This is how to write RJA1 and retain your sanity.

Dearest 2013 cohort,

Well done for still being alive. I’m sure RJA is the last thing you want to think about, so I am going to attempt to give you a bare bones structure which will get you a pretty decent mark and allow you to maximise half term sleep.

I think the title’s changed slightly this year, but this is the rough structure I used last year when it was about behaviour management.


Behaviour’s dead important. A reference or two, like Steer and Charlie Taylor.

I’m going to reflect on my behaviour management because reflection’s dead important. A reference or two, like Hattie.

I’m going to use Kolb. Kolb’s model is the following: [explanation]. What’s great about Kolb is X and Y. However, Z is bad. It could be improved in this way. Criticality criticality criticality. And a final sentence saying I’m going to use Kolb anyway (or that I’m going to use it with X amendment because I AM A DEMIGOD who wants top marks).

Looking at my [post-hoc conveniently doctored journal], a consistent theme has been [consistency of sanctions/positive behaviour management/some other theme that comes up in the literature]. This will form the basis of my key reflections in this essay.

Experience 1

A key/recurring/seminal experience has been [my year 9s refusing to be quiet/the low effort put into written work/pupils being rude to one another]. I reflected on this after it happened. Reference to photo of relevant reflection in appendix.

I’m reflecting on this using Kolb. Here’s a picture of Kolb’s cycle I’ve annotated with reference to this experience [they really love the annotated pic of the cycle].

Details about what I thought about this experience, which involve more references to literature and less swearing than my genuine thoughts. Two or three paragraphs about the two/three main insights I gained from this reflection. Each of these paragraphs makes a point about what I’ve learnt; then refers to my own real experience and my journal; then refers to multiple sources of literature; applies literature to my experience; evaluates and critiques with reference to any opposing views or glaring holes in my arguments; and finishes with a sentence that may be more nuanced than the first sentence in my paragraph, but certainly doesn’t contradict.

Rinse and repeat this paragraph for other insights from this experience.

Now a paragraph about how I’ve changed my practice as a result.

Here’s a quick conclusion about how [consistency is important/whatever my theme is]

Experience 2

Here’s another related behaviour issue I’ve been having. I’m going to repeat the above section here.

Experience 3

If you’ve still got some words spare, stick in another one.


In this essay I have cogently argued that the theme I chose was key to the bad behaviour I’ve been experiencing. If only I displayed my sanctions like Charlie Taylor told me to, it would all have been fine.

This is what I’m going to change as a result. Reference to my action plan [definitely do an action plan; easy marks].

Finally I’m going to consider how useful this assignment and model has been for my practice. I’m going to say that whilst it has been SO useful I think it would have been even better if I’d used Brookfield’s model because it considers a wider range of sources of learning such as colleagues [this sets you up nicely for RJA2].


Journal photos, journal photos, journal photos.

An action plan.

9 thoughts on “This is how to write RJA1 and retain your sanity.

  1. Mark Hardman (@MAHardman)

    As an ambassador of Teach First and now a tutor on the programme, I fully understand your sentiment about wanting to help the new cohort at such a busy time when they are under a lot of pressure.

    However, I think there are quite a few risks associated with following your approach so I hope you will take my points below as constructive critique and an attempt to help your readers see some possible issues and pitfalls:
    1) Surely we all realise that learning is about working through a problem rather than about being given a solution? So following a formulaic approach to writing an essay is likely to reduce the learning from working out how to structure it, and this will have knock on affects in the later essays. It is up to participants to make their own judgement calls on effort vs reward, based on their lives as they come to write RJA1.

    2) Lots of similarly structured essays usually ring the plagiarism bells, both in the Turnitin systems we use and with individual tutors. I don’t think following a structure is plagiarism but I think if things get very similar it is a concern, especially if references are similar.

    3) You have three ‘experiences’ but they don’t seem to be brought together with a common thread and this could limit your marks around focus. You also have a fairly superficial methodology in that you haven’t explained if this is one cycle of Kolb, or you are also doing a comparative study or this is three cycles, or how the methodology is being applied.

    4) You have not taken a critical approach to your sources beyond Kolb, and even then you don’t really get into the differences between Kolb and Brookfield and whether either is supported as approaches to reflection. As a case in point Charlie Taylor is an advisor on policy, but this does not warrant a well supported position backed up by research and debate. I love a good Hattie reference but only when you truly understand what can be concluded from an effectiveness score and what is context specific.

    5) You are linking references with reflections but I would mark down your lack of evidence to support your reflection. Of course, in the RJAs this comes primarily from the journal but how is that used systematically, what about observations, policy, student report, analysis of sanction frequency etc?

    It is fair to say I have over-egged the pudding as we are discussing a hypothetical essay and of course I don’t know how it would be fleshed out and what the detail might be. However, I hope that by providing a hypothetical critique your readers can see that there is more to consider than is just posed here. I am sure their tutors would also be happy to talk to help them with the essay, that’s what we do!


    1. RedGreen Post author

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for taking the time to reply.

