An important part of designing service-learning courses is making space for a structured period of reflection. This allows students to absorb and digest complex ideas, experiences, and conversations. So how can educators go about approaching course design?
Further reading: Defining Critical Reflection
Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles developed a framework for structuring reflections activities that includes five key characteristics. These characteristics, called the 5 C’s, are helpful when considering what kinds of activities we use to engage students with reflection.
The 5 Cs, are: connection between experience and knowledge; continuity of reflection; context of subject matter; challenging student perspectives; and coaching and mentorship.
1. Connection between experience and knowledge
Reflection activities should be structured in terms of course description, expectations, and the criteria for assessing the activity. You want to have clear instructions, prompts, assignment details, learning objectives, desired outcomes, and evaluation processes, which should be then clearly articulated to your students.
2. Continuity of reflection before, during, and after the service experience
Reflection activities should occur regularly during the semester (or course) so that students can develop the capacity to engage in deeper and broader examination of relevant issues. Ideally you can devote an entire course to reflection, and pre/post orientation reflection activities (e.g. student surveys, a reflection project, journals, etc). If an entire class is not possible, reflection should still be incorporated into the service-learning course at consistent points.
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3. Context of applying subject matter to real-life situations
Reflection activities should clearly link the service experience to the course content and learning objectives. This is the oft-discussed “bridge” between theory and practice. For example, if students are working with a women’s shelter, give them reflection materials that cover gender studies, gender-based violence, and feminist theory. This will provide them with a more holistic context to better inform their ideas and perspectives, and to better understand their service experiences.
4. Challenging students’ perspectives
Reflection activities should provide the opportunity for students to explore, clarify, and alter their personal values. They should encourage diversity and multiple perspectives. Provide articles that cover a range of perspectives on class topics to avoid leaning too far towards one explanation, especially for controversial subjects.
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5. Coaching and mentorship
Reflection activities should incorporate feedback from the instructor so that students learn how to improve their critical analysis and reflective practice. This includes emotional support and guidance for students throughout the process. As an educator, try to know your students inside and outside the classroom, and make them feel as though they can share with you, either in class or one-to-one.
These characteristics can then be supplemented with guided questions developed by knowledgeable reflection facilitators. Much of the success of these activities rests on the facilitator in question; however, they should also incorporate the role of the students in processing their personal values, civic attitudes, goals, and learning intentions.
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Student responsibility in considering their intentions for participating in service-learning programs is integral to this design of reflection. By giving students a shared responsibility for the learning process, ideally a more even, collaborative setting can be achieved.
Further Reading and 5 Cs taken from: Eyler, J., & Giles, D. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
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