3/4/09 1:44 PMEducation Update:Learning Through Service:Learning Through ServicePage 2 of 4http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education_update/aug93/vol35/num06/Learning_Through_Service.aspx
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them to elementary students. Another student renovated an apartment in a homelessshelter. Other students have developed educational pamphlets on drinking and driving, childabuse, and teen pregnancy.At Washington Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Wash., every student engages in atleast one service project each year, says Kathy Fisk, who teaches 2nd grade. For example,the 2nd graders do composting, while the 3rd graders use the rich, composted soil forbeautification projects. The school's 4th graders do cross-age tutoring, and the 5th gradersmaintain a bird sanctuary (and study birds and migration).One of the key principles of service learning is providing time for students to reflect on theirexperiences, experts emphasize. Through discussions, journals, and essays, students shouldexplore the larger dimensions of their service. “Working in a soup kitchen can be very menial if there's no reflection or discussion,” saysSamuel Halperin, who directs the American Youth Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. Butwhen students explore related questions—such as why there is hunger and how our societymight combat it— “even the menial can become significant.” “Reflection is the key,” affirms Alice Halsted of the National Center for Service Learning inEarly Adolescence. During the period of service, “there are so many teachable moments, if you can capture them,” she says—especially with early adolescents, who are developingabstract thought. Halsted also emphasizes students' need for preparation and training
they do their service.
How do service activities support learning? Service learning is
learning, advocatesemphasize. In fact, the growing interest in service learning stems, in part, from researchshowing that many students learn especially well through hands-on, experiential activities,Halperin says.When students have a real purpose for what they do, they are more motivated to learn,says Maggie O'Neill, deputy director of the Maryland Student Service Alliance. In writing apersuasive letter, for example, service learning provides real consequences. In a traditionalclass, if a student's letter advocating recycling is mediocre, it may get a “C.” In a servicelearning context, the student won't persuade others to back recycling efforts.Students want to have authentic experiences, O'Neill adds. They are “tired of the vicariousexperiences the classroom provides—filmstrips, somebody else's stories—they want to havetheir own experiences.” Because service learning provides a way for students to apply knowledge and skills, itshould not be seen as an add-on, experts say. Instead, it should be closely coordinated withthe curriculum.If students serve by monitoring the water quality of a river, for example, they should studyrelated issues in the classroom, Halperin says. How did the stream get polluted? Who paysfor pollution? How can we develop good public policy on pollution? “You make the questionsreal by engaging in the service,” he says. “It makes the curriculum alive.” Educators can integrate service activities into the curriculum in a variety of ways, expertssay. In science classes, students can take on environmental projects, for example. In artclasses, students can consider how their art could make life better for people. (They mightdecide to donate it to a homeless shelter.) In home economics classes, students can usetheir newly acquired skills in cooking and child care to help those in need.In teaching a novel or autobiography, an English teacher can help students examine socialproblems, Hoffman says. The novels of Dickens, for example, explore poverty and theoppression of children. Having students lobby or write letters to the editor about suchissues is “a wonderful way of applying what you're learning to today,” she says.Teams of teachers in Boston schools have used service activities to support interdisciplinarylearning, says Pat Barnicle of the Thomas Jefferson Forum. If students serve in a soupkitchen, for example, teachers might organize instruction around the theme of hunger:biology classes could study nutrition; social studies classes could examine hungerthroughout history and its causes; English classes could read literature that deals withhunger.Service learning is truly
, advocates emphasize. When students serve, they developboth new skills and positive attitudes. Students who serve learn communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills, says O'Neill. They also learn practical knowledge, such as howto tutor, how to weatherize a window, or how to find their way around community agencies.According to Halperin, service activities teach “the kinds of things employers are looking for:responsibility, teamwork, problem solving, and learning to learn.” Service activities “reconnect” students to the community, Halsted says. In contrast to ourformer agrarian society, “we have postponed work for the adolescent,” she points out. “Theyoung are now alone, disconnected from institutions.” Service learning provides “a way toreconnect them, to show them they are people of value.” The list of benefits to students is long, Hoffman says. They gain a sense of self-esteem;they feel and become more responsible; they stop thinking only of themselves; and theybegin to think about solutions, asking: “What can
do to make a difference?”
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