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Center for Civic Engagement


Student completing a written reflection activity.

Reflection creates a bridge between participation and learning. It provides a way of discovering what we have learned from our engagement in service through observation and analysis of what we observe, articulating it and receiving feedback from others. Reflection enhances our understanding of the connections between self and community from multiple perspectives through which student learning, leadership development and involvement can be studied and interpreted.

How service learning reflection can be approached

Three simple frameworks for approaching and facilitating service learning reflection discussions based on individual and/or team service experiences are described below.

  • Four Cs of Reflection

    Effective strategies for fostering reflection are based on four core elements of reflection known as the Four Cs. These elements are described below:

    Continuous reflection: Reflection should be an ongoing component in the learner's education, happening before, during, and after an experience.

    Connected reflection: Link the "service" in the community with the structured "learning" in the classroom. Without structured reflection, students may fail to bridge the gap between the concrete service experience and the abstract issues discussed in class.

    Challenging reflection: Instructors should be prepared to pose questions and ideas that are unfamiliar or even uncomfortable for consideration by the learner in a respectful atmosphere.

    Contextualized reflection: Ensures that the reflection activities or topics are appropriate and meaningful in relation to the experiences of the students.

    From "A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service Learning: Student Voices and Reflections" by Eyler, Giles & Schmiede

  • Three Lenses

    Lenses that can be used to focus reflection are:

    • Mirror: looking at what we have learned about ourselves (as individuals and team members)
    • Microscope: looking at what we have learned about community agencies and issues
    • Binoculars: looking at what we have learned about broader student development issues and social/global problems

    Mirror: Reflection about one's self as an individual and as part of a team

    • Pre-experience: What might you learn about yourself by participating in this service project? What challenges and opportunities does this project offer us as a staff team?
    • Post-experience: What did you learn about yourself by participating in this service project? What did you learn about working together as a team?


    Microscope: Reflection about the service project itself and its value to the agency and community members

    • Pre-experience: What do you know about the agency and the community issues/needs it addresses?
    • Post-experience: What did you learn about the agency? What do they contribute to the community? What assets do they have? What needs/challenges do they have?


    Binoculars: Reflection about opportunities for student development and for consideration of social issues

    • Pre-experience: How can involvement in service learning projects contribute to student development and learning?
    • Post experience: What is the relationship between local action and global problems?

    From The Big Dummy's Guide to Service-Learning: 27 Simple Answers to Good Questions on Faculty, Programmatic, Student, Administrative, and Non-Profit Issues by Mark Cooper

  • What? So What? Now What?

    These simple but powerful questions direct the flow of reflective thought through the following phases:

    • Descriptive phase (what?)
    • The interpretive phase (so what?)
    • The active phase (now what?)

    A similar approach uses the questions:

    • What did you see? (observation)
    • How do you feel about it? (introspection)
    • How can you apply it? (analysis)


    • What did you learn about the organization that you did not know prior to your service experience?
    • What did you observe about yourself or your team that you had not noticed before?


    So what?

    • How does your service learning project contribute to the wellbeing of the Pullman community?
    • Have your feelings about the agency/organization (or the social issues it addresses) changed as a result of the service learning project? If so, how?


    Now what?

    • In what ways could you or your team continue to build on your service learning experience to address social issues-locally or globally?
    • How might service learning experiences contribute to student leadership development and involvement?

    From "A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service Learning: Student Voices and Reflections" by Eyler, Giles & Schmiede

  • Leadership for Social Change

    This model examines leadership development from three levels:

    • The individual
    • The group
    • The community/society

    • The Individual: What personal qualities can service learning help develop that foster positive social change?
    • The Group: What were the greatest moments of your or your team's work together on the service learning project?
    • The Community: How can leadership for the common good make a difference in our society?

    From "A Social Change Model of Leadership Development" UCLA