Incorporating Reflection

Reflection is central to the learning in community based service learning pedagogy. It provides a way for students to not only record and synthesize their experiences, but also to understand, theorize and question issues raised by them. Reflection activities and assignments can provide stimulus for class discussions, connections to course materials, and opportunities to both review service experiences and imagine future action. Reflection can also be designed in ways that allow students to present their service experiences and discuss their learning in forms that can be evaluated by instructors.

Some ways you might incorporate reflection into your service learning course include:

Journals or logs: ask students to keep written journals. This is done in a variety of ways: a double-entry journal (with columns for observation and analysis); timed freewriting with or without instructional prompts; fieldnotes; interviews, etc. Reflections might be collected weekly, several times throughout the experience, or turned in with the final project.

Community learning goals: students negotiate learning goals into contracts with their community sites. Goals can then be reviewed several times during the semester by both instructor and community partner.

Focus groups: students meet with facilitators to discuss their service experiences, the issues raised by them and connections to course content.

Representation interviews: students interview classmates about service experiences and record their findings. The interviewee then reads and reflects on the ways they’ve been represented by someone outside the immediate experience.

Artistic reflections: students create reflective visual essays through drawing, painting, sculpting, composing collages,etc.

Community dialogue: students examine several personas (perhaps a community mentor, a client, and themselves) and construct dialogues to explore course concept from a variety of perspectives.

In-class written or oral reflection sessions: students write/speak in response to a prompt. Large or small group discussions can follow.

Visual representations: students make public their experiences by creating a classroom gallery. Students could exchange and analyze representations.

Class presentations: students present on an issue that has arisen during their community work OR students introduce peers to and analyze their community site OR students connect course material to their experience OR…agency staff might be invited to participate and/or listen to student presentations.

End notes: students turn in a brief (directed or undirected) note at the end of class. This is a good way for students to share information on service experiences, make connections between class discussions/course readings and their community work, or ask specific questions.

Suggested Readings on Reflections in the Classroom

Eyler, Janet, Dwight Giles, Jr and Angela Schmiede. A Practitioner’s Guide to Reflection in Service Learning. Nashville: Vanderbilt U and the Corporation for National Service, 1996.

Rhoads, Robert A. and Jeffrey P.F. Howard (eds.) Academic Service Learning: A Pedagogy of Action and Reflection. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (73), Spring 1998.