70 John Driscoll’s “What?” Cycle of Reflection

Joel Gladd

The previous chapter on reflection, “Writing About Writing: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner,” offered an introduction to reflective writing and explained how critical reflection is so important to the learning process. This chapter will look more closely at one of the most common and simplest models for how to practice the kind of reflection that fosters “reflective practitioner” attitude: John Driscoll’s cycle of reflection, which follows a “What, So What, Now What” process. The end of this chapter offers an example assignment based on the Driscoll model.

What? So What? Now What?

John Driscoll originally developed the “What?” cycle of reflection for healthcare practitioners, but it has since been picked up by many different kinds of learners. The model includes three very basic steps:

  1. WHAT? Describe what happened.
  2. SO WHAT? Analyze the event.
  3. NOW WHAT? Anticipate future practice, based on what you learned.

Each step requires both different rhetorical strategies and distinct forms of cognition. Step  1, “What?”, challenges the learner to recall what happened as objectively as possible, without critiquing anything that happened. Step 2, “So what?”, requires the learner to slow down and begin looking for patterns or moments of significance. Here, the key is to bring in concepts that help shed light on what’s going on. In a writing course, for example, a student might learn different rhetorical terms that relate to persuasion, such as logospathos, and ethos. Analyzing the experience according to anyone of those terms is a form of analysis. Finally, Step 3, “Now what?”, encourages the learner to begin transferring new knowledge to future situations and other contexts. As the introductory chapter to this section explains, transfer is key to becoming a reflective practitioner.

Here’s a video of that carefully illustrates each step, published by the McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph:

Example of the Driscoll Cycle of reflection

The following example of the Driscoll cycle was developed by a student at The Robert Gillespie Science of Learning.

Stage in the Driscoll Cycle of Reflection



Our task was to complete a full-term assignment that required all team members to contribute and collaborate in order to be successful. The act of working in a group required that the work to be evenly distributed. Communication was key during the course of this assignment as [having] only one lecture a week, limited the amount of time we could communicate during class. Therefore, time outside of class was arranged to meet and complete the assignments to the best of our ability.


The first paragraph describes the circumstances of the assessed activity or experience. 

In other words, it addresses the “WHAT” portion of the Driscoll model. The author uses descriptive vocabulary and does not attempt to analyze or interpret the task. For example, the student writes “time outside of class was arranged to meet and complete the assignments to the best of our ability.” She makes no attempt to explain this activity or analyze its significance. Note, the  “WHAT” section of the assignment represents the most basic form of reflection and serves only as a detailed recounting of an event (activity or exercise). There is limited reflective value in this paragraph other than its ability to record the details of what has transpired. However, a complete description is still essential in order to situate the paragraphs that follow. In other words, it is not possible to describe the impact of the activity or experience without first articulating in detail what they were.


Teamwork has not always had a great impression on my academic career. However, this experience allowed me to be more open-minded towards group work. During this activity, I felt a greater sense of teamwork, collaboration and respect. Initially, I was not aware that the majority of the course would be based on teamwork. If I had known, I probably would not have taken or considered this course. My previous experiences with group work have been negative as I was usually the only one who actively wanted to succeed. Most of the workload was done by one person, and the entire experience was not fulfilling. However, this experience, was based on my lack of understanding of what constructive group work is really like. I had not considered the important role that collaboration plays in our growth as students and as people. In this course, group work was very effective and the work was not only evenly distributed, but students were able to appreciate the importance of collaborative learning. The professor had mentioned during the first lecture that collaborative learning is exceptional and can allow students to retain more information compared to individual studying. Moreover, during this course, group work was discussed and practiced regularly.


The second paragraph provides the  “SO WHAT” in Driscoll’s model of Reflective Practice.

