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What is Service-Learning?
Service-Learning Definition,Elements, and Examples
Service-learning is a method by which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that
In service-learning projects, students practice skills and behaviors
that teachers need them to learn through the service they do. Service
is a means and application of learning.
Student Components in Service-Learning Projects
What distinguishes service-learning from other service and volunteering?
In a school context, the service is directly related to curricula and
components of the project are course assignments and part of students’
grades. Activities are designed to address and apply specific learning
objectives, standards, and curriculum frameworks. Effective service-learning
projects have the following student roles:
Needs Investigation and Project Design
Teachers assign students work/projects/tasks to learn about the context
for the service the students will subsequently provide. The service that
follows is derived from this new knowledge, involves student voice and
design, but remains within the curricular framework the teacher has established.
Reflection is integrated into successful projects from beginning to end as students form and test opinions, project outcomes, measure results and impacts, discuss actions and reactions, and make improvements and future plans. Reflection allows students to process and absorb what they have experienced and is critical to meaningful learning.
Demonstration is another application of service-learning that involves students in educating others about the issues they are addressing.
Throughout the project, but especially at the end, students
should be recognized for their efforts. In successful projects, all participants
join together to reflect and to plan future efforts.
An implicit or explicit component of the above elements, youth empowerment and leadership enrich every aspect of service-learning. The greater the voice students have in identifying needs and designing activities, the more motivated they will be. Having to demonstrate to (i.e., teach) others about the needs and issues being addressed requires a higher assimilation of learning. Effective projects have students evaluate impacts of activities, saving teachers labor and making students responsible for determining whether their efforts were successful. Strong student roles are hallmarks of effective projects, in which students . . .
Reciprocity ensures activities provide service that is actually
needed, exposes students to people different from themselves, provides
different perspectives on needs, and brings outside assistance, expertise,
match, and publicity, to service-learning projects. In effective projects,
teachers and students design activities based on what they hear and learn
from those in need and not on preconceived notions.
When these elements are in place, the impacts of curriculum-based service-learning go far beyond those of traditional community service and volunteering. Service-learning combines academic and affective learning to engage students hands-on in the real world. This combination—not to mention the incentive to learn outside the classroom—is what makes service-learning such a powerful tool, pedagogy, and strategy.
Examples of Service-learning in Various Need Areas
Reading—e.g., students serving as reading tutors for other students or for adults; creating books or other written materials for other students, the public, or Web sites; reading and writing for seniors or the infirm; editing documents; teaching reading to young children; translating documents for non-English speakers; promoting reading through advocacy campaigns, public service announcements (PSAs), book drives, or public readings; designing and constructing reading areas; and dramatic, artistic, or musical performances of texts and literature.
Civics/history—e.g., conducting, compiling, recording, publishing, filming, or depicting histories of a local community, individuals in a community, or historic locations (cemeteries, buildings, natural features/sites, forts, Native American sites); advocacy campaigns on topics in the public interest; gathering and disseminating information about services available to residents and visitors; creating murals depicting local history; teaching peers about democratic processes through events, student-made videos, performances (including puppet shows), lessons, and hands-on activities; creating children’s history books; serving as museum docents; reenacting historic events; restoring or recreating historic structures; forums on topics of public interest; oral histories focusing on different eras; teaching about voting; producing tip sheets or guidebooks on how to effect positive community change.
Drug/violence prevention—e.g., teaching other students or the community how to avoid/respond to conflict, drugs, STDs, teen pregnancy, alcohol, and other self-destructive choices. Strategies could include lessons, presentations, dramatic performances, videos, artistic displays, music, advocacy campaigns, PSAs, forums, coloring books, conflict mediation, serving on Teen Courts, and safety presentations for the home, car, or neighborhood.
Intergenerational interaction—e.g., service projects for and with seniors to include health screenings, exercise programs, teaching the use of computers, oral histories, pen pal programs, concerts and dances with (not just for) seniors, creating art or gardens at senior centers, working with seniors to put on public forums on important issues, and providing patients with physical and mental stimulation (working on arts and crafts together, exercise, games, etc.). Students can also teach others about seniors through lessons, publications, presentations, performances, brochures, Web sites, and advocacy campaigns.
Environment—e.g., restoration of degraded areas; exotic plant removal; propagation and planting of native plants; water, flora, and fauna testing/monitoring; research on endangered species; erosion abatement efforts; management of public lands to include trail and outdoor classroom design and maintenance; raise-and-release efforts; energy audits for homes, schools, and communities; and mapping. Demonstration elements include teaching, presenting, creating brochures and Web sites, art representing the flora and fauna being studied, giving tours and field days, making videos, composing information to place in kiosks and translating it into foreign languages, performances, advocacy campaigns, public service announcements, Web sites, and fundraising to preserve natural areas.
K-12 Standards and Indicators for Quality Service-Learning Practice
1. Duration and Intensity: Service-learning has sufficient duration and intensity to address community needs and meet specified outcomes.
2. Link to Curriculum: Service-learning is intentionally used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards.
3. Partnerships: Service-learning partnerships are collaborative, mutually beneficial, and address community needs.
4. Meaningful Service: Service-learning actively engages participants in meaningful and personally relevant service activities.
5. Youth Voice: Service-learning provides youth with a strong voice in planning, implementing, and evaluating service-learning experiences with guidance from adults.
6. Diversity: Service-learning promotes understanding of diversity and mutual respect among all participants.
7. Reflection: Service-learning incorporates multiple challenging reflection activities that are ongoing and that prompt deep thinking and analysis about oneself and one’s relationship to society.
8. Progress Monitoring: Service-learning engages participants in an ongoing process to assess the quality of implementation and progress toward meeting specified goals, and uses results for improvement and sustainability.
For more information—including lesson plans, descriptions of previously funded projects, sample proposals, video introductions to service-learning, links with Florida Sunshine State Standards, research on service-learning, etc.—check the rest of the resources available here at the Florida Learn & Serve Website.
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