The self-reflective journal is a formal method of “Harvesting” your service-learning experience. By thinking critically about your experiences, you gain greater understanding and add to the overall value. Service-Learning is about growth and empowerment to strengthen your sense of “voice” and place in your community. Your service must be challenging and worthwhile for all. This journal is to help you to think critically about your experience. You should analyze, synthesize, assimilate and evaluate your experiences as you volunteer. The overall goal is to reflect on how your volunteerism impacts the community (students and school), your education, and/or your life and self-identity.
You should make notes (50-100 words) after each volunteer session, then after every 5 hours write a formal entry. Each formal entry should be a minimum of 200 words. Use self-reflective questions and your session notes to stimulate your thinking. Session notes can be informal phrases and “talking to yourself.” The formal entries should be written in essay format with full sentences, paragraphs and Standard English grammar. Your formal entries will then be the basis for your short essay to complete the requirements and earn the full extra credit points.
Sample Session Notes
Felt excited driving to the school today. First time in years I’ve been back to elementary school! The kids seem a little calmer in one class than in the other I‘m placed in—very rambunctious and disrespectful. The teacher asked me to read with a small group in the back of the room--very impressed with their reading skills. Then I worked with two kids who were having trouble. Worked on “ah” sounds and “ing” verbs. 10 min. just on reading for story comprehension! Book too hard for 1st grade! Timmy gave me a picture he drew for me—large robot with lasers—is this a good thing or a strange thing? Does he like me or want to blow me up? Man, am I tired! Next I helped students with math (adding three numbers) then we played with some dice and flash cards. The kids really seemed to like it and wanted to be with me. It felt great for them to like me and look up to me. Today made me think about teaching as a possible career.
Sample self-reflective questions
1) How did I feel about going to volunteer today?
Example: “I’m so tired and I haven’t done my laundry, so driving to the elementary school to tutor seems like a waste of time. I definitely don’t want to be a teacher.” or “I am so excited to be working with my child. I can literally see her learn in front of me! As I went for my second day of volunteering, I was nervous but when the teacher told me they were all asking questions about me and were excited I was coming back, I felt very touched that after only one day of helping I had made a good connection with the kids. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to work with them. I remember elementary school and it wasn’t fun for me. I also remember older kids coming into my classroom and I looked up to them, so it’s a great feeling being a positive role model.”
2) What did I do with the child today? Did I try anything new?
Example: We read the book Green Eggs and Ham. I explained how letters sound phonetically to him and how end rhyme works. Then I gave him a green “coin” for every rhyme pair he could spot. For every five coins, he got to trade for an M&M.
3) Do I feel like my time was successful? What progress did I contribute to?
Example: The child became quite excited when he could read the word fox by himself. He struggled with it last week, but he mastered it this week. I’m happy that just two hours of my time help him get a reading star badge!
4) How did I feel after I completed my work today?
Example: “Because I was tired to begin with, I felt tired when I was done and I don’t think I ever want to work with small children again. They have such sticky fingers.” or “Seeing her learn the word fox makes me very happy inside. I never thought a task this small could make me feel so good. I helped the class work on their short story books. They were very cute and creative. It was amazing to see how their brains work when allowed to write and draw freely. I had fun today watching creative minds work!”
Sample Session Notes (which can then be used for formal entries with self-reflection and be used in writing the short reflective essay):
Student name withheld for privacy
Service Learning Journal Notes
Day 1: The first day is always the hardest because you don’t know anyone and you don’t really know what to do or say to anyone. Luckily there is always someone who is a “social leader” and although they may not know what to do either, they know someone that does and will stand next to you and say, “We need something to do!” Working with the Habitat for Humanity is a special experience. When you first arrive on the job site, things are in a type of organized mess. It is kind of confusing to think that something that must be made to meet explicitly detailed standards can be made by a group of people that usually have little to no experience in what they are doing. I knew how to do some of the work that needed to be done and what I didn’t know how to do, I just relied on someone else to know. I later came to find out that was how most things were done. And if no one knew what to do then one brave soul would interrupt the Project Leader’s never-ending smoke break to ask him to breathlessly tell us what to do.
Day 2: Working alongside people you don’t really know can be aggravating but at the same time it is totally awesome. Although you could make up any elaborate scheme and hoax them till their ears fall off, I don’t think that anyone did it. The setting we were in sort of leveled the playing field for everyone. There was no rich or poor, no smart or ignorant, no one was above anyone; we were all in it together and we were all there to help another person.
Day 3: I know that assumptions can be very bad, and that it is not good to assume anything but I did. I thought I had met the house owner earlier this morning, but I hadn’t. The man I had met seemed to be in some type of drug recovery because of his long thin hair and itchy neck. He actually was just another volunteer! The homeowner is a short young black woman that is married with two of her own kids. Although she really has seven children to raise, they are not all hers. She is their adoptive mother because of an accident the previous year in her extended family. Her sisters came to help paint and she helped by doing anything she could. I later came to find out that she has an awesome sense of humor.
Day 4: It is hard to get to know someone while working here because people are always changing tasks and running around. The only real time anyone gets to know each other is around lunch. You get to know a few things about some people while you are working with them but it isn’t until lunch that you really see what is behind the “dirty shirts.” One man worked on Wall Street in his younger years and quit it to work closer to his family. When he retired from that he went full-time into working for Habitat. He didn’t know anything about building a house or even how to really swing a hammer. Now, he knows many of the codes and regulations about building a house and in his spare time, helps friends and friends of friends on their houses and the work that they are doing.
Day 5: The house is nearly ready for the dedication and move-in. We have accomplished a lot in the past several weeks. We went from having a lot of interior work to do and just a few things outside to take care of, all the way to meeting the inspector for the final inspection. He thought that everything was in order except a ditch that needed to be dug along the side of the property. A seemingly pointless task considering there was already a ditch between the properties. We dug it anyway, and we dug it good. Of course the harder part was having to wheel barrow every scoop of dirt around the block to the other house we were working on too. Then, we had to remove two large coquina boulders from the ditch in the back because they would, “severely impede the water flow.” We also carted those over to the other house to fill in a hole. With those tasks finished and only a few people needed to clean the inside of the house, a few of us went over to finish pulling wire on the other house.
Day 6: The work crews that come and go with the day are rather peculiar sometimes. The crew one time was a group from the Space Center. All of them were engineers and they all “brought the degrees” with them. Some were measuring window sills edge to edge, while another was checking it with a level, and another was overseeing the work being done. The funny part about it all is that window sills that are measured edge to edge won’t fit and the sill isn’t supposed to be level. But they went about it according to how they thought it should be done and were stuck in the paradigm of thought that their years at NASA had left them in. After they had gone through and done their work according to NASA, another guy and I went through and showed them how it was done according to real world construction. So, then the NASA boys had a little meeting to discuss their “findings” and agreed that they weren’t on their home turf and that they didn’t have the OSHA advantage, so they heeded our advice. We took 1/8 of an inch off their measurements and showed them how to “properly” caulk down a marble window sill and be sure that it is slanted away from the window. Sometimes in life you just have to let things be imperfect.