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Reflection is essential to service-learning. Reflection is thinking about a service experience in order to connect the service experience and the course material. Although one can reflect alone, it is important to share perceptions with others who may have interpreted the experience very differently or made different connections. Learning comes through thinking about what we do, not by just doing, nor by just thinking.

Sample Reflection Questions & Activities

Adapted from Bonar, L, Buchanan, R, Fisher, I, & Wechsler, A. Service-Learning in the Curriculum: A Faculty Guide to Course Development. Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, University of Utah. 1996.

Why Reflect

Reflection is not only a means to integrate service and course theory, it is also critical in challenging or reinforcing conclusions which grow out of experience. Students may find their assumptions or philosophies challenged through service-learning and may need to hear other opinions to help understand their experience. Through discussions in an open forum, a student can consider his/her own experience and conclusions in a broader context. Without thinking about the experience, the service may do more harm than good, especially if it reinforces inaccurate stereotypes.

Effective reflection goes beyond the application of concepts learned in the classroom. It promotes good citizenship. Most university and college mission statements include fostering responsible, participating citizens. Reflection can help make the connection between the current experience and broader issues of citizen involvement and action.

When to Reflect

Students can reflect before, during, and/or after an experience. Understanding technicalities of what will be done for the service and factors that created the need for the service beforehand will enrich the students’ experience. On-site facilitators can help students reflect while actually performing the service, through informal comments and questions. During breaks, or directly after the experience when students are still developing their perspectives of the event, can be excellent moments for reflection. Reflection can happen a few days later in a classroom, or through a directed writing exercise. It is important not to let too much time pass between the experience and the reflection.

Ways to Reflect

People can reflect through speaking, writing, and performing activities – anything to help think about the experience, especially in ways that help draw connections to the class.

Students can reflect orally through: one-on-one meetings with an instructor; large- and small-group discussions; discussions with representatives of the public benefit organization or community; leading a discussion; or presentations.

Students can reflect in writing through: essays; research papers; final papers; project reports; journals, especially when these address specific questions supplied by the instructor; writing a guide for future volunteers; an evaluation of the program; or a publishable article based on the volunteer experience.

Students can also reflect through activities: dance movement; art; simulation or role playing games; teaching others; analysis and problem solving; scrapbooks; photo essays; imaging; or any other activity that will help distill their ideas and provide an opportunity to share them with others.

See Assignments for examples of directed writing, presenting, etc.

Reflection Questions

Reflection facilitators need to listen closely to students to ensure their questions probe the core of the students’ experience. Understanding what you want the students to learn from volunteering will also determine what questions you ask.

Reflection Journals

Many faculty use journals, in-class discussions, class presentations, essays, or final projects to help students synthesize their experiences and demonstrate learning from the service experience. If you decide to utilize journals, consider having your students turn them in at least twice during the semester. By reading journals, you will be able to detect if students are encountering difficult or inappropriate situations, if they are processing their experiences and dealing with them in a healthy way, if inaccurate stereotypes are being reinforced, or if there are questions that need classroom time.