Reflection in Service Learning

Reflection in Service Learning

What is reflection's role in service-learning? Reflection is a key component of service-learning; in fact, reflection is the link between the service and the learning. Reflection is the intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning objectives. The presumption is that community service does not necessarily, in and of itself, produce learning. Reflection activities provide the bridge between the community service activities and the academic content of the course. Reflection activities direct the student’s attention to new interpretations of events and provide a means through which the community service can be studied and interpreted, much as a text is read and studied for deeper understanding.

When should reflection take place? Reflection activities can be incorporated before, during, and after the service experience. Reflection activities prior to service can focus on helping students anticipate what their service experience will be like and what assumptions they are bringing into the situation. Reflection during and after the service experience help students understand the actual outcome of their experience in relation to the course content.

How should reflection sessions be structured? For reflection to be effective, outcomes should be specified explicitly and precisely. If outcomes are too broad, it may be difficult to devise appropriate reflection activities and to develop appropriate assessment techniques. Reflection questions can direct the students towards understanding themselves, the population they are serving, the social issue driving their service activity, and the relationship between the service and the academic content of the course.

Issue-focused questions:

  • Why is there a need for your service?
  • What do you perceive as the underlying issue, and why does it exist?
  • What social, economic, political, and educational systems are maintaining and perpetuating the situation?
  • What can you do with the knowledge you gained from this experience to promote change?

Client-focused reflection questions:

  • What similarities do you perceive between you and the people you are serving?
  • How are you perceived by the people you are serving?
  • What do you think a typical day is like for the people you serve? What pressures to they confront?

Self-focused reflection questions:

  • What personal qualities (e.g. leadership, communication skills, empathy etc.) have you developed through service-learning?
  • What contribution can you make to public understanding of this issue based on your service-learning experience?
  • In what ways are you finding your involvement with service-learning difficulty? What have you found that is helping you follow through despite the difficulties you encounter?

Course-focused reflection questions:

  • How does the service experience relate to the course material?
  • Did the experience contradict or reinforce course material?
  • How did the course material help you overcome obstacles or dilemmas in the service-experience?
  • What aspects of your learning may have been due to your service-experience?


Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Eyler, J., Giles, D., & Schmiede, A. (1996). A Practitioner’s Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning: Student Voices and Reflections. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

Goldsmith, S. (1995). Journal ReflectionA Resource Guide for Community Service Leaders and Educators Engaged in Service-Learning. Washington, DC: The American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities.

See Also

Advocates for Community Engagement

For More Help or Information

Advocates for Community Engagement (ACEs) are available to lead in-class reflection sessions for IUB instructors. Schedule an ACE to lead a reflection session in your course.