It attempts to interpret or evaluate the description in the first paragraph. For example, in the first paragraph (amber) the writer notes that the “task was to complete a full-term-assignment that required team members to contribute and collaborate.” In the second paragraph, the writer attempts to place this description of an activity or experience into a more meaningful context by stating that her previous experience with group work has been negative: “Teamwork has not always had a great impression on my academic career.” By connecting the described experience with these negative associations, the writer considers the SO WHAT. For example, the writer not only describes the experience as negative but provides evidence to support that claim: “Most of the workload was done by one person, and the entire experience was not fulfilling.” The evidence suggests that the work was not shared and was completed by a single group member. The result is problematic and the writer has identified that scenario as having contributed to her feeling unfulfilled. The writer goes on to add that “The professor had mentioned during the first lecture that collaborative learning is exceptional and can allow students to retain more information compared to individual studying.” Since one of the course’s themes is to provide collaborative learning opportunities, the frustration on the part of the student is palpable and relevant to the activity or experience.


The experience of group work during this course has allowed me to develop and enhance my skills as a team player. The skills I have acquired are interdisciplinary and can be applied to my education in the future. Furthermore, being able to work collaboratively, problem solve and communicate in an effective manner are all skills that I can utilize in the coming years, despite the career I might pursue. Teamwork encourages the idea of each person pulling their own weight and working in an engaging and academic setting in order to benefit the entire group. For instance, if one were to become a surgeon and had encountered a difficult case which had an inconclusive diagnosis, teamwork would be essential. Multiple doctors would work together to problem solve by practicing the same skills learned in class to diagnose the patient in an accurate manner.


In this last paragraph, the author has attempted to apply this activity or experience to a future learning opportunity and so has completed the “NOW WHAT” part of Driscoll’s model. 

In this section she writes that “The skills I have acquired are interdisciplinary and can be applied to my education in the future.” This is a good example of how to link the present experience to a future context. This last section of the assignment represents the deepest form of reflection in which you attempt to apply your learning to something new. This is essential in order to maximize the benefits that result from the use of Reflective Practice. This is particularly apparent in this piece of writing when the author notes “Teamwork encourages the idea of each person pulling their own weight and working in an engaging and academic setting in order to benefit the entire group.” This is effective, because she refers to the course concept of “teamwork” articulated in the previous section and then demonstrates through a specific example how knowledge of that concept could be applied in the future: “if one were to become a surgeon and had encountered a difficult case which had an inconclusive diagnosis, teamwork would be essential.”

The trickiest step for those new to practicing this kind of critical reflection is moving from the straightforward objectivity of Step 1 to the more analytical kind of writing that happens in Step 2. As the commentary for Step 2, “So what?” explains, the second paragraph practices analysis by comparing current experience with an earlier one. Comparison and contrast brings in external content (the other experience) to help do the analysis. There are other ways to accomplish this cognitive move, however. As mentioned above, another strategy for analyzing content is to map experiences to key concepts or ideas picked up from the lesson material.

Sample Assignment: “Ceasefire Reflective Essay”

The following assignment was developed for English 101: Writing and Rhetoric I at the College of Western Idaho.

Assignment Directions: Write a reflective essay that 1) narrates and describes your engagement on the Ceasefire platform and also 2) critically reflects on that experience.

Purpose: The goal of this Unit is to practice discussing difficult issues in a civil manner, and to identify what kinds of behaviors and communication strategies work best to effectively engage with others in public and professional environments.

Genre: This is a Reflective Essay that fosters a “reflective practitioner” approach to learning. The use of the first person (I, me, mine) is encouraged. The essay should narrate and describe your Ceasefire participation, while also reflecting more generally on how the experiment might help in future situations and different contexts.

Audience: While the Ceasefire experiment and reflections are intended to benefit the writer, the writing should be directed towards other students and teachers who are not familiar with the materials in this Unit. Provide sufficient context, define important terms, and write in a style that conveys professionalism.

Basic Requirements:

  • At least 4.5 pages double-spaced
  • Formatted in MLA Style, including in-text citations and a Works Cited page
  • Revision Cover Letter
  • When participating on the Ceasefire website, you will be expected to post a position or question, as well as respond to at least two other posts.

Background on the Ceasefire experiment

While this essay will have a traditional introduction, body and conclusion (like any academic essay), the body will be composed of two main kinds of content. A considerable portion should be dedicated to describing and narrating your experiment with engaging others on the Ceasefire website. At the same time, however, you will be expected to use lessons from this Unit, including the Open Mind learning modules, to critically reflect on that engagement, explaining what it taught you about engaging other beliefs in a civil environment.

