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Gibbs' Reflective Cycle
One of the most famous cyclical models of reflection leading you through six stages exploring an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan.
Gibbs' Reflective Cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences. It offers a framework for examining experiences, and given its cyclic nature lends itself particularly well to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or didn’t go well. It covers 6 stages:
- Description of the experience
- Feelings and thoughts about the experience
- Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
- Analysis to make sense of the situation
- Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
- Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.
Below is further information on:
- The model – each stage is given a fuller description, guiding questions to ask yourself and an example of how this might look in a reflection
- Different depths of reflection – an example of reflecting more briefly using this model
This is just one model of reflection. Test it out and see how it works for you. If you find that only a few of the questions are helpful for you, focus on those. However, by thinking about each stage you are more likely to engage critically with your learning experience.
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.
Here you have a chance to describe the situation in detail. The main points to include here concern what happened. Your feelings and conclusions will come later.
- What happened?
- When and where did it happen?
- Who was present?
- What did you and the other people do?
- What was the outcome of the situation?
- Why were you there?
- What did you want to happen?
Example of 'Description'
Here you can explore any feelings or thoughts that you had during the experience and how they may have impacted the experience.
- What were you feeling during the situation?
- What were you feeling before and after the situation?
- What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
- What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
- What were you thinking during the situation?
- What do you think about the situation now?
Example of 'Feelings'
Here you have a chance to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the situation. Try to be as objective and honest as possible. To get the most out of your reflection focus on both the positive and the negative aspects of the situation, even if it was primarily one or the other.
- What was good and bad about the experience?
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
Example of 'Evaluation'
The analysis step is where you have a chance to make sense of what happened. Up until now you have focused on details around what happened in the situation. Now you have a chance to extract meaning from it. You want to target the different aspects that went well or poorly and ask yourself why. If you are looking to include academic literature, this is the natural place to include it.
- Why did things go well?
- Why didn’t it go well?
- What sense can I make of the situation?
- What knowledge – my own or others (for example academic literature) can help me understand the situation?
Example of 'Analysis'
In this section you can make conclusions about what happened. This is where you summarise your learning and highlight what changes to your actions could improve the outcome in the future. It should be a natural response to the previous sections.
- What did I learn from this situation?
- How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?
- What skills do I need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?
- What else could I have done?
Example of a 'Conclusion'
At this step you plan for what you would do differently in a similar or related situation in the future. It can also be extremely helpful to think about how you will help yourself to act differently – such that you don’t only plan what you will do differently, but also how you will make sure it happens. Sometimes just the realisation is enough, but other times reminders might be helpful.
- If I had to do the same thing again, what would I do differently?
- How will I develop the required skills I need?
- How can I make sure that I can act differently next time?
Example of 'Action Plan'
Different depths of reflection.
Depending on the context you are doing the reflection in, you might want use different levels of details. Here is the same scenario, which was used in the example above, however it is presented much more briefly.
Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.
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Promoting Reflective Practice
Download the article, Promoting Reflective Practice PDF .
Supporting reflective practice may be one of the best things a TA provider can do to improve quality. Reflection helps teachers think about their caregiving practices and develop greater self-awareness. Ideally, TA providers not only serve as reflective partners for caregivers and teachers, they also foster reflective partnerships among child care professionals. Thus, TA providers help build caregivers’ capacity to continue with reflective practice after TA services end.
TA providers build teachers’ reflective capacity through thoughtful scaffolding. The following characteristics of reflective teachers are excerpted from the article “Becoming a Reflective Teacher” (Carter, Cividanes, Curtis, & Lebo, 2010, p. 1):
- Examines his or her own reactions to children or their actions to understand their source.
- Is curious about children’s play and watches it closely.
- Documents details of children’s conversations and activities.
- Takes time to study notes and photos to puzzle out what is significant.
- Eagerly shares stories about children’s learning with families and co-workers.
- Asks co-workers and children’s families about their insights
- Reads professional literature to learn more
- Share photos and stories of themselves to hear their views
- Changes the environment and materials to encourage new play and learning possibilities
A TA provider can foster these characteristics through thoughtful strategies such as a reflective cycle.
"Reflection is a time to slow down, to see what can be learned if we take the time to carefully look at and listen to ourselves, and to those with whom we work." (Parlakian, 2001, p. 16)
Using a Reflective Cycle
Reflection can support many aspects of a child care provider’s work, including individualizing care, embracing families’ cultural diversity, fostering relationships with families, making caregiving routines meaningful, appropriately guiding children’s behavior, and building effective partnerships with coteachers. Scheduling regular time to use a reflective cycle with teachers helps keep reflection focused and intentional.
