Critical Reflection for Service Learning

What is ‘Reflection’?

Reflection is a process by which the students become active learners within the service learning experience.  Reflection is the mode or tool by which students make a connection between the course content and the service.  “Reflection is a mental activity that builds a bridge between the human inner world of ideas, and the outside world of experience” (Hinchey, 2004).  Service Learning experience becomes educational when reflection guides the students to develop a new understanding of the situation, which, in turn, lead to a chance in the state of mind and more informed action (Bringle & Hatcher).

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1999). Reflection in service learning: Making meaning of experience. Educational Horizons, 77, 179–185.


Connecting Reflection to Service Learning

“Psychologist Irwin Altman (1996) identified three distinct kinds of knowledge: content knowledge which involves the learning of facts (the capital of Oregon is Salem); process knowledge, or skills that involve learning how to do something (how to search a library database); and socially relevant knowledge, which connects a person’s perspective with content within particular social contexts (ex. how to effect social change through activism).  Traditional teaching methods typically produce content and sometimes, process knowledge.  Service learning, however, involves a kind of teaching and learning that promote both content and process knowledge, as well as developing socially relevant knowledge in students.  The key to making this happen is reflection.”

(Cress, C.M., Collier, P.J., Reitenaur, V.L. and Associates. (2005). Learning Through Service, pg. 84)


Critical Reflection 

“Service learning involves a kind of teaching and learning that promote both content and process knowledge, as well as developing a socially relevant knowledge in students. They key to making this happen is reflection.” – Peter Collier and Dilafruz Williams (Chapter 6, Learning Through Service, Cress, et al. 2005)


There are many ways to incorporate critical thinking and reflection into the classroom. Consider mixing and matching from the list below to provide multiple approaches to course lessons.
· 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.

· 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.

· Theory Application Papers: Students select a major theory 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.

· 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.

· 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.