Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Acknowledgment/Service Learning

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What is service-learning?
I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.

—Chinese Proverb

Very simply put, service-learning is a way to tie together community service and academics, giving students a way to learn by “doing” something. It is the integration of meaningful community service, instruction, and personal reflection (National Service). According to Rudy Crew, a former New York City Public Schools chancellor, the goal of service learning is to provide relevance of the curriculum, a level of rigor in academics, and to build relationships (Learning). Service-learning is taking place at all levels of education: K-12 institutions, colleges and universities, and communities in order to produce world-class learners and world-class citizens.

Defining Service-Learning and Setting Goals[edit]

Service-learning is a particularly fertile way of involving young people in community service, because it ties helping others to what they are learning in the classroom. In the process, it provides a compelling answer to the perennial question: 'Why do I need to learn this stuff?'

—General Colin Powell, founding chairman of America’s Promise

Service learning is a strategy used by educators to help students reach certain academic and social goals. One set of goals of service-learning is to enhance students’ motivation to learn, increase attendance in schools, and reduce student dropout rates. As educators we strive to engage our students in activities which will give them a sense of responsibility for their own learning. This ownership of education will contribute to their academic and social success (Learning). Another goal of service-learning is to enable students to see the relevance of academic subjects to the real world. As educators we often run into the question “Why do I need to know this stuff?” Service-learning gives us the opportunity to open the door of communication to show them through action how studying a wide range of subjects will help them. Through service-learning, students will be proud of their work; this gives students confidence and builds self-esteem. Another goal that is often overlooked is the attempt to develop an environment of collegial participation among students, faculty, and the community.

Service-learning has several specific requirements: a service-learning project must have clearly articulated and authentic learning goals that address the curriculum, give the students an opportunity to make decisions, respond to a genuine community need, and include a personal analytic reflection produced by the students. In other words, not only are the students encouraged to improve their academic skills by applying what they learn in school to the real world, but they are also reflecting on their experiences to reinforce the connection between their service and the their learning (Learning in Deed). This will also help to foster the development of empathy, values, beliefs, awareness, self-confidence, and helps to foster a sense of caring for others (Cooper). These are valuable personal traits that are rarely directly addressed in classroom curriculum.

Characteristics of Service-Learning[edit]

Now that we know the basic definition, goals, and benefits of service-learning, let us attach some characteristics to service-learning in order to understand what it “looks like.”

Characteristics of what school-based service-learning is and is not
What is Service-Learning? What is Service-Learning Not?!
A method of teaching that combines community service with curriculum-based learning An episodic volunteer or community service program with no ties to academics
A link to academic content and standards An “add-on” to the existing curriculum
Helping students to determine and meet real, defined community needs One-sided; benefiting either the student or the community
Benefiting both the community and the student An assignment in the community given as a punishment
Can be used for all ages and educational levels Only for use in social studies classes, civics, or American government or only for high school and college students (Learning [and] National Service)

Student Reflection[edit]

One of the large elements of service-learning is student reflection. According to Aldous Huxley, "experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happened to him.” This is the point at which students can make their experience personal and draw connections to their own world. One way in order to enable students to make this connection is by asking them to comment on three levels of reflection: the Mirror Level, the Microscope Level, and the Binoculars Level.

The first level of reflection is the Mirror Level. This gives students an opportunity to make a clear reflection of who they are, what their values are, and what they have learned about themselves through the experience. Students should be encouraged to discover how they had to challenge themselves and their own perceptions of life in order to complete the project.

The second level of reflection is the Microscope Level. This is when the students’ seemingly small experience becomes very large. They should describe their experience and explain the impact their actions had on the overall project. Who did they affect and what did they learn about them? What else can be done to help the situation? They should also address how their project complimented or contrasted with the material being taught in class (Cooper). At this point the students are seeing the “bigger picture” of their experience and who or what they affected.

The third level students should address in their reflection is the Binocular Level. This is the level that makes what appears distant, seem closer. In other words, from their experience the students should analyze their future behaviors and attitudes. Will they be altered or changed from their initial perceptions? They should also be addressing the overarching issues that influence the original problem they were attempting to solve in the community. What is the larger political/social problem (Cooper)?