Building Time for Reflection
All teachers need to have time to engage in thoughtful, critical reflection. However, finding time for this practice can be a challenge. TA providers can help teachers think about how to find the time for reflection, whether in a family child care home or a child care center. Finding times that already exist within the daily schedule is a good starting point. Here are some examples:
- When infants and toddlers are sleeping or resting (if possible given individual schedules)
- Before families arrive
- After families depart
- Staff meetings: In center-based programs, administrators can build in time during staff meetings to allow teachers to work in small groups or one on one with a TA provider
- Curriculum planning time
Elements of a Reflective Cycle
There are a variety of reflective cycle models that can guide a TA provider and teacher through the reflective process. In general, most reflective cycles include steps such as observation, documentation, time to think and reflect, and opportunities to plan actions and implement new practices or ideas. Some models refer to the steps as a cycle of inquiry that includes observation, reflection, and application (Chu, 2012). The steps of a reflective cycle are best facilitated with thoughtful support and guidance.
Here are a few examples of different reflective cycles that could be used:
- The Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1988) uses the steps of description, feelings, evaluation, conclusions, and action.
- The Lawrence-Wilkes/Ashmore model (Lawrence-Wilkes & Ashmore, 2014) is an integrated model focused on critical reflection.
- WestEd’s Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) uses a three-step cycle called Acknowledge, Ask and Adapt (Amini Virmani & Mangione, 2013). The approach was developed specifically to support teachers in learning to interact effectively with families and handle culturally sensitive issues in responsive ways. The process can be applied to many different situations.
- The Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation brief Working toward a Definition of Infant/Toddler Curricula: Intentionally Furthering the Development of Individual Children within Responsive Relationships presents a process that highlights responsive interactions and supportive relationships in infant and toddler curricula.
South Carolina’s Infant and Toddler Field Guide: Strengthening Professional Practices of Infant & Toddler Care Teachers , developed collaboratively by South Carolina and Ohio, along with Peter Mangione (WestEd) and Kay Albrecht (Innovations in Early Childhood Education, Inc.), gives teachers scenarios to practice reflective thinking using a cycle of Watch, Ask, Try.
The Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center has a variety of resources that can support reflection, including the following:
- “ Reflective Supervision: Setting a Foundation for Reflective Practice in Your Program”
- Reflective Supervision: A Tool for Relationship-Based EHS Services
- News You Can Use: A Circle of Support for Infants and Toddlers – Reflective Practices and Strategies in Early Head Start
- Practice-Based Coaching (PBC)
- Tip Sheet: Dialogue Tips from the Experts
Early Educator Central has the following resources:
- Resources for Trainers, Consultants & Other Professional Development Specialists
- Know – See – Do – Improve Framework
Amini Virmani, E., & Mangione, P. L. (Eds.). (2013). Infant/toddler caregiving: A guide to culturally sensitive care (2nd ed.) (pp. 72–75). Sacramento: California Department of Education.
Carter, M., Cividanes, W., Curtis, D., & Lebo, D. (2010). Becoming a reflective teacher. NAEYC Teaching Young Children 3 (4), 1–4.
Chu, M. (2012). Observe, reflect, and apply: Ways to successfully mentor early childhood educators. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 40 (3), 20–29.
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.
Lawrence-Wilkes, L., & Ashmore, L. (2014). The reflective practitioner in professional education . Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Parlakian, R. (2001). Look, listen, and learn: Reflective supervision and relationship-based work . Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
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One of the most famous cyclical models of reflection leading you through six stages exploring an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan. Overview Gibbs' Reflective Cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences.
Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in 1988. There are five stages in the cycle: 1. Description. 2. Feelings. 3. Evaluation. 4. Conclusions. 5. Action. You can use it to help team members think about how they deal with situations, so that they can understand what they did well, and so that they know where they need to improve.
The steps of a reflective cycle are best facilitated with thoughtful support and guidance. Here are a few examples of different reflective cycles that could be used: The Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1988) uses the steps of description, feelings, evaluation, conclusions, and action.
Gibb’s model acknowledges that your personal feelings influence the situation and how you have begun to reflect on it. It builds on Boud’s model by breaking down reflection into evaluation of the events and analysis and there is a clear link between the learning that has happened from the experience and future practice.
Gibbs’ reflective cycle Gibbs (1988, p.49) created his “structured debriefing” to support experiential learning. It was designed as a continuous cycle of improvement for a repeated experience but can also be used to reflect on a standalone experience. One of the key things about Gibbs is