Service learning is a method of teaching that combines formal instruction with a related service in the community. Learning is enhanced through direct application with guided reflection of the student’s experiences. As a teaching method, service learning is best categorized as a form of experiential education. Specifically, service learning integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good.
Service learning offers students immediate opportunities to apply classroom learning to support or enhance the work of local agencies that often exist to effect positive change in the community.
“Unless we get younger students meaningfully involved with their school and older students involved in their futures and community participation in government and decision making, we have real reasons to worry about the quality of our leadership and our democracy in the future.” – Jim Stevens, CEO of GiftsToGive
The wire-frame of service learning: For educators, a plain distinction needs to be made between community service and service learning. When youth engage in service learning, it involves more than arriving at a soup kitchen or a park and serving food or cleaning up. It begins with preparation and learning about the particular problem area or context the service experience will address and, ideally, is linked to academic subject matter being studied. So, preparation for a soup kitchen visit can involve learning about homelessness, poverty, or nutrition. Cleaning up a park can be linked to geography, environmental conservation, or community recreation.
After preparation comes action. This step should respond to actual community needs, be age appropriate and well organized, achieve specific benefits for the setting, and build specific skills in those carrying out the service. It should also involve direct collaboration with the recipients of the service, and should be genuine and personally meaningful, generating emotional consequences that can build empathy and challenge pre-existing ideas and values. It is widely agreed that the next component — reflection — is the hallmark of high-quality service learning.
At a minimum, reflection is guided, can occur in a range of modalities, typically is shared, and involves recalling elements of the service experience. It should also relate those experiences to prior situations, beliefs, and learning, asking questions, and coming up with solutions to problems, as well as considering the meaning of involvement for one’s current and future identity. The reflection process also provides an opportunity for feedback and skill building and development necessary to be more effective at the tasks the service activities encompass.
Finally, service learning includes demonstration and celebration. Those engaged in service learning share their experience with others, including their academic and social and emotional learning.
When students prepare for sharing with others, their learning is also deepened. They might need to make a set of charts related to nutrition and present those to parent and community groups, or organize an assembly and create stations illustrating for fellow students all the various activities needed to preserve a park and why doing so is important.
Service learning is a remarkable and powerful pedagogy because it focuses on the specific needs of communities and it is concerned with individual wellness, building strengths, fostering collaboration, promoting social justice, empowering participation, enhancing a sense of community, and respecting diversity. It gives voice to the rarely heard and under-served.
There is strong research documenting, that, when implemented rigorously, service learning has impact. Research consistently shows the benefits in social and emotional competencies, civic commitment, academic outcomes, and career planning to those carrying out the service. Recipients also benefit more from service-learning experiences than from those experiences characterized as “community service”. Research has also proven that high school students who engage in service learning with peers who either performed community service or participated in no service – that the service-learning group scored higher on all academic measures – based on a rubric of academic goals – and engaged in ongoing reflective opportunities.
How to bring service learning to your school
We’ll help administrators and classroom teachers design and implement turn-key GiftsToGive programming . Call Martha Kay at 508-717-8715 or Email Martha or use our nifty contact form.