ask yourself this trio set of questions.

  1. What worked really well for me in the past?
  2. Why do I now think this worked well for me?
  3. What am I going to do in the future as a result of this having worked well for me?

3. Reflective Writing

To facilitate and keep a record of your language learning activities and your reflection on those activities, you might be either required or choose to do some reflective writing.

Here are the suggested steps for reflective writing:

    Step One - Description
    You can briefly describe what happened; find a story in your learning that is memorable. By identifying inner discomfort or surprise or humour, you may find out something that makes you remember the experience which in turn makes sense of the learning experience.
    Step Two - Interpretation
    You can ask yourself questions such as why did that happened in order to examine your learning experience in detail. You could add notes here and there to expand the story to make meaning of the learning experience.
    Step Three - Outcomes
    This idea of story-telling as reflective writing echo the trio set of reflective questions. Story telling as reflective writing can be an easier and effective way of understanding your learning experiences and yourself as a language learner.

These steps of story-telling as reflective writing echo the trio set of reflective questions. Story telling as reflective writing can be an easier and effective way of understanding your learning experiences and yourself as a language learner.

Activity 6

The Process of Reflective Writing

Drag and drop these ideas on reflective action to complete the following table:


narrative: n. a description of events in a story, especially in a novel; the process or skill of telling a story

transformative: adj. enable to completely change the appearance, form, or character of something or someone, especially in a way that improves it

- Retrieved from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, www.ldoceonline.com



Step Purpose Writing Tasks Reflective Thinking Related Learning Outcomes
1 Find the story Narrative description What happened Make sense of learning experience Identify inner discomfort or surprise – “something” makes the experience memorable
2 Expand the story Add notes Ask Why/How it made me feel or why/how I responded to the event or the experience to examine what happened in detail Make meaning of the learning experience Analyse the learning experience to deepen understanding of the learning experience
3 Reconstruct the story Rewrite the story Ask “How I might respond to a similar event in the future?” Or “What I would do differently?” Achieve transformative learning Make decisions to change or find alternatives through reflection


Activity 7

Reflective Writing


To describe what happened in the past, you need to use the past tense. If you describe an idea or model of learning, you can use the present tense.

You can also use adjectives to interpret and describe the experience, such as meaningful, significant, important, relevant or useful.



Step Sentences
Description Today, I tried to do some online exercises on vocabulary from the AWL.
I thought it would be easy as it was just an M/C exercise but I made 6 mistakes out of 10 so I was a bit upset with my performance.
Interpretation However, it was very convenient for me to do the exercises online and I enjoy doing this type of exercise.
I don’t think it is very effective if I just go directly to the exercises.
It seems that I don’t fully know the words and their functions and collocations with other words.
Outcomes So next time, I should study the words more thoroughly first, check them in the dictionary and try to read aloud some sample sentences to understand how to use these words and their collocations.
This might be more effective.


Now, it’s time for you to try the reflective writing. Think about your last language learning activity. Follow the above steps and write about your reflection on that experience.

My Reflection on a Language Learning Activity


  • Barrett, H. (2005). White Paper: Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement. Retrieved from https://www.helenbarrett.com/reflect/whitepaper.pdf
  • Boud, D., & Walker, D. (1998). Promoting reflection in professional courses: The challenge of context. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), pp. 191-206.
  • Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Boston, D. C.: Heath & Co.
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
  • Moon, J. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development. London: Kogan Page.
  • Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. London: Temple Smith.
  • Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Fransisco: Jossey Bass.

Copyright© 2012-2013 UGC ICOSA Project, Hong Kong. All rights reserved.