Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stealing some Reflection practices from Service Learning

Whether or not you are engaged in service learning as a college instructor, you probably are engaged in reflection. Many of us use Portfolios in our courses, and one of the great benefits of having students complete Portfolios is the metacognitive work that they do in gathering and comprehending the work they have done in our classes.

As we continue to move toward the use of Portfolios/ePortfolios at SNL it might be useful to borrow some reflection practices that are also put to use in the realm of service learning. Below, I borrow from a PowerPoint presentation designed by Jeffrey Howard, Assistant Director for Faculty Development at DePaul's Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning.

Reflection is a deep, intentional process of examining, analyzing, and interpreting experience so as to learn from it. However, "reflection" often holds pejorative implications for students and teachers. Students have sometimes been known to "shut down" when asked to "reflect" again. So, as instructors we must show them how to reflect. Sometimes, this means not using the r-word.

Jeffrey Howard has a wonderful word for what we attempt to learn through reflection, and that word is "wonderment." Good reflection leads to students who wonder. Reflection is a learning strategy that grows out of our learning objectives and learning assessment methods. Reflection is more than just "for reflection's sake."

To get to this state of "wonderment" Jeffrey Howard suggests these three components of reflection:
  1. Stimulus (e.g., journal question, photograph, quote, case study, poem, article, structured classroom activity, service learning activity, students' written work)
  2. Vehicle (journal, interview, paper, whole class or small group discussion, student presentations, portfolio)
  3. Feedback

While these may seem obvious to us, it can serve as a good reminder to be purposeful about reflection with students. The quality of the stimulus, vehicle, and feedback often lead directly to the amount of learning that a student gleans from the reflection process, and from the course.

In A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning: Student Voices and Reflections, (1996) Janet Eyler, Dwight Giles, and Angela Schmiede suggest five Principles of Good Reflection Practice, which I have amended from Service Learning to general instruction.

  1. It must be continuous. So often we only build reflection into our courses at the end. However, as the SNL writing faculty discussed regarding Portfolios in our October meeting, the best kind is both formative and summative. The best reflection happens before, during, and after the activities of a course.
  2. It must be connected. How are your assignments (reflection or otherwise) connected to the competencies offered in your course?
  3. It must be challenging. Rather than a no-brainer, reflection should encourage critical thinking and analysis that produces new understanding/perspectives and raises new questions.
  4. It must be contextualized. Consider who is doing the reflecting. How much work have they already done in the course? What level are students at as writers?
  5. It must be coached. This happens through modeling, assignment design, and feedback.

If you are designing or revising a reflection essay for a Portfolio, consider whether your reflection practice in the course follows these five principles. If not, consider building intermittent reflection into your students' writing practice. See a great example of Katie Wozniak's 'Meta-note' on the SNL Writing Wiki under Workshops > October 17, 2009: Catching up; Discussion of Research; Meta-Notes; Having Students Self-Assess; Feedback > MetaNote_Wozniak.pdf.