      In response, I have the following counter arguments

      1) I certainly agree it is up to participants to make their own judgement calls on RJA1. I’m just putting some extra information out there.

      2) You have just put people through, in some cases, the worst two months of their lives. They will have been sworn at, disrespected, and unsupported on a daily basis. If you want them to take RJA more seriously you’re going to have to put more effort in, as a university, than a poorly run session involving more post-it notes than genuine information.

      3) I thought this was covered in “Looking at my [post-hoc conveniently doctored journal], a consistent theme has been [consistency of sanctions/positive behaviour management/some other theme that comes up in the literature]. This will form the basis of my key reflections in this essay.” Obviously one would expect a coherent thread throughout the essay.

      4) Why don’t you teach us about Kolb properly then? I’d quite like some direct instruction on this point.

      5) This point frustrated me the most as I read it. You know what? If you’re going to mark me down for something, why don’t you communicate that before we write the damn thing? We were given very little guidance; what we were given was incoherent and impractical. It’s pretty offensive to say what you said to someone who has been working 60 hour weeks, who has been crying daily, who has generally had their life turned upside down by the experience of TF. We CARE. We want to do well. We don’t know how to write these essays perfectly because you don’t tell us. Don’t blame US for that.

    2. tabularasaeducation

      Well said, Red. The lack of guidance from the universities is an enormous hindrance and adds extra pressure to participants when they just don’t need it. They shouldn’t be spending half term worrying about an essay, but relaxing and getting ready for the next term. What the universities don’t understand is that by giving participants no guidance, they don’t take the essay seriously and end up writing anything to get the job done, instead of spending time genuinely reflecting on the term and their accomplishments.

      I’m really glad you wrote this helpful post- not only because it was kind of you to share the benefit of your experience, but because you may have helped to preserve the sanity of those in the toughest schools. Quibbling over the nuances of the structure you have provided is unhelpful; proactively giving people guidance where none other is given is the exact opposite.

    3. Mark Hardman (@MAHardman)

      I am finding it a little difficult to respond because I feel you have moved what we are talking about, but I would like to further clarify the points I am attempting to make.
      You clearly felt unsupported by your tutors and I have come to embody that in your response. Of course, I have not delivered any sessions with post-it’s on RJA1, nor was I the tutor responsible for discussing Kolb’s cycle or the marking grid with you, although again I come back to the difference between someone explaining and you learning. Indeed, I don’t know who your tutors were or even which institution they belong to but I hope that you raised these issues with them at the time so they could offer further support and/or used the feedback mechanisms in place to improve this.

      You seem to think that tutors ‘put you through’ a difficult time at the start of the programme, but I would see tutors as trying to help rather than being responsible for this. As I mentioned before, I was a participant myself (’04 in London) so I am not unfamiliar with how difficult it is in the first few months and the hours that you have to put in or the sheer despair that results from it. Not only did I live it but I have worked with many participants since becoming a tutor and have seen how different but still incredibly challenging it is in different schools for different people. I make this point not only in defence of my position but because you feel it is unjust for me to make comment on the use of systematic evidence from the journal (point 5) when participants are experiencing such difficulties. I thought we were discussing a hypothetical essay in order to show participants what is involved in reflecting on their experience, and how to do well in their journal assignments. I spend my life trying to support participants so I am not quibbling over the nuances of structure because I like spending my time doing so, I am trying to help your readers understand how to do better at their assignments. My reply was aimed at showing participants some of the things to consider if they follow a structure such as yours, which might come closer to me ‘telling you how to write the essays’ as you put it, than attacking anyone.

      Let’s then separate out the issues here. You clearly felt unsupported in your assignments and early career more broadly, so if any of your readers feel the same they should contact their tutors or LDOs and seek extra support – I am sure it will be forthcoming. Indeed, if they are a London participant I can guide them directly on how to get the support. If they feel they do not have the time to seek help on essays, or that RJA1 is just not a priority then this is understandable and their choice. If they then decide to follow the example you have given however, I hope they will also take the time to read my critique of it so that they can evaluate the extra information you have put out there.

      Best wishes,


      P.S. there are several articles available freely online by DC Kayes, who I feel gives a pretty good critique of Kolb.

  2. suecowley

    I might be reading this wrong, but it strikes me that what you are saying is that you would have welcomed (or would still welcome?) some practical advice that would help you to cope daily in the classroom rather than the demand for a theoretical essay?

    Perhaps this shows the value of time for theoretical reflection and study of evidence, post teaching placement, on a PGCE or BEd course where you have breathing space to reflect. Hard to do when you are in the thick of it in the classroom, I’d imagine.

    1. I'm OK Really

      Unsurprisingly, this was very low on my priority lists of things to do this half term.

      In addition, this was probably the least intellectually stimulating/useful thing I have ever eked out from my (admittedly addled) brain; regurgitating reflection that I had already acted upon over a month ago. Next time, a giant square in which I can draw a massive tick would be fine. Or maybe just hold spangly hoops out for us for us to jump through?

      Thank you poster for making our lives that little more bearable.

Go forth and opine