Share & Reflect

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflection on experience.”–John Dewey

Why is reflection such a critical component of Service Learning? As educational philosopher John Dewey indicates, reflection is the process that allows us to make meaning of our experiences. Without reflection, we do not unpack, process, understand, or evaluate how an experience made us feel, how it challenged or affirmed our beliefs, how it might impact or change us moving forward. Reflection is how we use our experiences to construct the narrative through which we see, interpret, understand, and navigate the world. It is how we make connections from our experiences to big picture ideas, and lay the foundation for how we will integrate those ideas into our actions moving forward.

Consider a group of middle school students who go to a local homeless shelter to help prepare and serve a meal. Some of those students might feel great about the experience, some might feel uncomfortable, some might be thinking that the people at the shelter are dirty, gross, and feel very disconnected from the students’ own experiences.  If we let that experience simply hang on its own, those students will walk away from it with those feelings and perceptions being the “take away.” Yet, if the experience is unpacked with a reflection discussion or activity, they will be asked to identify their feelings, process them, confront discomfort, talk through with others, challenge or affirm their beliefs. I have had facilitated such conversations at BJE Teen Service Corps, where a student has had the opportunity to say out loud, “that made me really uncomfortable.” And we were able to talk through what about it was uncomfortable, validate that discomfort, AND discover other feelings and ideas that were being overshadowed by the discomfort. The end result was the student walking away with new ideas of what it means to be created b’tzelem Elohim/in God’s image. Which, to me, is one of my ultimate goals as Jewish Service Learning educator–enhancing human connections and empathy.

So, what IS reflection? There are three aspects to reflection:

  • Recapturing/returning to the experience by recalling events and details
  • Attending to (or connecting with) feelings
  • Evaluating the experience and integrating new knowledge into one’s conceptual framework

(From Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning, by David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker)

For us at BJE Impact: The Center for Jewish Service Learning, reflection is a key piece of making an impact. It is about making meaning out of the impact you have made on others, and the impact that has made on you.

For some suggested activities to aid reflection, check out:
50 Reflective Exercises
“Today I Learned, Today I Felt” Reflection Activity
Facilitating Reflection: Activities

For some great facilitator tips, check out:
Facilitating Reflection: Facilitating

And, if you have great reflection activities or ideas to share, please submit them here.


Learn. Act. Reflect. IMPACT.

Alisha Pedowitz
Program Leader, BJE Impact