Reflection Models

Reflection, a unique and critical component of high-quality SL/CE programming, is described by Learn and Service America as an opportunity to provide "students and faculty with a way to look back on their experiences, evaluate them and apply what is learned to future experiences with new experiences to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

"How will you encourage your students to reflect on their Service? 

While free reflection has certain advantages, Sturgil & Motley (2014) suggest that guided, dialogic, private reflections may be most effective.  

There are many models for guided reflection; two of the most influential are described in detail here: "What, So What, Now What? (Toole & Toole, 1994; Rolfe et al 2001), and the DEAL Model (Ash & Clayton, 2009). 

As you review these models, remember to include overt reflection on your chosen Service SLOs

What? So what? Now what? Model
What, So What, Now What?


  • What is the organization?
  • Why does this organization exist?
  • What was your role?
  • What were your initial expectations?
  • What happened? What did you observe? 
  • What learning for you occurred? 

So What? 

  • Did you learn a new skill or clarify an interest?
  • Did anything about your involvement surprise you?  -- If so, what? How, Why?
  • What impacts the way you view the situation/experience? 
  • What did you learn about the people/community?
  • What are some of the pressing needs/issues you've seen?
  • How does this service address those needs?
  • How does the experience relate to your coursework?
  • Has your understanding of the community changed as a result of your service? How?
  • Talk about any disappointments or successes in your service. What have you learned from it?

Now What? 

  • How can you apply what you have learned from your experience?
  • What would you like to learn more about, related to this project or issue?
  • What follow-up is needed to address any challenges or difficulties you discovered?
  • What information can you share with your peers or the community?
  • If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?
  • Have your career options been expanded by your service experience?
  • How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue? 
DEAL Model
DEAL Model
 -- Describe, Examine,

Describe a SL related experience
(objectively and in some detail)

  • When did this experience take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Who else was there?
  • Who wasn’t there?
  • What was communicated?
  • Who didn’t speak or act?
Examine that experience (academic learning)
  • What course material is relevant to this experience?
    Explain the concept, theory, etc clearly and concisely
  • How did the material connect to the experience
    What did you see or note as absent? When did this come to your attention?  
  • What academic (e.g., disciplinary, intellectual, professional) skills did you use / should you have used? 
  • How are your observations and understandings of course and experience connections the same as others (co-workers, instructors, community members, authors)? In what specific ways are they different?
  • What are the possible reasons for the difference(s) (e.g., bias, assumptions, lack of information on my part or on the part of others?)

Articulate Learning “I learned (something specific that links your service to course concepts)"

  • Express something important that you learned, not just a statement of fact
  • Provide a clear and concise explanation of one or more course concept(s) so that someone not in the experience could understand it.
  • Explain your enhanced understanding of one or more course concept(s) resulting from course materials together with reflection on the experience

“I learned this when” ….

  • Connect the learning to specific activities that gave rise to your new insight.
  • Making clear what happened in the context of that experience so that someone who wasn’t there could understand it.
  • Describe why what you learned matters. How can what you've learned be applied to other experiences?
  • How does what you've learned has value, both in terms of your situation and in broader terms, such as other organizations, communities, activities, issues, professional goals, courses, etc.

“In light of this learning” …

  • Set specific and assessable goals to address what you've learned. Consider the benefits and challenges involved in fulfilling these goals. Clearly tie your discussion back clearly to the original learning statement.