Creative students spend a lot of time experimenting with new ideas, media, materials, techniques and processes. But its important to navigate through this with functional reflection.

Download the Reflective Log Proforma: Reflective Log Proforma

Sometimes the experiments work, sometimes they don’t. Becoming used to making mistakes, trying things differently and allowing for surprises is key to successful creative solutions. Most students will understand that they need to experiment widely in order for their ideas to mature and produce sketchbooks full of interesting exploration.

What they find much more difficult is making critical decisions about which experiments have worked the best. Without being able to reflect on experimentation, it is difficult for them to move forward. Even the most focused students, that work incessantly and produce enormous sketchbooks, will find settling on an approach one of the hardest elements of a project.

It is difficult because there are no right and wrong answers and making the decisions depends upon so many variables. Solutions rarely appear instantly, more often than not, they depend on a wealth of experience that allows creative practitioners to compare, contrast, evaluate and plan.

For teachers, it can be frustrating to see students opt for the obvious direction or pass up on incredible experiments that they overlook. Ideally, there would be a way of teaching students how to make the “best” decision, but that could result in students producing work that all looked the same and showed no originality.

What is possible is to help students practice the critical reflection process so that it becomes an inherent part of what they do. This can be done in a structured way and many courses already include a formal reflective approach such as writing an evaluation at the end of a project. This enables students to learn from what they have done and be more successful in the next project, but there is opportunity for reflection to become more central to their practice.

Reflective practices:

There are many other ways of embedding reflection, other than just a written piece at the end of a project. Here is a list of practices that include reflection and evaluation that you could try:

  • Tutorial
  • Critique
  • Presentation
  • Discussion
  • Peer group discussion
  • Written evaluation
  • Reflective annotation


Each has its own merits and students will have their own preference, but the reflective and evaluative element is one of the most important ways of developing creative independence.

The most important factor to notice is that the reflective parts of each of the above depend on the same kinds of questions regardless of the format. They also all serve almost identical purposes in relation to improving students’ abilities.

Ideally, lecturers will employ a range of reflective practices throughout the course and as frequently as possible. While this is highly effective as a teaching process, it is also highly guided. When trying to enable students to become independent, the process should also take into account the development of techniques that students can do without the guidance of lecturers.

Reflective models:

A great way of ensuring that students are able to reflect on what they have achieved independently is to give them a template that they can use, that can be transferred to any learning situation, the kind of template they can follow and adapt.

There are many models for reflection in educational theory. In fact, there are few learning models that don’t include an element of reflection and evaluation in order to maximise learning potential. Gibbs’s (1988) Reflective Model, which has been widely accepted, is possibly the most adopted by lecturers in art and design.

Reflective model for art and design teaching gibbs

The Reflective Log:

In producing a template for reflection, Gibbs’s model was central as it promoted the idea of feelings toward the production of work. This is clearly relevant in art, design and media, where engaging with people’s emotions is a significant deciding factor. It also poses simple questions that can apply to virtually any scenario.

The idea for the reflective log was that, as long as students had questions to ask themselves about their work and experience, they could answer these, make evaluative judgements and find personal solutions.

The reflective log developed into the following key questions, all of which had quite punchy titles that students could easily recount and remember:

1. The Picture – State (briefly) what you have done?

2. The Learning – What have you learnt?

About yourself, your abilities, new skills, material manipulation, art theory, formal elements, your communication intentions etc.

3. The Point – What was the point of learning this? 

Will it form a useful skill for future learning or employment?

4. The Success – What has and hasn’t been successful? How and why?

Go in depth into the reasons, don’t just say that you like something, explain how what you have done contributes to your work or your development.

5. The Solution – How can you address these weaknesses? How can you improve?

Analysis, experiments, new skills learning, history, theory, materials exploration, composition, process etc.

How does it work in action?

The reflective log can be used at any point in a project, whether they are researching, experimenting or producing final outcomes. It can become the bulk of the writing that students do in their sketchbooks.

It can’t replace the analysis of others’ work, but can focus the kind of writing students do in their sketchbooks as the project progresses. It structures the kinds of thoughts that students will have in their heads in relation to how to move forward, instead of it being a chaotic approach.

How to implement it?

Like most learning skills, simply giving students the structure wont maximise the potential it can have on their projects, they will need time to practice and familiarise. Ideally, it can be introduced as a lesson. Students can be shown the main titles and come up with the sub-questions themselves. They can then write these down at the start of the sketchbook for reference.

It is also recommended that students reflect as a group, so that they can see and hear what others are putting into their own reflective logs, one risk is that students use the process to describe what they have done. A way to support the development of higher learning skills is to use their reflective logs as the basis for discussion, getting them to read it and to ask them questions about their learning will quickly deepen the process.

Making it a key part of every lesson is a really powerful way of showing the students how important it is, of course, production and experimentation are also important, but students will be judged on the quality of their decision making, just as much as on the range of experimentation.

Try having a short discussion as a review at the end of the lesson and then follow this with a 20 minute reflective log period, where students can sit quietly and reflect on their progression. Further into the course, start to expect students to produce reflective logs for their independent work that they do outside of the studio.


Adapting the reflective log to the learning situation helps students on lower level courses or those new to art and design. Keep the same key points and in the same structure, but fill in the boxes with more sub-questions. Here is an example of how it was adapted to suit GCE A Level Graphics students doing an introduction to computer graphics:

1. The Picture – State (briefly) what you have done?

2. The Learning – What have you learnt? 

Computers in art?

New computer programs?

Techniques and processes?

Things you need to do when using particular processes?

Differences between computer programs?

3. The Point – What was the point of learning this? 

Why is it useful and how could you use it in the future?

What ideas do the processes give you?

How could you use the processes in other ways?

What other techniques could you combine the processes with?

How could the processes support other projects you are doing?

How could you integrate them into your portfolio?

4. The Success – What has and hasn’t been successful? How and why? 

How does the process make your work look interesting?

What strengths does your image, movie, web page or animation have?

What went wrong?

What mistakes do you feel you might have made?

5. The Solution – How can you address these weaknesses? How can you improve?

What actions could you take next time?

What could you do between now and next session?

Do you need to try things in a different way?

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer