Initial Publication Date: November 30, 2010

Photo of a reflective learner Details
Reflection is a crucial component of a service-learning course. Well designed reflective processes develop a service experience into a learning experience. Reflection is the process that links classroom content with student service experience.

What is Reflection?

  • Reflection is a form of learning that grows out of experience
  • Through reflection students analyze concepts, evaluate experiences, and form opinions. Students examine and question their beliefs, opinions, and values. Reflection involves observation, asking questions, and putting facts, ideas, and experiences together to derive new meaning and new knowledge
  • Reflection is the process of looking back on the implications of actions taken—good and bad determining what has been gained, lost, or achieved, and connecting these conclusions to future actions and larger societal contexts
  • Reflective thinking is not only a component in the learning cycle, its simultaneously the source of both knowledge and beliefs. Reflective thinking is both process and product,a key component in experiential and service learning pedagogy

Principles of Effective Reflection

Good reflective practices don't just happen. They require careful thought and consideration. Bringle and Hatcher (1999) and Eyler, Giles and Schmiedes (1996) argue that effective reflection:
  • Links service objectives to the course objectives by integrating the service experience with course learning
  • Is guided and purposeful
  • Includes components that can be evaluated according to well-defined criteria
  • Provides opportunities for both private and public reflection
  • Fosters civic responsibility
  • Incorporates "The 4 Cs of Reflection" (Eyler et al.)

Using Reflection Throughout the Service-Learning Experience

Attaining service-learning goals is dependent on effective reflection. Eyler (2001) suggests that our growing understanding of how student learn supports reflective practices before, during and after community service. Her 'Reflection Map' is a tool for organizing our thinking about the types of reflection activities that are consistent with how students learn. Using this tool helps instructors to choose different types of reflection activities that best integrate experience with academic course content.
  • Before Service
    • reflect alone via letter to self or creation of goals statement
    • reflect with classmates via an exploration of hopes and fears, discussion of expert views
    • reflect with community partners via creation of needs statement or service contract
  • During Service
    • reflect alone via reflective journals
    • reflect with classmates via list serve discussion or critical incident journal
    • reflect with community partners via 'lessons learned' during site debriefing
  • After Service
    • reflect alone via course papers, projects or creative activity
    • reflect with classmates via team presentation or project
    • reflect with community partner via presentations to community members