Community-Engaged Learning

Learning Through Reflection in Sociology 439

Reflection is an essential component of CEL pedagogy and has become an increasingly popular practice in university settings to promote deeper levels of critical engagement. For CEL in sociology, reflection is a process to consider how the personal melds with the academic and with the community experience. In the third part of this series, we caught up with Aspen to discuss her experience with reflection during her time in SOCI 439.

In SOCI 439, students were required to write five reflections over the two semesters of the course. The reflections encouraged students to delve deeper into what their sociology looks like (as opposed to the sociology they’ve been taught in courses or textbooks) and prompted them to address what sociology can look like outside of a classroom. For example, one reflection asked the students to apply a sociological concept to their CEL and/or university experience and reflect on that connection. For Aspen, these assignments helped her feel more comfortable in what her own sociology looks like and motivated her to see herself as a sociologist. The reflections have been written assignments, but Aspen also mentioned the frequency in which candid reflective discussions happened in class. This process of both students and the professor (Dr. Bruce Ravelli) sharing their reflections has “helped all of us be more present in the classroom” and ultimately “helped the class dynamic.”  In this mutual exchange between the students and professor, Aspen explained how this experience has felt like “a relationship rather than a more transactional approach [to a class],” where trust and comfort are central in the classroom and when handing in reflection assignments.

Beyond the reflections fostering a vulnerable and safe space in the classroom, Aspen has found the written reflections helpful because they were a way to “slow down and check in with yourself.” Additionally, Aspen recalled that she “didn’t realize how much [she] had learned until [she] sat down and started writing about it.”  However, sometimes reflections can blur the lines and veer towards reading like a diary entry rather than an academic reflection. Aspen’s advice for this situation is to imagine your instructor reading it, or comparing articles and personal blog posts to help re-frame the tone and language of a reflection. Even though reflection poses some challenges, she thinks “reflection is always useful.” In particular, Aspen had not grappled with her disappointment in the challenges she faced with her community partner until she sat down and wrote about it. Through writing what she was experiencing, she was able to pose constructive questions to herself like, “What can I learn? What did I do [well]? What can I work on for next time?”

Through Aspen realizing how impactful reflection was for her CEL experience, she realized the importance of all parties participating. Dr. Ravelli’s reflections with the class fostered compassion and trust that made Aspen feel more comfortable to write honest reflections. And as Aspen’s experience with a community partner was not stellar, she reflected on how a community partner doing their own reflecting would be useful for understanding if “this was beneficial for [the community partner’s] organization, or this is what we could do next time, or next time we should partner with students who are also looking to do X, Y, or Z.” Reflection in CEL is crucial, and helps everyone develop a personal grounding and critical engagement with their experience.

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