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Reflection Journals

WHAT IS A REFLECTION JOURNAL?

Journal writing has become a very popular educational tool which can help students learn subjects as varied as literature and psychology, and is utilized as a key component of experiential learning, where you are both a participant and observer.

As a participant, you contribute to the nonprofit organization in which you are placed. The academic component of your service results from your ability to systematically observe what is going on around you. A well- written journal is a tool which helps you practice the quick movements back and forth from the environment in which you are working to the abstract generalizations you have read or heard about in class.

HOW DO YOU WRITE A REFLECTION JOURNAL?

  • Buy a notebook or start a computer file - write an entry for each day you conduct your service. Your entries are based on the activities of the day, but they are more than a mere chronology of events. Include detailed descriptions of some aspect of your service environment, whether physical, behavioral, or organizational. These descriptions should sound as if you were describing them to someone who was never there.
  • Tentative explanations - Speculate as to why something that you have observed firsthand is as it is. You might derive your explanation from a lecture you have heard, a book you have read, or your own reservoir of “common sense.”
  • Personal judgments - Make judgments about something in your community service environment. There may be people’s actions that you find unpleasant, ways of doing things that are not as you would do them, work environments in which you would not want to remain. These judgments will help you learn about yourself, your values and your limits. Journals allow you to speak your mind.

WHO WILL READ THE JOURNAL?

  • Journals are very private documents. You should write the entries each day you perform your community service, but you should write them after you have left the placement.
  • Do not let colleagues read your journal. When you hand in your journal, only the instructor will read your journal and the contents will not be shared with anyone else.

WHAT SHOULD I WRITE IN MY JOURNAL?

Here are a few of the ingredients that go into a keeping a great journal:

  • Journals should be snapshots filled with sights, sounds, smells, concerns, insights, doubts, fears, and critical questions about issues, people, and, most importantly, yourself.
  • Honesty is the most important ingredient to successful journals.
  • A journal is not simply a report. It’s not a work log of tasks, events, times and dates.
  • Write freely. Grammar/spelling should not be stressed in your writing until the final draft.
  • Write an entry after each visit. If you can’t write a full entry, jot down random thoughts, images, etc. which you can come back to a day or two later and expand into a colorful verbal picture.

STRUCTURING YOUR WRITING:

  • Read and reread your entries so that you can see your own development over the course of the semester. You should use the data you have recorded in your journal in writing your paper.
  • Use the journal as a time to meditate on what you’ve seen, felt, and experienced, and which aspects of the volunteer experience continues to excite, trouble, impress, or unnerve you.
  • Don’t simply answer the prompts given to you by your professor, but use the questions as a diving board to leap from into a clear or murky pool of thought.
  • Final journals need to be edited for proper grammar and spelling. 

Examples of REFLECTION Prompts

The Mirror (A clear reflection of the Self)

  • Who am I? What are my values?
  • What have I learned about myself through this experience?
  • Do I have more/less understanding or empathy than I did before volunteering?
  • In what ways, if any, has your sense of self, your values, your sense of “community,” your willingness to serve others, and your self-confidence/self-esteem been impacted or altered through this experience?
  • Have your motivations for volunteering changed? In what ways?
  • How has this experience challenged stereotypes or prejudices you have/had? Any realizations, insights, or especially strong lessons learned or half-glimpsed?
  • Will these experiences change the way you act or think in the future? Have you given enough, opened up enough, cared enough?
  • How have you challenged yourself, your ideals, your philosophies, your concept of life or of the way you live?

The Microscope (Makes the small experience large)

  • What happened? Describe your experience.
  • What would you change about this situation if you were in charge? What have you learned about this agency, these people, or the community?
  • Was there a moment of failure, success, indecision, doubt, humor, frustration, happiness, sadness?
  • Do you feel your actions had any impact?
  • What more needs to be done? Does this experience compliment or contrast with what you’re learning in class? How?
  • Has learning through experience taught you more, less, or the same as the class? In what ways?

The Binoculars (Makes what appears distant, appear closer)

  • From your service experience, are you able to identify any underlying or overarching issues that influence the problem?
  • What could be done to change the situation?
  • How will this alter your future behaviors/attitudes/and career?
  • How is the issue/agency you’re serving impacted by what is going on in the larger political/social sphere?
  • What does the future hold?
  • What can be done?

EXCERPTS FROM SERVICE LEARNING STUDENT REFLECTION JOURNALS

FIRST EXCERPT

Today I got to really to really help people. It was such a thrill to use my knowledge to really help people. Generally I see my skills as somewhat esoteric. Being a history student sometimes feels a bit wasteful. But today I helped a middle-aged woman called Marie. To her passing the language section of the GED really means something concrete. My one semester of Spanish really helped. I couldn’t really say anything useful, but I could use little examples to help him: “What would the Spanish word for ‘it’ be here? ‘Los’? That’s plural isn’t it? In English ‘los’ is always ‘them’, not ‘it’.” It’s so nice to feel useful.

Apparently my background check still hasn’t gone through, and I’m not supposed to be helping. I know this is a side issue, but it is one of the things about volunteering that upsets me. When a potential volunteer approaches an opportunity full of enthusiasm, and a background check takes over a week, and no one contacts her, it is easy to quickly loose that enthusiasm. I was the only person assisting the two teachers; they clearly needed me. But I no one contacted me about the classes starting. I had to take my own initiative. I don’t feel particularly wanted by the organization. This has been a problem for me in the past when I tried to volunteer. It seems sometimes organizations think people who are not being paid don’t care about details.

Second Excerpt

My first day, and already I am reminded of why I love doing this…those revelations about your life that you can only acquire while being a part of others. If I wanted to be bland I could say that I spent the day teaching homeless children how to make pop up cards, but that would not do justice to what really happened. It was bitter sweet, to have the importance of a mothers care in hard times highlighted in front of me, while the pain of the recent loss of my own mother is still strong and undoubtedly will always be.

Alva didn’t think twice about who she would make a card for… “her mama” she proclaimed proudly. She chatted away on how her mother worked late at the ballpark and I could sense just how proud she was of her mother as she described her mothers work duties, “she works the register and sometimes she makes the food”. I knew the feeling, my own mother was a welder, the only woman where she worked and although many people would look down at the job, I was very proud. The burns on her arms and the dirt under her fingernails showed me just how much she loved me. She worked for all of us and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have everything because I had all that mattered. It gave me hope that, although the current situation Alva found herself in at such a young age was difficult, she was going to be alright …maybe better than a lot of kids sleeping in their own beds because in her life she had what really mattered. That can make all the difference.

Yesterday I held the card that my mother had sent me when I first went away for college. I can’t express how much it meant to me, maybe even more than when I first received it. It read, “I’m missing something…you.” Gosh, how it seems so appropriate yet so ironic. I was thinking of how exactly I would start my creative project class for this course…what better way than a scrapbook…with a card to my own mother to start.