Whether you are launching a program or in pursuit of improvement, the best service learning reflection questions reinforce learning concepts brought to life during service.  Analyzing hundreds of reflection questions from successful service learning programs across the country, we cover the essential elements of timing, theme and clear expectations.  

Timing Service Learning Questions

Timing is without a doubt the top essential element.  Misericordia University provides a comprehensive list of service learning questions to ask before, during and after service.  This blog focuses on the importance of timing service learning reflection questions after service because key details are often lost if volunteers are logging into a website when they get home or completing forms days later.  It is vital reflection prompts are delivered quickly.  Student focused service learning programs make it so intuitive to report their service in real time that 4 out of 5 students will log service the same day they serve


Setting Expectations

Successful reflections are such a critical aspect of service learning that Vanderbilt University’s Janet S. Eyler (winner of the Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service Learning) included reflections as one of two cyclical aspects in the service learning cycle.  Conveying clear expectations is critical to successful service learning reflections.  First, encourage deeper reflections with quantitative instructions like, "In 5 to 7 sentences..."  Then, consider asking students to include a photo with their reflection. A photo is a powerful visual which can help students reflect on their service learning down the road.  After-all, students could be expected to write over 1,000 words or include a picture!  


Building the Foundation

Great service learning reflection questions share many essential elements thematically.  The foundation is built by asking the volunteer to describe the service provided. Edutopia provides three core reflection questions as part of their intro to service learning.  This foundation creates a record of the service which is useful for internal reflection but also verification, approval and future reference. From there, the science of reflection questions comes down to digging deeper on the intended socio-emotional concepts you intend to instill.  


Reinforcing Specific Service Learning Concepts

Many programs have the foundational question of, "How did your service make you feel?" This is great but consider how adding, "What challenged you?" or, "Evaluate your performance." encourages students to reflect more deeply on associating feelings with specific obstacles they overcame.  


Asking where a student served is another standard service learning question.  Consider asking, "What did you learn about the organization?" which asks the student to reflect on specific observations on the larger movement they supported.


Similarly, asking what the student learned is very common. Adding, "Who did you meet?" encourages external reflections on the entire community the volunteer truly supported.  Common responses may include those who benefitted from the service, other volunteers and/or the nonprofit benefitting from their time. 


Because skill development is a top service learning focus, many programs ask the foundational question, "What skills did you develop?"  Adding, "What responsibilities did you have" helps volunteers connect tangible responsibilities and skills they are building for the future. 


Religious organizations commonly ask, "How did you serve in faith?"  Asking how service relates to specific passages or teachings can help instill specific values while reinforcing teachings.  


Every program is different in the unique journeys students take during service learning.  As you find the right formula for your service learning reflection questions, consider the many aspects youth.gov shares on reflection activities that should instill, "changes in their knowledge, skills, or attitudes. Additionally, students should examine their beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes about issues, perceptions of their roles as members of their community, and the overarching issues of community problems.


We would love to hear from you with specific questions you find produce especially strong reflections.  Please comment in the box below to share your insights with others in the service learning community! 

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