Service-Learning Statistics[edit]

A survey was given to 580 college and university campuses during the 2005-2006 school year in order to find information on service-learning trends. According to that survey, 91% of the surveyed campuses offer service-learning courses and 32% of the students attending them engage in these courses. The 6,566,780 students who participate in service-learning courses performed a total of 317 million hours of service in the academic year of 2005-2006 (Brown).

Service-Learning Federal Policy[edit]

Federal policy has grown over the past 20 years in order to support service-learning programs and implement them across the nation. The original policies are the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The National and Community Service Act of 1990 was put into action by President Bush Sr. The goal of the act was to support and encourage the implementation of service-learning in America through school programs, youth corps, and higher education service programs. The Community Service Trust Act of 1993 was enlisted during the Clinton administration. Its main goal was to enhance national service-learning opportunities and to provide service educational awards to people participating in service-learning projects. The most current legislation is the Generations Invigorating Volunteering and Education (GIVE) Bill, which was accepted in the summer of 2007. When this bill becomes an act, it will be responsible for recharging, updating, and rejuvenating the 1993 Community Service Trust Act (Corporation).

U.S. schools are ready now to embrace service-learning as a means of overcoming widespread academic and civic disengagement among American students. This is our opportunity to raise a generation of youth who will become tomorrow’s leaders and proactive citizens.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Suzie, a Norfolk high school student, was involved in a service-learning project last year in her Environmental Science class. Her class grew oysters for the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program. In her reflection journal, she commented on the correlation between her classwork and the work they did on the oysters. She said she understood oysters more after working with them in the field and would be interested in seeing the data collected by all schools involved in the project. Which of the levels of reflection did she address?
A. Binoculars Level
B. Microscope Level
C. Mirror Level
D. Window Level

B. Microscope Level

Which of the following current forms of legislation will the GIVE bill strive to recharge and update?
A. Community Service Trust Act of 1993
B. National and Community Service Act of 1990
C. Community Service Program Act of 1980
D. Serve and Learn America Initiative

A. Community Service Trust Act of 1993

Which of the following is not a requirement of service-learning?
A. The service project must have clearly articulated goals that address curriculum.
B. The content of the service project must “add-on” to the existing curriculum and not already be required in the curriculum.
C. The students involved must include a personal reflection of their experience.
D. The service project must be responding to an authentic community need.

B. The content of the service project must “add-on” to the existing curriculum and not already be required in the curriculum.

Which of the following examples of service does not fit the requirements of service-learning?
A. Computer majors designing personalized software for local non-profits to better manage volunteers, resources, finances, and inventories.
B. An art history program consisting of mini-lectures by art history majors from the college going out into local K-12 classrooms.
C. Environmental students volunteering with a community business to help them form a recycling program.
D. A single mother working in a soup kitchen two times a month as a volunteer.

D. A single mother working in a soup kitchen two times a month as a volunteer.

How many hours of service-learning was recorded out of the 580 college campuses surveyed?
A. 100,000 hours
B. 317,000,000 hours
C. 933,000,000 hours
D. 1,000,566,000 hours

B. 317,000,000 hours

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

Explain how service-learning can be an especially effective teaching strategy for students who are unmotivated and disengaged from learning in a classroom setting.

Service-learning can reverse the student disengagement that we see in our American schools. It works to provide students with a mode of learning that will connect their personal background with the academic subject being taught. They are able to create a pride in themselves by completing a project and taking responsibility for their own learning. This gives them confidence to attack the rigor of the classroom work. The goal is to reinforce and expand upon the standard-based curriculum being taught. It also helps to give students a purpose for learning the subject matter. For instance, a student may ask, “why do I need to understand how to test for dissolved oxygen in the water?” An environmental educator who performs a service-learning project in the field may have the students help local agencies to monitor a stream near the school. Analyzing the state of the stream would very quickly show a student how important dissolved oxygen content is in the water. They will be able to reflect upon the theories taught at school with the findings from the stream they monitor.