Second Order Reflections

The Problem

Higher levels of reflective thinking (including Relating, Reasoning and Reconstructing) generally develop over some time as the student is at first immersed in responding to, and interpreting experiences.

The Context

Rather than expecting students to think reflectively at higher levels as they are involved in learning and professional activities, this pattern takes a two-stage approach. By separating out a distinct phase (usually an assignment) that targets higher-order reflection, and by making this phase extend over time, students can approach the task more effectively.

The Pattern

  1. Setup and specify reflection tasks in two distinct phases. Place a higher assessment weighting on the second phase.
  2. In the first phase, ask students to keep a reflective journal as they engage in some defined learning or professional activity over time. Explicitly target lower level reflections, starting with description and response, to the experience. Emphasise that the first phase is really data gathering for a second-order reflective activity. For assessment, concentrate on rewarding regular journal submissions that are richly described (perhaps using non-textual representations: videos, audio, graphics).
  3. In the second phase, ask the students to produce a reflective work based on the evidence that they have gathered in the first. Explicitly target higher level reflections (Relating, Reasoning and Reconstructing). This second-order reflective work can be framed as a ‘capstone’ to their earlier activity where they make connections to wider theoretical frameworks; evaluate and explain their own behaviour; and provide insights into their personal and professional growth.

Related Patterns

Reflections Around Artefacts (RAA)


To reduce the marking load when this pattern is used for summative assessment, the first phase marking can be largely mechanical, e.g. based on frequency and spacing of journal entries (rather than their content). In addition, the second order reflective work can be compact and use non-textual forms of representation (images, models, audio & visual productions).


  1. No special resources are needed, although an online journal (e.g. a blog) may be useful, especially if writing is shared. For example, the Learning Journal assignment (Resource 1) from MDN645 uses Second Order Reflections around an online journal. The product is called an “Epilogue”.
  2. A writing framework for reflective journaling.
  3. Assessment task for LWB498


Peltier, J. W., Hay, A., & Drago, W. (2006). Reflecting on reflection: scale extension and a comparison of undergraduate business students in the United States and the United Kingdom. Journal of Marketing Education, 28(1).


This pattern was initiated by Michael Ryan (Education).
Rachael Field (Law) has incorporated the pattern into her assessment for LWB498 Dispute Resolution Practice