I. Introduction

A. Research concerning service-learning has found that when quality service projects are integrated effectively into the classroom, students benefit.

  1. Academic outcomes
  1. Civic outcomes
  1. Personal/Development

B. Service-learning practitioners believe that reflection plays an important role in how students make sense of the service experience and the learning outcomes experienced by the students.

  1. It is critical reflection that provides the transformative link between the action of service and the ideas and understanding of learning (Eyler, Giles, and Schmiede, 1996, p. 14 as cited in Ash and Clayton).
  1. Service-learning puts students in close contact with people or organizations unfamiliar to them but about whom they may have preconceived and unfounded attitudes or beliefs. In theory, such interactions should create precisely the perplexity, hesitation, doubt that Dewey saw as a key to learning from experiences. Critical reflection is key in challenging students’ reflection on those experiences so that they do not close the door to potentially powerful new perspectives but they allow those experiences to reinforce their stereotypes and prejudices (Ash and Clayton, p. 139).
  1. Reflection provides the capacity to resolve complexity; it encourages participants to address issues from a position of gray rather than black/white (Eyler, 2002).

C. This paper is interested in further exploring the role of reflection in creating a transformative learning experience. Specifically, this seeks to:

  1. Identify evidence of transformative learning in student reflective assignments.
  1. Explore the role of emotion within reflective assignments and the relationship between emotion and transformative learning.
  1. Why Honors?
  1. Evidence of Transformation in Faculty

II. Transformative Learning

A. What is transformative learning?

“the process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mind-sets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 8).

Nature of transformative learning

Transformative learning may occur as the result of a “disorienting dilemma,” gradually and cumulatively over time (Mezirow, 2000), or as a developmental process (Daloz, 1999; King & Kitchener, 1994; Taylor, 2000). The process may be linear or non-linear (Sinnott, 2003; Taylor, 2000; ), and may or may not involve a step upward (Cranton, 2006). Evidence of transformative learning occurring as the result of a single, isolated event or in a dramatic “burning bush” (Dirkx, 2000) fashion is the rare exception rather than the rule (Cranton, 2006; Daloz, 1999; Dirkx, 2000).

Transformative learning is predicated upon multiple and complex factors that are not readily evident in the linear and reductivist analysis of learning outcomes. Identifying the nature of transformative learning in a classroom setting or as a result of teaching practice is highly problematic due to variable learning conditions with the student and the collective synergy of the class, conditions within the experiential learning environment, and conditions within the course content and pedagogical structure. Alhadeff-Jones (2012) further explained that transformative learning is
“produced/inhibited by the multiple changes that constitute the learner’s own evolution. According to this assumption, the evaluation and description of transformative learning therefore becomes much more difficult to anticipate, describe, and evaluate” (p. 183).
Learning is a continuous, holistic, and adaptive process of addressing life events over time (Kolb, 1984). Each student brings to the classroom a fully engaged set of unique learning conditions. Identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status are natural learning filters (Keagan, 1996). Their disparate beliefs, values, and assumptions (Boyd, 1991), prior knowledge - what they already know, both explicit and tacit (Ausubel, 1968), issues, intentions, agendas, and dispositions (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Polanyi, James, ), what they don’t know but realize they need to know (Tucker, 2007; Johnson, 2007), learning styles (Kolb, 1984; ), thinking patterns or habits of mind (Mezirow, 1991; 2000), personality types (Cranton, 2006), and developmental thinking skills (Daloz, 1986; Kitchener & King, 1994; Wolcott & Lynch, 2001) are all confluent factors that determine what each student sees, experiences, and learns – often independent of our efforts and regardless of our pedagogical constructs. As educators, “we attend to processes of change already at work within persons and communities” (Dirkx, 1998, p. 11). Additionally, the individual sets of knowledge and skill require a safe, collegial climate in which a communicative, collaborative synergy can grow to creatively share, take risks, and ponder possibilities.

