Reflection is an inestimable step of the learning and retention process for students engaging in service-learning projects. Often overlooked, reflection is a component that should be integrated, or weaved, into course curriculum alongside the service-learning component. Using reflection as a learning tool in addition to an evaluation method can give students an opportunity to apply and immediately use the content being presented in the course.
Many instructors, however, do not present reflection in a manner that is most beneficial for students. Reflection in the form of discussion is often asked as “How did you feel?” or “What are your thoughts?” While these questions are valid, they provoke little critical thinking in the student. If an instructor does not challenge students to reflect on the self in discipline, directive, monitoring, and corrective thinking, the learner will only consider a breadth of knowledge versus thinking in depth and analysis. The Socratic dialogue affirms that one (leaner) will come to truth by logical questioning and unhindered doubt of another person or event (Tredway, 1995).
By allowing a student to question the world around them in a safe learning environment, we give freedom to present feedback that is more personable and germane. This, however, stretches us as an instructor because we open the door for negative feedback or disagreement to the content presented to the student’s ideologies. Yet, we have a duty to challenge students to come to well-reasoned conclusions.
Since reflection is an examination into one’s understanding of the world, we as instructors need to allow students opportunities to engage the world around them. When reflection is combined with meaningful learning, the ultimate goal is to allow students to make choices based in creative (critical) thinking in addition to increasing effectiveness through knowledge. In order to obtain this ultimate goal, reflection must be conducted prior, during, and following a service-learning experience. In addition, we must allow students to give us honest feedback about their understanding. Allowing students to give honest feedback is one of the most difficult but effective goals in our pedagogy. In order to fully understand the reflection stages, we need to grasp each step
In this preparatory stage, we are preparing the students for what they are about to experience or learn. This stage is a time for students to evaluate their current knowledge of what is already known and what to look forward to. In order for students to fully reflect on the experience, they need to understand where their ideologies rooted from.
Preparation: What do they already know? What does the student hope to learn?
As students are in the midst of the service-learning experience, now is the time to ask the questions surrounding what they are doing, what is expected/unexpected, what is being taken in, what is surprising. Later, students can look back and see how their assumptions or expectations were accurate or inaccurate based on their direct experiences.
During: What was expected/unexpected? What are they doing/applying to the course material?
Often the most popular form of reflection, students should engage their thinking following a service-learning event so they understand the big picture or so what of the experience. In order to have in-depth reflection following an assignment, students must have engaged in the reflective process prior and during the event. By doing this, students have a track record or timeline of what happened.
Following: What is the big picture? What is the “so what” of the experience?