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Additional Forms of Reflection

Most of this module has focused on reflection in the form of group discussions and related activities. Discussion, such as that occurring in the "Reflection Circle," is among the most common forms of reflection because it is useful in a variety of circumstances and environments. However, as service-learning has grown on college campuses, many other effective forms for reflection have been developed and used. Activities for the classroom are gaining the most attention, and, in some cases, can be applied outside of the classroom as well. The following reflection methods can be used in or out of the formal classroom environment. For additional information on reflection, please consult the bibliography that follows this section.


Journals are a common element of service-learning courses and are also sometimes used outside the classroom by students participating in service organizations. In fact, journals are sometimes completed by both the student who is serving and the community member who is "being served." Journals are a written form of reflection in which students consider their service experience in light of specific issues, such as those contained in course content. Students can examine their thoughts and experiences through journals, and further the learning they have done in relation to the service. Unfortunately journals are sometimes misused as simple logs of events, thereby missing the reflective component inherent in thinking critically about experiences.

Before instructing students to complete journals, one must consider the learning objective that the journal is intended to meet. Journals can focus on self-understanding, can consist of information that will be used in another reflective activity such as a research paper, or can be the material on which a dialogue with others is based. Among the types of journals that can be used outside of the classroom are personal journals ("stream of consciousness" writing about the experience), critical incident journals (analysis of a specified even according to prompts such as "What conflicts did you face during the event? What are possible root causes for the societal issues you observed?"), and three part journals (one section is a description of the event, one is an interpretation, and one is an application to future events).

Service participants should be encouraged to write in journals whenever they feel motivated to do so, and should be specifically asked to do so several times throughout the semester, and especially following particularly meaningful events, both positive and negative. For example, students should be encouraged to write in their journals during an overnight stay in a shelter, after a successful tutoring session, or in response to the death of a community member. These journal entries can later be reviewed privately and/or shared during a group reflection circle.

Reflective Essays

Slightly more formalized journal entries are called reflective essays. This form of reflection focuses on designated issues and is completed at specified times during the service experience. While these are more commonly used in the classroom, specific situations outside of the classroom may warrant their use as well. For example, as student organizations complete their year or leadership cycle, members can be asked to write a reflective essay about the organization's service. These essays can form the basis of organizational discussions about missions, goals, and areas for improvement (as well as areas of merit). In addition, these essays may be helpful for new members of the organization to envision the experiences they will encounter. Reflective essays that address campus issues, or that can serve to inform and motivate students to serve, may be submitted to the campus newspaper as educational or public relations material.

Service Contracts and Logs

Students engaged in service individually, in connection with a class, or as a group can devise "contracts" or statements of objectives outlining their goals for the service work and identifying the tasks they intend to complete. Such a document can provide a mission and structure for service participants, as well as a measure against which they can evaluate their efforts. The creation of a service contract and the subsequent outcomes of the service effort may initiate important reflective discussion among the group. In order to track efforts and outcomes participants can be encouraged to maintain service "logs". Service logs summarize the service activities as they occur and can be used in combination with the service contracts to identify progress toward the goals and obstacles to further progress. In addition, service logs are a helpful resource for reminding participants of significant events in the service experience. Facilitators may use these events as starting points for reflection.

E-Mail Discussion Groups

The creation of an electronic mailing list-serve allows service participants to form a discussion group to discuss their experiences. Participants can post questions to the group, suggest readings, or ask for feedback on issues they are facing at their service site.

Organization leaders, staff, or faculty members can also request summaries of service activities via e-mail, and can serve as moderators of the discussions. A digest of these email discussions can also be compiled and made available to participants.

Service Learning Portfolios

Portfolios are gaining popularity in a variety of aspects of college education as a means for students to demonstrate the knowledge and abilities they have acquired during a designated period of time (e.g., undergraduate years) or from a specific activity (e.g., participation in service). Portfolio contents can include administrative documents pertaining to the processes involved in the given project, as well as evidence of the project's outcomes, and the participant's evaluation of the learning experience. These items not only serve as interesting historical markers and information resources, but they also provide the group with topics for reflection in preparation for future service endeavors. Service learning portfolios may include: a service contract and logs, journals, program operations information, relevant academic work, media coverage (including articles in the campus newspaper), evaluations by community members, organizational brochure, plan for action research or other future projects, etc. Service learning portfolios are commonly used when service is connected to an academic course, and graded.


Sharing the service experience with others can take a variety of forms, all of which require the participants to reflect on which aspects of their service are most significant, who they want/need to involve in their work, and how to present the information effectively. Participants may speak to a class or residence hall floor, represent the service effort on a panel discussion, write about it for the campus newspaper, advocate for service programs before the student government or university administration, or create visual promotional materials such as a video, photo exhibit or bulletin board. Completing similar projects for a community service provider is also a useful way to learn more about organization with whom one serves.

Photo Reflections

Many organizations and programs compile pictorial accounts of their work to share among participants as well as with the general public. These pictures can become tools for reflection when participants are asked to write reflective captions for the pictures. Doing this can transform this purely social "pizza and picture party" into an opportunity for meaningful reflection.

Additional Resources for reflection include:

Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1996) Reflection activities for the college classroom. Paper presented at the National Gathering, June 21, 19996.

Goldsmith, S. (1995). Journal reflection.

Kendall, et. Al. (1990). Combining Service and Learning: A resource book for community and public service.

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