Reflection is an active process in which a student thinks critically about his or her service learning experience.

Why is Reflection Important?

The goal of service learning is to connect the academic work in the classroom with the real-world experience in the community.  Reflection allows specific time to process both experiences and integrate components of each into the other experience.  This yields a richer and more meaningful overall experience in both the classroom and the community.

What is the Rationale of Reflection?

  • Further understand course content
  • Further understand service experience
  • Development of critical thinking skills
  • Development of values associated with citizenship, diversity, and civic responsibility
  • Integrate service and academic experience

 How is Reflection Conducted?

Reflection can be formal, such as a structured paper, or informal, such as in-class discussion or activities.  The types of reflection that will be utilized in this class include:

  • Weekly journaling: a narrative account of your weekly service experiences
  • Small group discussion
  • Class-wide discussion
  • In-class activities and exercises
  • Assigned, structured reflection papers

What issues may be important to consider during reflection time?

  • How is service learning related to the course content
  • How is the student's service work impacting the community?
  • How is the student's service work impacting them personally?
  • What does it mean to do community service?
  • What does it mean to be a citizen and what role should citizens play within the community?

What are Different Modes of Reflection?

  • Telling: Reporting insights orally to others because storytelling is such a powerful way to share information with each other. Examples of telling include oral presentations and class discussions.
  • Activities: activities and projects which involve reflection through action can also help students make meaning of their experiences. Interviewing, role playing and more experiential activities are examples of this mode of reflection.
  • Multimedia: creative outlets of expression can be wonderful ways to reflect on experiences. Examples of this type of reflection include collages, drawings, photo or video essays, music, paintings, etc.
  • Writing: This will be the predominant type of reflection that takes place during the course of this semester. Your writing opportunities will take a variety of forms, including journal writing and directed reflection papers.

 Tips for Successful Reflection Experiences

  • Seek out quiet moments. Talking - and being talked to - can be distracting
  • Be attentive to and mindful of the present moment
  • Practice acute observation. Work to decipher the clues in the world around you.
  • Figure out what matters most for the task being considered
  • Make a conscious effort to focus on the experience you're reflecting on
  • Permit yourself to feel emotional
  • Go beyond your "self" and your personal perspective
  • Use the lens of your past experiences to make links to the present.
  • Recognize - and think about - the tension between being attached and involved and then stepping back to gain a detached perspective of the situation

 Important Considerations

  • When taking notes at your site, remember to be mindful of confidentiality. You do not want to mention specific names or any identifying information. Sometimes, it might not be appropriate to note certain things that are particularly confidential.
  • Use your reflection time to really think about your experiences and understand the issues that you are learning about through your interactions with people who are different than you are.

 Good resources:

Manual on Reflection:

Effective Journal Writing

The purpose of keeping a journal of your experiences is to provide an avenue for critical reflection on the meaning of your service, both personally and academically.  In doing this, you will learn from yourself about the ways theory and practice work together.  Writing may influence your understanding of society and your own values.  This activity is an opportunity to examine your place in the community and over time may help you grow.

A journal is neither a diary nor a daily list of activities.  Rather, your journal focuses on an incident, a person, or a feeling and it should help you in analyzing and reflecting on that particular aspect of your service-learning. In any case, describe people and incidents only in as much detail as is necessary to give the reader a flavor for what is happening.  Below is a list of possible topics for discussion within your journal, but your writing isn't limited to these issues.

Sample Journal Topics

  • Describe the physical environment of the agency: Is the climate upbeat, friendly, professional, depressing, uncomfortable?  Is it what you expected?  How does the climate affect employees, clients, you?
  • The agency mission: How does the agency tie in with the community?  How does it fulfill its mission?  In your opinion, does it do a good job?  What are some barriers to its success?  What would you do differently?
  • Your supervisor and other staff: What is your supervisor's philosophy about his/her career, clients, and/or the agency?  How long has he/she worked at the agency?  How and where did your supervisor obtain his/her training?  Do the supervisor and other staff members treat you like an associate, employee, guest, or like other volunteers at the agency?
  • Your job at the agency: What has been the hardest part of your adjustment to the organization?  Have your duties changed since you began your service?  Are there particular accomplishments you are proud of?   
  • About the agency: When you first visit the agency, make a conscious effort to be open-minded and alert.  Try to move through the agency and surrounding community using your five senses.  What and who do you see when you arrive?  What do you hear?  Do you detect distinctive smells?  What kinds of foods are available?  What is the feel of the neighborhood?  The answers to these and similar questions will make an excellent start for your journal.
  • Emotional effects: What events or insights have excited, impressed, or inspired you?  What action have you taken in response to these emotions?   What events or insights have upset, depressed, or frustrated you?  Is there something you could have done to change the impact of these events?
  • Cognitive effects: What connections have you made between your service experience and class lectures?  Does what you have seen agree with what you learned in class lectures and textbooks?  Why or why not?
  • Sense of self: What were your original motivations to serve?  Have they changed over the course of your service? Has the service challenged your values, stereotypes, prejudices or understanding of the community?  Has your self-concept been affected by the experience?  How?  Any personal insights? 
  • Commitment to service and citizenship: Will you continue service after your hours are completed?  At this agency?  Will you take another service-learning class?  Why or why not?        

These and many other issues can be discussed in your journal.  Keep in mind that a journal is not a log of tasks, events, times and dates.  It is a portfolio of your development, an examination of self.

Weekly Journal

Name ____________________________________________________________________

Date _____________________________     Community Partner _____________________

Brief description of activities:

Reflection of personal experience - feelings, thoughts, reactions:

Issues and questions pertaining to service learning site experience, skills people:

Reflection of experience as related to course content: