Reflection is a critical component and one of the most academically challenging components of a place-based education experience.
Students who are given the time and resources to reflect on your project in a variety of ways will typically gain more from the PBE experience. Reflection helps learners understand and connect their work to community, content, and self.
Service-learning practitioners and researchers have concluded that the most effective service-learning experiences are those that provide structured opportunities for learners to critically reflect upon their service experience.
This graphic representation of the reflection process is also referred to as the Experiential Learning Cycle:
As students participate in a service-learning class and do the related community work, they should ask themselves these questions: What? So What? Now What?
- What? Report the facts and events of an experience, objectively.
- So What? Analyze the experience.
- Now What? Consider the future impact of the experience on you and the community.
Examples of Reflection Questions based on the Experiential Learning Cycle
What did you observe?
What issue is being addressed or population is being served?
- So What?
Did you learn a new skill or clarify an interest?
Did you hear, smell, or feel anything that surprised you?
How is your experience different from what you expected?
What impacts the way you view the situation/experience? (What lens are you viewing from?)
What did you like/dislike about the experience?
What did you learn about the people/community?
What are some of the pressing needs/issues in the community?
How does this project address those needs?
- Now What?
What seem to be the root causes of the issue addressed?
What other work is currently happening to address the issue?
What learning occurred for you in this experience?
How can you apply this learning?
What would you like to learn more about, related to this project or issue?
What follow-up is needed to address any challenges or difficulties?
What information can you share with your peers or the community?
If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?
The Four Cs of Reflection
Effective strategies for fostering reflection are based on four core elements of reflection known as the Four Cs. These elements are described below:
- Continuous reflection: Reflection should be an ongoing component in the learner's education, happening before, during, and after an experience.
- Connected reflection: Link the "service" in the community with the structured "learning" in the classroom. Without structured reflection, students may fail to bridge the gap between the concrete service experience and the abstract issues discussed in class.
- Challenging reflection: Instructors should be prepared to pose questions and ideas that are unfamiliar or even uncomfortable for consideration by the learner in a respectful atmosphere.
- Contextualized reflection: Ensures that the reflection activities or topics are appropriate and meaningful in relation to the experiences of the students.
Ideas for Reflection
Reflection can happen in the classroom, at the community organization, or individually through course assignments. There are a wide range of meaningful reflective practices and strategies that can be incorporated into service-learning, including the frequently used approaches listed below.
- Journals: Writing in journals is widely used by service-learning programs to promote reflection. They're most meaningful when instructors pose key questions for analysis. (See bottom of page for sample reflection questions.)
- Ethnographies: Students capture their community experience through field notes.
- Case Studies Papers: Students analyze an organizational issue and write a case study that identifies a decision that needs to be made.
- Multimedia Class Presentations: Students create a video or photo documentary on the community experience.
- Theme Application Papers: Students select a major theme or concept covered in the course and analyze its application to the experience in the community.
- Agency Analysis Papers: Students identify organizational structure, culture and mission.
- Presentations to Community Organizations: Students present work to community organization staff, board members, and participants.
- Speakers: Invite community members or organization staff to present in class on their issue area.
- Group Discussion: Through guided discussion questions, have students critically think about their service experiences.
- Community Events: Identify community events that students can attend to learn more about issues.
- Mapping: Create a visual map that shows how the service-learning experience connects to larger issues at the state/national/global level.
- Videos: View a video or documentary to elicit discussion about critical issues that relate to their service experiences.
- Letters-to-the Editor: Students write a letter-to-the-editor or to government officials that address issues important to the community organizations where they are working
- Creative Projects: Students make a collage or write a poem or song to express an experience.
- Blog: Create a course blog where students can post comments on their experiences.
- Reflective Reading: Find articles, poems, stories or songs that relate to the service students are doing and that create discussion questions.
Sample Reflection Questions
What is your role in the PBE project?
What were your initial expectations? Have these expectations changed?
What about your community involvement has been an eye-opening experience?
What specific skills have you used in your project
Do you see benefits of doing community work? Why or why not?
How has the environment and social conditions affected the people involved in your project?
Have you considered new career options based on your project?
Did anything about your community involvement surprise you? What surprised you?
What did you do that seemed to be effective in the community?
How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue?
How can you educate others or raise awareness about this group or social issue?
How are your values expressed through your community work?
Complete this sentence: Because of my place-based education project, I am....