Ceasefire Website

Ceasefire is a website whose stated goal is to “improve the world’s discussions.” The mission goals of the website point out that, as our society becomes increasingly polarized, most online discussions have been limited to social media platforms. The end result is even more polarization and “heightened tensions,” rather than understanding and empathy. The Ceasefire website evolved as a solution to that problem. It aims to provide an online space “devoted to the exploration of views” in a civil environment. In this Unit you will be asked to engage with Ceasefire.

Students will be expected to register for a free account and post one of the following two options:

  • Opinion: Present an opinion you hold or lean towards to test your understanding of the issue and potentially discover flaws in your thinking.
  • Question: There may be an issue you wish to explore but have no clear stance on, perhaps due to conflict thoughts or a general lack of understanding. You can ask a question to launch a discussion about it.

In addition to creating a unique post, you will be expected to respond to at least two other posts published to Ceasefire.

OpenMind Learning Modules

In order to prepare for civil engagement on Ceasefire , we’ll start the Unit by completing Steps 1-5 of the OpenMind educational platform. OpenMind is “an interactive platform that equips people with a set of practical tools to think clearly and communicate constructively across differences.” The learning modules are based on certain psychological principles intended to help depolarize educational, corporate, and civic communities. In addition to preparing us for difficult discussions, the platform will also provide us with a variety of key rhetorical and psychological principles to help analyze our experience.

Getting Started with OpenMind & Ceasefire

There are a number of steps we’ll follow in order to get started on our “Ceasefire Reflective Essay”. We’ll complete these steps over the course of two weeks:

Step 1: Sign up for an OpenMind account, join our group, then take the 5 modules. These modules will train us to spot cognitive bias and become familiar with moral reasoning. The “moral matrix” from will provide us with some analytical terms you may want to use when reflecting on your Ceasefire experience.

Step 2: Sign up for a Ceasefire account. As a class, we’ll also look at the site rules and examples of strong posts.

Step 3: Develop a Ceasefire post and respond to at least two others. As you engage with Ceasefire , take notes on the process. These notes will help you write part 1 of your Reflective Essay.

Step 4: Become familiar with the Rhetorical Appeals, as well as kairos and exigence. In addition to the OpenMind’s “moral matrix,” these rhetorical concepts will help you critically reflect on the Ceasefire experiment.

Step 5: Draft and revise your Reflective Essay. Use the Outline included in this prompt to help structure your essay.

Essay Outline

The following Outline uses Driscoll’s “What, So What, Now What?” structure as a way to critically reflect on our experiment with civil engagement.

Introduction In a single paragraph, provide helpful background information that establishes the setting for your reader. Your single-paragraph introduction should end with a thesis statement that explains the purpose of your essay.
What? Describe and Narrate your experiment with Ceasefire Tell the story of your Ceasefire engagement. What did you post to the website, and how did you develop it? What kind of interaction resulted? What other posts did you respond to, and how did that go?
So what? Analyze your Ceasefire experiment To help analyze the results, use the key lessons from this Unit. In this Unit we learned about doing rhetorical analysis with logos, pathos, and ethos. What kinds of posts and replies were most persuasive? How do the rhetorical concepts of logos, pathos and ethos help us understand what’s going on here?

The concepts of ethos and pathos connect with the Open Mind modules, which we completed at the beginning of the Unit. This platform helped us appreciate the role that emotions (pathos) and moral reasoning (ethos) play when defending our ideas. How much of your Ceasefire engagement involved the “moral matrix”? Which of the six forms (care, fairness, liberty, authority, sanctity, loyalty) did you or others rely on, explicitly or implicitly?

You may also draw attention to any other persuasive techniques you’re familiar with, such as voice, style, etc. Keep in mind that writing style also informs ethos.

Now what? Reflect Ultimately, what did you learn from this Ceasefire experiment, including the lessons on rhetorical analysis and the “moral matrix”? Can you step back and think more broadly about its implications? Could some of these persuasive techniques apply to other contexts, such as other classes, workplace environments, or even at home?
The Driscoll sample of “What, So What, Now What?” above is from “Fundamentals of Reflective Practice,” by The Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre, CC-SA 4.0.



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