How students can use mental models for reflection

As students begin with writing their applications for universities and then subsequently prepare for their interviews, one key skill that they need to exhibit istheir ability to reflect’ on their past experiences and the learning from that. Now, this is easier said than done only because students are not guided through the process of, one, identifying that possible situation(s) that they could speak about and two, how to emphasis through their narration key competencies or skills that they exhibited at the time. Students face a similar predicament when they reflect on their experiences and project work etc.

So, here is a simple strategy that students can use to give better structure to their reflection. A strategy that I came across fairly recently when I was planning recruitment. I coupled it with another model that I learnt about during one of my Cambridge workshops called the ‘Critical Incident Report’, to create a template that could be used for reflection by the candidate who was applying for a position. Using this strategy helped me focus on the key competencies that I was looking for in the candidate.

But coming back to how teachers can prepare students to write better reflections that explain their competencies and skills and not a description of an event, they can use the STARR model for recording reflections.

Why use a mental model?

Mental models help us think better. They help us simplify the complex into simple chunks that are understandable and organized. Students are asked to reflect on an experience using the STARR model to organize their thoughts by identifying the Situation they wish to describe, the specific Task that they had to perform, the Action that they took, the Result of that action and the Reflection on the lesson learnt from that action. In other words, STARR. The key question that they answer through STARR is the competency or skill that they wish to speak about.

What is STARR?

Situation: The situation where the experience was gained, and they would like to talk about

Example: Managing a group project. Key competency: project management, time management

Task: What was the goal or challenge that was to be achieved

Example: To complete a project within set time frame and budget

Action: What was the specific action that they took to achieve the goal or challenge. Not just as a team but their specific action in that team.

Example: Create a project plan, with timelines, establish success criteria, review progress and manage resources.

Result: What was the outcome of their action

Example: Project completed on time and within budget.

Reflect (lessons learnt): What did they learn from that situation and their role in it.

Example: What did they learn from this experience that has helped them develop their competency further. In this case, project management and time management.

The student must link their competency to the learning they achieved from the identified situation. Remember to focus on:

the then (before the experience) and now (after the experience).

Identifying stories

It is therefore good to create or identify what could be their STARR stories from their experiences. The stories that help them speak about their key competencies. If they are preparing for an interview, then it would be good to practice the STARR story by narrating it to a couple of friends and family and answering questions around that.

Using mental models helps you to understand yourself and the world around you better.

Try it.


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