Assessing evidence of transformative learning in the classroom

“linear and reductivist analyses are unlikely to reveal the complexity of transformative learning, given the influence of numerous cofactors and the invisibility and contingency of the choice points” ( Lange, 2012, p. 203).

The hegemonic relationship between teacher and student often disallows honest and candid feedback by the student. In spite of the authentic, deep, personalized learning that occurs, the student is always aware of the resident power relationship in a course and the implied obligation to meet teacher expectations in writing and discussion. The teacher ultimately assigns a grade based on reflective writing and class discussion as stated in the course syllabus. Consequently, students write and say what they think the teacher wants to hear – often exaggerating those experiences and, conversely, minimizing thoughts and experiences inconsistent with teacher expectations (Cranton, 2006). Assessing literal statements in reflection responses for evidence of transformative learning is thus problematic.

Students learn both more and less than explicitly stated. Reflective thought develops over time, resulting in transformative learning that is cumulative, gradual and that exceeds the single-semester time frame in which students are expected to evince significant change in life perspectives (Cranton, 2006; Kitchener & King, 1994; Wolcott & Lynch, 2001). A more effective approach to data analysis would be to mine the reflection responses for evidence of incongruent assumptions, inconsistent remarks, subtle – usually gradual - shifts in understanding over time (Daloz, 1999). These should be triangulated with teacher observations and evidence of extrarational or non-reflective learning such as imagination, intuition, and emotion in everyday occurrences (Cranton, 2006; Dirkx, 2000; 2001; 2009; Mezirow, 2009).

Transformative Learning References

Alhadeff-Jones, M. (2012). Transformative learning and the challenges of complexity. In E. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.). The handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 178-194). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ausubel, D. (1968). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Boyd, R. (1991). Personal transformation in small groups: A Jungian perspective. London: Routledge.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.) (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press.
Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and promoting transformative learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cress, C., Collier, P., & Reitenauer, V. & Associates (2005). Learning through serving: A student guidebook for service-learning across the disciplines.
Daloz, L. (1986). Effective teaching and mentoring: Realizing the transformational power of adult learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Daloz, L. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Damasio, A. (1994). Descarte’s error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Penguin Books.
Dirkx, J. (1998). Transformative learning theory in the practice of adult education: An overview. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 7, pp. 1-14.
Dirkx, J. (2001). The power of feeling: Emotion, imagination, and the construction of meaning in adult learning. In S. Merriam (Ed.). The new update on adult learning theory (pp. 63-720). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dirkx, J. (2009). Facilitating transformative learning: Engaging emotions in an online context. In J. Mezirow & E. Taylor (Eds.). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education (pp. 57-66). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Erickson, D. (2007). A developmental re-forming of the phases of meaning in transformational learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 58(1), pp. 61-80.
Johnson, M. (2007). Mind in the body.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kiely, R. (2005). A transformative learning model for service-learning: A longitudinal case study. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, 12(1), pp. 5-22.
Kitchener, K. & King, P. (1994). The reflective judgment model: Transforming assumptions about knowing.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Lange, E. (2012). Transforming transformative learning through sustainability and the new science. In E. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.). The handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 195-211). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Malkki, K. (2010). Building on Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning: Theorizing the challenges to reflection. Journal of Transformative Education, 8(1), pp. 42-62.
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco and Oxford: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (2009). Transformative learning theory. In J. Mezirow & E. Taylor (Eds.). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education (pp. 18-31). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. & Taylor, E. (2009). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Perry, L., Stoner, L., & Tarrant, M. (2012). More than a vacation: Short-term study abroad as a critically reflective, transformative learning experience. Creative Education, 3(5), pp. 679-683.
Polanyi, M. (1964). Personal knowledge. New York: Harper and Row.
Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday.
Sinnott, J. (2003). Learning as a humanistic dialogue with reality: New theories that help us teach the whole person. In T. Hagstrom (Ed.). Adult development in post-industrial society and working life (pp. 78-152). Stockholm: Stockholm University.
Taylor, E. & Cranton, P. (2012) The handbook of transformative learning: theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Weimer, M. (2012). Learner-centered teaching and transformative learning. In E. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.). The handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 439-454). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Wolcott, S. & Lynch, C. (2001). Task prompts for different levels in steps to better thinking (online). http://www.WolcottLynch.com.

