Resources on Facilitating Student Reflection

It is a core principle of any experiential-learning pedagogy that student learning results not from the experience itself, but from their reflective meaning-making of the experience. For community engagement to achieve the intended learning objectives, students must make connections between their experiences and the course and think critically about what they have observed and what they have done.

Reflection in Course Design

Eyler, Giles and Schmiede (1996) describe critical reflection as needing four parts:

  1. Continuous: Reflection activities should be undertaken throughout the service-learning course, rather than irregularly or only at mid-term/end-of-term. Reflection should not be tidy and bring closure, rather it should be messy and create more questions than answers.
  2. Connected: Reflection discussions and assignments should be structured such that they relate directly to the learning objectives and the course content.
  3. Challenging: Faculty should expect high quality of student effort, with demonstrated complex and critical thinking. Reflection must be more than a simple retelling of events or an emotional outlet for feeling good or feeling guilty.
  4. Contextualized: Reflection activities should compliment the other course activities, including texts and other assignments.


Reflection Assignment Prompts

A common structure of reflective thinking is the What? So What? Now What? model. The benefit of explicitly teaching this format is that it helps students develop a habit of thinking reflectively about their experiences - preparing them for lifelong learning. The prompts under each heading of the model are just a few suggestions. Yours should fit your course and encourage students to explore their own questions under each heading. Note: feel free to add examples that you use with your students.


  • What did you observe? 
  • Describe a critical incident that stands out from your experience.
  • Describe what is happening with your project right now. What is working smoothly and what have been the unexpected challenges? 

So What?

  • What do you interpret your observations to mean? 
  • Think critically - what assumptions might you be making in your interpretation? What assumptions may others be making? What other reasonable explanations might there be?
  • How does your position as internal or external to this community affect your perceptions? 
  • How would you apply our class readings/discussions to interpret what is happening?
  • Do our social institutions and structures help address the problems you see or do they create them? How so? 
  • Do people who receive service benefit as much as those who give it? 

Now What?

  • What do you still need to learn? How will you get the information you need to know?
  • What needs to happen here to make a positive difference? 
  •  How can you influence that change? What collective effort needs to happen?
  • What is the role of your discipline/profession in addressing the issue? What is the role of government? What is the role of citizens/community members?


Reflection Assignments Formats

Faculty have a great deal of flexibility and room for creativity in determining the best format for students to share their reflective thinking. For more extensive descriptions, we encourage you to explore the GW Service-Learning Faculty Handbook (beginning on p 33). 

  • Research papers
  • Reflective essays and directed writing assignments
  • Blogs
  • Portfolios
  • Journals (individual or collective)
  • Electronic discussion boards
  • Photo essays
  • Posters 
  • Digital stories and other multimedia presentations
  • Presentations

The GW Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship

The Nashman Center's Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship is a great opportunity for you to engage students in a uniquely powerful final reflection experience. The Symposium gathers students from Community-Engaged Scholarship courses across the disciplines as well as their faculty and community partners. Students can share their experiences through presentations, panels, posters or multi-media presentations, and reflect with community partners as well as with students and faculty from other courses/disciplines. We recommend building participation in this day into your syllabus. 



Nashman Top Picks: Resources on Facilitating Reflection

Reflection resources abound. Here are a few of our recommendations:


Evaluating Student Reflection

We actively engage students in the community and require complex, critical, reflective thinking. How do we evaluate the quality and depth of student reflection? How do we assess student learning through reflection assignments? that work? 

Evaluating Reflective Work

To facilitate transformative learning, reflective work must demonstrate critical thinking and the ability to connect and apply course learning. Good assignment design is critical. Evaluating that work and providing students with feedback throughout the course will challenge their thinking further. 

James Bradley's (1995) model for evaluating reflective work is frequently referenced and is useful for designing evaluation rubrics based on your own course content.

Level 1

  1. Gives examples of observed behaviors or characteristics of the client or setting, but provides no insight into reasons behind the observation; observations tend to become un-dimensional and conventional or unassimilated repetitions of what has been heard in class or from peers.
  2. Tends to focus on just one aspect of the situation.
  3. Uses unsupported personal beliefs as frequently as “hard” evidence.
  4. May acknowledge differences of perspective but does not discriminate effectively among them.

Level 2

  1. Observations are fairly thorough and nuanced although they tend not to be placed in a broader context.
  2. Provides a cogent critique from one perspective, but fails to see the broader system in which the aspect is embedded and other factors that may make change difficult.
  3. Uses both unsupported personal belief and evidence, but is beginning to be able to differentiate between them.
  4. Perceives legitimate differences of viewpoint.
  5. Demonstrates a beginning ability to interpret evidence.

Level 3

  1. Views things from multiple perspectives; able to observe multiple aspects of the situation and place them in context.
  2. Perceives conflicting goals within and among the individuals involved in a situation and recognizes that the differences can be evaluated.
  3. Recognizes that actions must be situationally dependent and understands many of the factors that affect their choice.
  4. Makes appropriate judgments based on reasoning and evidence.  
  5. Has a reasonable assessment of the importance of the decisions facing clients and of his or her responsibility as a part of the clients’ lives. 

Bradley, James.  (1995)  “A model for evaluating student learning in academically based service.”   Connecting Cognition and Action: Evaluation of Student Performance in Service Learning Courses, ed. Marie Troppe.  Denver: Education Commission of the States/Campus Compact.


Many faculty find rubrics a useful tool for communicating expectations to students and evaluating their reflective work as well as the quality of their service project itself. For some courses, rubrics can be helpful for engaging community partners in evaluating the quality of the service project - valuable feedback for students.

  • This document from Campus Compact provides several examples of rubrics to assess a variety of service-learning related learning objectives
  • The VALUE Rubric Project resulted in a set of rubrics designed to assess student learning in 16 learning outcomes that reflect the AACU's identified learning objectives for higher education (e.g. critical thinking, citizenship, creating thinking, problem solving). These rubrics were created with the intention that faculty adjust them to fit their more specific learning objectives. They are an excellent starting point.