Marshall Unversity's Center for Teaching & Learning: Service Learning Program
Service Learning Program

The process of reflection is a core component of service-learning. Service-learning practitioners and researchers alike have concluded that the most effective service-learning experiences are those that provide “structured opportunities” for learners to critically reflect upon their service experience. Structured opportunities for reflection can enable learners to examine and form their beliefs, values, opinions, assumptions, judgments and practices related to an action or experience, gain a deeper understanding of them and construct their own meaning and significance for future actions (Moon 1999). Reflection “facilitates the student's making connections between their service and their learning experience” and indeed the hyphen in the phrase “service-learning” can has been interpreted as representing this connection (Eyler and Giles 1999).

The theory behind reflection

Service-learning is deeply rooted in the action-reflection theories of John Dewey and David Kolb, who both describe the importance of combining individual action and engagement with reflective thinking to develop greater understanding of the content being studied (Crews 1999). Kolb is widely cited for providing a scientific interpretation of reflection (Olson 2000). Kolb illustrates the process of reflection in the Experiential Learning Cycle (Figure 1). The process begins with a defining and sharing of the “What?” of the student's experience and follows a continuous cycle towards “So What?” and “Now What?”. Answers to the what, so what and now what questions are tied together to form a comprehensive and integrated discovery and learning cycle for the student throughout the duration of a service-learning experience (Eyler 1999).

Strategies for fostering reflection

Effective strategies for fostering reflection are based on four core elements of reflection known as “the four C's” (Eyler and Giles 1999). These elements are described below:

  • Continuous - The reflective process is implemented and maintained continuously before, during, and after the service-learning experience.
  • Connected - The service experience is directly linked, or connected, to the learning objectives of the course or activity and allows for “synthesizing action and thought.”
  • Challenging - Learners are challenged to move from surface learning to deeper, critical thinking through the use of thought provoking strategies by the instructor or community facilitator. Since learners may encounter uncomfortable feelings, it is important that the students feel they are in a safe and mutually respectful atmosphere where they can freely express their opinions, ideas and thoughts.
  • Contextualized - Reflection is contextualized when it “corresponds” to the course content, topics and experience in a meaningful way.

Source: Kara Connors and Sarena D. Seifer, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, September 2005