B. Mezirow’s (1991, 2000) process oriented theoretical model describes the “learning processes that led participants in his study to experience significant change in the ways they understood their identity, culture, and behavior” (Kiely, 2005, p.7).

  1. “Mezirow found that transformational learning is most often initiated by a disorienting dilemma that may lead people to engage in a transformational learning process whereby previously taken-for-granted assumptions, values, beliefs, and lifestyle habits are assessed and in some cases radically transformed” (Kiely, 2005, p.7).
  1. Mezirow’s model consists of:

a. a disorienting dilemma

b. self examination with feelings of fear, anger, guilt or shame

c. a critical assessment of assumptions

d. recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared

e. exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and actions

f. planning a course of action

g. acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans

h. provisionally trying new roles

i. building competence and self confidence in new roles and relationships

j. a reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective

  1. The end result of transformational learning is that one is empowered by learning to be more socially responsible, self-directed, and less dependent on false assumptions (Kiely, 2005, p. 7).

III. Reflection

A. What is reflection?

  1. Reflection is a cognitive process and a structured learning activity (Hatcher and Bringle, 1997).
  1. Reflection has also been defined as articulated learning (Ash, Clayton, and Atkinson, 2005).
  1. Reflection is the intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning (Hatcher and Bringle, 1997).

B. What is the value of reflection?

  1. Researchers have found that how and how often reflection occurs impacts how students experience service-learning opportunities.

a. Types of Reflection

  1. Journal (written)
  1. 3 part Journal: what happened, description of activity, application to service-learning (Hatcher and Bringle, 1997).
  1. Double entry journals: Course content is on the left and service-learning experience is on the right, enables the students to compare and contrast.
  1. Group discussion (oral): spontaneous/planned
  1. Report: Oral/written (Sterling, 2007).
  1. Experiential Research Paper (Bringle and Hatcher, 1997).

“Art, music, and dance are alternative languages. Intuition, imagination, and dreams are other ways of making meaning” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 6).

“Reflective learning becomes transformative whenever assumptions or premises are found to be distorting, inauthentic, or otherwise invalid” (Mezirow, 1991, p. 6).

C. How do we design effective reflection activities?

  1. Link experiences to learning objectives (Ash and Clayton, 2004; Molee, 2010).
  1. Give guidance for the reflective activity
  1. Schedule reflection regularly
  1. Allow for feedback and assessment
  1. Include the clarification of values
  1. Acknowledge and influence and the impact of emotions

D. Assessment of Reflection

  1. Critical thinking Rubric (Ash and Clayton, 2004).

E. What are the outcomes associated with different types of reflective practices (Mabry, 1998).

  1. Adequate time, contact, in-class reflection, and talking about service experiences make a difference in students’ civic and academic outcomes
  1. Students should spend at least fifteen to nineteen hours in their service activities to have adequate exposure to the people and issues their service addresses.
  1. Frequent contact with the beneficiaries of their service work appears vital to both civic and academic outcomes.
  1. Effective regular reflection occurs weekly so that service experiences are continually examined in conjunction with course concepts.
  1. Including one form of both ongoing and summative written reflection allows students to trace their experiences and put them into perspective leading to enhanced moral and civic development
  1. In class reflection is not only worthwhile but appears necessary to help students integrate their service experiences with course subject matter in ways that result in perceptions of academic learning.
  1. Students’ learning can be enhanced by talking about their service experiences with their site supervisor as well as with their instructor and other students.