Frequent Performance Feedback
While the Family Life Education Methodology course contains traditional exams as well as weekly goals which provide feedback to teams, the feedback must take on a more personalized approach given that students may be engaged in varying phases of perspective transformation. One of the most important methods to achieve this level of communication for both the faculty member as well as students is the frequent collection of, and individualized response to, guided journal entries and classroom discussions.
Reflexivity regarding one’s own work is one of the cornerstones of service-learning (Bringle & Hatcher, 1999a) and perspective transformation (Mezirow, 1991). In the methodology course, students write ten guided journal entries over the course of a semester. This reflective process generally begins in week three after they have visited with and conducted a needs assessment of the community agency their team has chosen. Each guided journal entry is aligned with one of the ten phases of perspective transformation, beginning with phase one. The first prompt centers on preconceptions regarding the need for and availability of services prior to and after conducting the needs assessment at the selected community agency. Other prompt examples that have been utilized include, “What are some of the beliefs you hold regarding the population that the agency serves or about the agency itself? Where do these beliefs originate from?” (Phase 3), “Are there aspects of creating programming that have led to frustration to this point? How do you plan to overcome them as an individual? As a team?” (Phase 4), and “Describe your role as a professional on this project. Describe how it does or does not differ from your role as a student” (Phase 8). The instructor tailors these prompts to the needs of the class in an attempt to foster autonomy and critical reflexivity (Mezirow, 1997). Based on student feedback and discussions, the remaining nine prompts can be distributed where deemed most appropriate by the faculty member. Each response is read and responded to by the faculty member who can add insight or provide feedback regarding the students’ response. This provides an opportunity for the students to contemplate faculty responses and encourages the successful completion of perspective transformation phases.
On a day-to-day basis, students engage in constructive dialogue about concepts they are learning in class, as well as how those concepts apply to their own experiences as they construct programming. While all teams are working on the same aspects of programming construction simultaneously, variations in how teams experience construction fosters lines of questioning that lead to fruitful and meaningful discussion about the process of programmatic construction. This process fosters autonomous thought, a key concept in transformative education (Mezirow, 1997). For example, groups working to incorporate current research findings into their programming may plan to utilize very different types of activities in their programs. While discussing the activities, the faculty member may pose questions which ask students to reflect on how these differing types of activities may be received by their respective target population(s) and the types of responses that may result. This leads to an iterative process of reflexivity and opportunities for feedback for students as they progress in constructing programming.