The Reflective Component

For Odyssey projects in the Professional and Leadership Development, Service to the World, and Special Projects categories, you will be required to reflect in writing on your experience. Your reflections may be recorded in a journal that you keep as you progress through the experience, or it may take the form of a paper submitted at the end of the project. In either case, journaling is a valuable way to track insights that you glean from your project and responses that you experience along the way. The techniques of keeping a journal and for writing a reflecive paper are described below.

1. The Journal

What A Journal Is and Is Not

Keeping a journal may be different from what you might expect. First, a journal is NOT a daily log of things done. Second, it is NOT a private diary. A journal is not a daily log because in a journal, you should analyze, interpret, and explore the broader meaning of your experience, not simply record what has happened. A journal is not a private diary because the journal should be written to communicate to someone else what you have learned. Even so, in a journal you are encouraged to think in deeply personal ways about your experience.

Lastly, a journal is NOT a final reflection paper, although keeping one may be very helpful for preparing to write a reflection paper. Journal entries should be made throughout the relevant experience, not written retrospectively at the end of an experiential project. Thus, you must discipline yourself to a regular writing schedule. A journal entry for each day of involvement is a good aim, but you don’t have to be rigid about it. Some days, too much has happened to think coherently on paper!

Keeping a Journal

Research indicates that unstructured journal writing, in which you have no guidelines, typically stays at the level of a daily log and never leads to analysis and integration of the experiences with your intellectual, moral, social, political, or religious life. On the other hand, too much structure makes it hard to write personally. To strike a balance, try one of the following two approaches (based on information presented at a Service-Learning Workshop led by Joe Favazza and Michael McLain of Rhodes College), or a combination of them both:

(1) In your daily writing during the experience, think of yourself as writing a "What Journal." Structure your entries to answer: What? So What? Now What?

• What? In this section, describe the things done, things observed, or other aspects of the day’s experience that seem most important to remember or to tell about.

• So What? Examine these aspects of the day more fully, answering such questions as: Why are these the events that mattered most to me today? Why did I react the way I did in that situation? Did these things teach me something surprising about myself, my society, or the world? Did they confirm things I have always believed? Am I left puzzled by the things that happened today, and if so, why?

• Now What? Reflect on whether the events described and analyzed should make a difference in your future conduct or beliefs. Questions to reflect upon in this section include: Is this experience changing how I think about things? Is it confirming what I have always believed? Do I want it to change how I act in the future? Do the things I have liked or not liked during this experience tell me anything about the sort of leader I want to grow into, the sort of life I want to lead, or the ways I want to be of service to others? Has this experience been a spiritual journey for me?

(2) Keep a Directed Journal. By yourself, or working with a faculty or administrative staff sponsor, identify key questions that you will answer over the course of your experience. These questions will generally have to do with applying your practical experience to key concepts, theories, or readings relevant to the purpose of your experience; or they may be more open-ended questions that require you to take stock of the broader issues raised by the experience.

Keeping the Journal Personal

It is certainly the aim of journal writing to invite deep personal exploration. Yet, for accountability purposes, a faculty or administrative staff sponsor will usually read your journal. Here are two approaches that can help you maintain your sense of privacy:

• you and your sponsor can agree that he or she will be the only person reading the journal and that personal details that you share will be kept confidential; or

• you and your mentor may agree that you will turn down any pages you do not want read, and he or she will not look at them.

With the spirit of trust that exists in a good student-mentor relationship, one of these approaches should provide you with the freedom you need to write your most intimate observations in your journal.

Prepared by:
Dr. Peg Falls-Corbitt
Hendrix-Lilly Vocations Initiative Director
Professor of Philosophy

2. A Reflection Paper

If you decide to write a final reflection paper for an activity or project in one of the categories that require a reflective component, you may still wish to keep a personal journal (see above), or at least daily notes, while your Odyssey experience is in progress. Doing so will prepare you well to write the final document.

A reflection paper is very similar to a journal in many ways. It is NOT a simple enumeration of what you did for your project. Instead it must go beyond a straightforward description of the activity itself to delve into your personal reactions and the growth that you experience as a result of the project. Also, like a journal, the reflection paper must be written with the intent of communicating your insights to someone else.

Both of the approaches to journal writing suggested in the previous section also work well as means of structuring a reflection paper. Similar to a "What Journal," a successful reflection paper could address the three questions: What? So What? and Now What? (See fuller explanations of these questions in the previous section.) The paper will differ from a journal in that you will be answering these questions at the end of a project rather than while it is in progress. This perspective will allow you the opportunity to ponder and synthesize your responses and reactions to the overall experience.

Alternatively, you might choose to write a Directed Reflection Paper. In this case, you and your sponsor must develop in advance specific questions that you will consider as you progress through your Odyssey experience. As in the case of a Directed Journal, these questions will generally have to do with applying the practical experience gained during your project to key concepts, theories, or readings relevant to the purpose of your experience. They may also be more open-ended questions that require you to take stock of the broader issues raised by the experience.

Whichever approach you take, journal or reflection paper, the purpose of writing about your Odyssey project is to help you reflect on your reactions and responses to it. The exercise should help you better understand yourself and how you have grown or changed during this Odyssey experience