Reflection, the critical link between service and learning, is oftentimes the most challenging part of service-learning for faculty and students alike. For that reason, the following describes the rationale for promoting critical reflection and provides strategies and examples of possible reflection activities to incorporate into your class.
Reflection can take on many forms, all of which are structured exercises designed to analyze connections between the service and classroom components of the course.
Eyler, Giles, and Schmiede (1996) concluded from their research that critical reflection in service-learning is:
Continuous: an on-going part of learning in the course that provides continuity through each event or experience; reflection occurs before, during, and after the experience.
Connected: the link between service and the intellectual and academic interests of students, resulting in the synthesis of action and thought.
Challenging: an intervention to engage students in issues in a broader, more critical way; reflection pushes students to think in new ways.
Contextualized: appropriate for the setting and context of a particular service-learning course or program; reflection corresponds in a meaningful way to the topics and experiences that form material for reflection.
Numerous creative reflection activities can be found on this document. In addition, ideas include:
Discussion Sessions: Structured discussions allow students to share experiences and learn from students working at other sites or other times at the same location. The sessions may be designed with particular themes. Questions that will assist with conversation during a discussion include:
What did you see that reinforced a key course concept (Name one.)?
What did you see that contradicted a key course concept (Name one.)?
If your service experience reinforces this course concept, what are the implications? Or, if your service experience contradicts this course concept, how do you reconcile these contradictions?
What perspective do you now have on the various viewpoints presented through course concepts and your service experience?
Electronic Discussions: The faculty member sets up a site for students to discuss their service experience via Blackboard or e-mail on a regular basis and posts questions for consideration and topics for directed writings.
Journals: Journals are a common way to assess student learning in a service-learning course. A description of the students’ service activities as well as written, thoughtful reflections about those activities should be included.
Personal Journals: Students may write about any aspect of the service-learning experience on a regular basis.
Directed Journals: Students are asked to describe what they did at the service site after each session, to comment on their reactions and feelings about what happened, and to analyze what happened on the basis of conceptual material from the course.
Journals should be collected throughout the semester. Early and regular feedback for students’ journal entries is critical in teaching students how to develop their reflection skills. Students might be asked to address some of the following questions:
What have I learned about myself through this experience? Do I have more/less understanding or empathy than I did before my service?
In what ways, if any, has my sense of self, my values, my sense of "community," my willingness to serve others, and my self-confidence/self-esteem been altered through this experience?
Have my motivations for volunteering changed? In what ways?
How has this experience challenged stereotypes or prejudices I have/had?
Have I challenged myself, my ideals, my philosophies, my concept of life, or of the way I live?
What would I change about this situation if I were in charge?
What have I learned about this agency, the people, and the community?
Was there a moment of failure, success, indecision, doubt, humor, frustration, happiness, or sadness?
Do I feel my actions have had an impact? What more needs to be done?
Does this experience complement or contrast with what I am learning in class? How?
Has learning through experience taught me things that are different from or the same as the class? In what ways?
From this service experience, can I identify an underlying or overarching issue that influences the community?
Do social issues have a different meaning for me as a result of this experience? In what way?
How will this experience alter my future behaviors/attitudes?
(Adapted from the Volunteer Action Center-Florida International University)
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