(Adapted from the National Campus Compact Web site, "Service Learning: Using Structured Reflection to Enhance Learning from Service.")
Reflection is a vital part of service and volunteering. Reflection exercises connect service to theory and larger social issues, and foster critical thinking and active citizenship. Learning comes through thinking about what we do, not by just doing, nor by just thinking thus, reflecting is an extremely important part of the service experience.
In a service-learning course, reflection is thinking about a service experience in order to connect the service experience and the course material. Although one can reflect alone, it is important to share ideas and experiences with others who may have interpreted the experience very differently or made different connections. Learning comes through thinking about what we do, not by just doing, nor by just thinking.
Reflection is not only a means to integrate service and course theory, it is also critical in challenging or reinforcing conclusions which grow out of an experience. Student volunteers may find their assumptions or philosophies challenged through service and may need to hear other opinions to help understand their experience. Through discussions in an open forum, a student can consider his/her own experience and conclusions in a broader context. Reflection can also help make the connection between the current experience and broader issues of citizen involvement and action. Without thinking about the experience, the service may do more harm than good, especially if it reinforces inaccurate stereotypes.
When to Reflect?
Reflection can be done before, during, and/or after the service experience. Reflection before the project can be used to prepare students for the service experience. Reflection before the service experience can orient the volunteers towards the community organization and its needs and offer them problem-solving skills to address the challenges that will arise in the community setting. It can also help the volunteers understand the factors that created the need for the service. On-site facilitators can help students reflect while performing the service, through informal comments and questions. During breaks, or directly after the experience
when student volunteers are still developing their perspectives of the event, can be excellent moments for reflection. Reflection after the service experience has ended can help student volunteers evaluate the meaning of the experience, grasp their emotional responses to the experience, think about the integration of knowledge and new information, and begin to explore further applications/extensions.
How to Reflect?
Just like learning styles are different, so it is the same with reflection. Reflection can occur through speaking, writing, and performing activities - anything to help think about the experience. Reflection can occur in one-on-one meetings, group discussions, presentations, journals, essays, dance movement, art, role playing games, photo essays, or any other activity that will help the volunteers process their experience.