Regardless of the type of critical reflection assigned, students benefit from regularly writing about their choices, tasks, and feelings over the course of the EL activity. Journaling forces students to document changes in their attitudes, skills, and understanding as learning happens. The best journal assignments nurture the student’s learning with question prompts that are used repeatedly over the course of the activity. These prompts provide the instructor the opportunity to link the EL activity with the curricular content and the course learning goals. Asking the student to re-read her journal at certain points in the experience cements these learning goals and lets the student appreciate his own transformational learning.

Journaling doesn’t have to be a series of diary-type entries (Halcrow, Hatcher & Bringle). Dialogue journals allow the instructor to provide feedback and further questions for students to answer in the subsequent journal entry. Other students in the class can be included in the feedback loop when the journaling takes the form of blog posts. Double entry journals ask students to write about experiences on one side of the page and then link those experiences to course content on the other side. Photo or video journals document the EL activity visually rather than verbally giving students more creative control of their journal. (Note: students must be sure to have permission from the individuals in their photos/video.) These and other creative journals can then be the basis of a presentational reflection or directed writing assignments.

Applicability: Ongoing, critical reflection is necessary for transformational learning, making journals a valuable tool in all types of Experiential Learning. Journals are most useful in long-running EL activities where the student’s skills and attitudes have the opportunity to develop over time.

Sample assignment and assessment: The following assignment is adapted from Kerri Ribek’s A Faculty Manual for Integrating Service-Learning in Health Education (Kleinhesselink,,2015)

Overview: Keeping a journal will be an important part of your learning experience. By having you think about what you are doing and what you are learning from the experience, the writing of a journal can increase the amount you actually learn. It can also make you aware of what you don’t know, so that you can direct your efforts towards finding out more.

Instructions: Write a journal entry each time you work at the community site. Take a few minutes before you leave the site to make your entry or do it within a few hours of your experience to facilitate making an accurate entry. Journals will be collected on the dates indicated on the Course Outline. Each journal entry should include all of the following elements. Please clearly divide each entry into the following categories.

1. Date and hours worked (1 point)

2. Objective Description of your experiences (5 points)

  • What happened?
  • Write a factual account of the behaviors you observed that does not include your opinion.
  • Write at least 100 words.

3. Interpretation/Explanation (8 points)

  • Try to understand the behaviors you described above in #2. Use principles and concepts from the course reading material and lectures in your interpretations.

4. Interpret what you learned today by answering the 3 questions below. (6 points)

Thoughts/opinions. What does it mean to you?

Feelings. Use emotion words (i.e., happy, surprised, frustrated) to describe your feelings.

  • What knowledge and/or skills did you acquire today?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What did you learn about others around you?

Please write clearly. Your journal provides important evidence of what you are learning from your experience. Your journal is also a very important source of information for writing your Final Project Report.

Assessment. Each journal is worth a total of 20 points and the following criteria will be used to evaluate your journal and allocate points:

Entries respond to all four items listed for the journal above. Objective Description and Interpretation/ Explanation are clearly distinguished from each other. Clear connections to course principles and concepts are made.

Points may be deducted for each of the following:

  • You are not present to participate in the class discussions based on the journal (3-9 points).
  • And/or your journal is not handed in on the due dates (3-9 points deducted).


Hatcher, J. and R. Bringle. (2003). Reflection in Service Learning: Making Meaning of Experience. Introduction to Service Learning Toolkit, 2nd Ed. Campus Compact.

Halcrow, Katie. (2014). Reflection Activities: Service-learning’s not-so-secret weapon”. Civic Leadership Initiative.

Kleinhesselink K, Schooley S, Cashman S, Richmond A, Ikeda E, McGinley P, Eds. (2015). Engaged faculty institute curriculum. Seattle, WA: Community-Campus Partnerships for Health.