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October 14, 2016

Service Learning Guide: Linking Social Service to Curriculum

By John DePasquale
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    My mother instilled in me the importance and value of community service from a very young age. Through her work and example as a social worker and community outreach coordinator, my mother taught me to not only recognize the needs that exist in my community, but to respond to those needs through direct service. From collecting frozen Thanksgiving turkeys with my mother for a food pantry, to early morning trips to a laundromat to wash bed linens from a homeless shelter she helped to organize, my mother taught and reinforced the value of community service often. These experiences had a lasting effect on me.

    As a result, and following the example set by my mother, I make it a priority to incorporate service learning opportunities into my teaching in order to meaningfully engage my students in the world beyond the physical confines of our classroom.

    If you’re new to service learning, I recommend you take advantage of the season of giving and plan a project for the window of time between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Service learning does take a bit of forethought and planning, so now is the perfect time to begin gathering project ideas.

    What is Service Learning?

    Service learning is different from simply volunteering because service learning directly links a service project to the academic curriculum. Service learning provides students with opportunities to connect and apply learning and skills from classroom content to address unmet needs that exist in their community. Through service learning, students develop their knowledge in authentic ways that can make a positive difference in the world. Students, as a result, become more aware of themselves and others through these meaningful acts of civic engagement.

    Steps to a Successful Service Learning Project

    Step 1: Exploration

    Work with students to explore the needs in your community as a first step before selecting the focus of the service learning project. Engage students in the exploration process by highlighting their voices and ideas as you work together to investigate different issues in the community. You can easily connect this step to the curriculum by teaching research skills as students learn more about the needs of their community.

    To explore the needs in your community, ask students:

    • What is the most important issue or concern in our community?

    • Why is this a problem?

    • Who in our community is impacted because of this issue? 

    • What work is currently being done to address this need in our community?

    • What work still needs to be done to address this concern?

    I typically keep a classroom chart to keep track of the students’ ideas. Once students identify the important community needs, a focus for the project is selected. The focus can be selected by arriving at a group consensus or you could have students vote for their top choice. I also think it is fine for the teacher to select the most feasible focus for the class project.

    Step 2: Planning and Preparation

    The next step is time to plan and prepare the service project. It’s helpful to pay attention to detail and keep a to-do list when planning the project. Use the following questions to plan a service learning project:

    • What is the project?

    • Who will complete this project?

    • Where will the project be completed?

    • When will it occur?

    • How much time will it require?

    • What materials will be needed for the project?

    • How will the project be completed? What are the required steps? 

    Now that you have a plan, schedule a time for your service project.

    Step 3: Day of Service

    I am fortunate to work at a school that designates two full school days each year for service projects. You don’t, however, need a full day. Depending on the extent of the project and the prior planning, some projects may require only a single class period to complete.   

    Step 4: Reflection

    Pausing for a reflection is an essential final step of meaningful service learning. The reflection does not have to be extensive, but it should encourage the students to consider the project, how they felt working on it, what went well and what could be improved. I use the following questions for each service learning reflection:

    • What happened during the project?

    • How did this project make you feel?

    • How does this project address a need in the community?

    • What went well?

    • What could be done to improve this project?

    Our Service Learning Project

    My students recently completed our first service learning project of the school year. We partnered with a local agency that delivers nutritious meals to individuals who are mostly homebound because of chronic illness. The students worked to decorate paper bags that will be used to deliver a special Thanksgiving meal.

     

    Additional Resources

    The Complete Guide to Service Learning by Cathryn Berger Kaye: This book is a comprehensive resource for teachers at any level interested in service learning. It is full of ready-to-use activities and ideas for the classroom. I particularly like this guide because it also includes an annotated list of books for students.

    Online Resources

    Be Big!: Scholastic's Be Big! comes complete with a service project planning guide

    Learning to Give: Lesson plans and guides to inspire a spirit of service in your students

    DoSomething.org: A collection of service projects and action campaigns for young people

    generationOn: Service learning resources and professional development for teachers

    Generator School Network: An online community with resources and ideas for service learning

    Youth Service Opportunities Project: An organization that provides service learning opportunities in New York City and Washington, DC

     

     

    You can follow me on Twitter @johndepasquale_.

    My mother instilled in me the importance and value of community service from a very young age. Through her work and example as a social worker and community outreach coordinator, my mother taught me to not only recognize the needs that exist in my community, but to respond to those needs through direct service. From collecting frozen Thanksgiving turkeys with my mother for a food pantry, to early morning trips to a laundromat to wash bed linens from a homeless shelter she helped to organize, my mother taught and reinforced the value of community service often. These experiences had a lasting effect on me.

    As a result, and following the example set by my mother, I make it a priority to incorporate service learning opportunities into my teaching in order to meaningfully engage my students in the world beyond the physical confines of our classroom.

    If you’re new to service learning, I recommend you take advantage of the season of giving and plan a project for the window of time between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Service learning does take a bit of forethought and planning, so now is the perfect time to begin gathering project ideas.

    What is Service Learning?

    Service learning is different from simply volunteering because service learning directly links a service project to the academic curriculum. Service learning provides students with opportunities to connect and apply learning and skills from classroom content to address unmet needs that exist in their community. Through service learning, students develop their knowledge in authentic ways that can make a positive difference in the world. Students, as a result, become more aware of themselves and others through these meaningful acts of civic engagement.

    Steps to a Successful Service Learning Project

    Step 1: Exploration

    Work with students to explore the needs in your community as a first step before selecting the focus of the service learning project. Engage students in the exploration process by highlighting their voices and ideas as you work together to investigate different issues in the community. You can easily connect this step to the curriculum by teaching research skills as students learn more about the needs of their community.

    To explore the needs in your community, ask students:

    • What is the most important issue or concern in our community?

    • Why is this a problem?

    • Who in our community is impacted because of this issue? 

    • What work is currently being done to address this need in our community?

    • What work still needs to be done to address this concern?

    I typically keep a classroom chart to keep track of the students’ ideas. Once students identify the important community needs, a focus for the project is selected. The focus can be selected by arriving at a group consensus or you could have students vote for their top choice. I also think it is fine for the teacher to select the most feasible focus for the class project.

    Step 2: Planning and Preparation

    The next step is time to plan and prepare the service project. It’s helpful to pay attention to detail and keep a to-do list when planning the project. Use the following questions to plan a service learning project:

    • What is the project?

    • Who will complete this project?

    • Where will the project be completed?

    • When will it occur?

    • How much time will it require?

    • What materials will be needed for the project?

    • How will the project be completed? What are the required steps? 

    Now that you have a plan, schedule a time for your service project.

    Step 3: Day of Service

    I am fortunate to work at a school that designates two full school days each year for service projects. You don’t, however, need a full day. Depending on the extent of the project and the prior planning, some projects may require only a single class period to complete.   

    Step 4: Reflection

    Pausing for a reflection is an essential final step of meaningful service learning. The reflection does not have to be extensive, but it should encourage the students to consider the project, how they felt working on it, what went well and what could be improved. I use the following questions for each service learning reflection:

    • What happened during the project?

    • How did this project make you feel?

    • How does this project address a need in the community?

    • What went well?

    • What could be done to improve this project?

    Our Service Learning Project

    My students recently completed our first service learning project of the school year. We partnered with a local agency that delivers nutritious meals to individuals who are mostly homebound because of chronic illness. The students worked to decorate paper bags that will be used to deliver a special Thanksgiving meal.

     

    Additional Resources

    The Complete Guide to Service Learning by Cathryn Berger Kaye: This book is a comprehensive resource for teachers at any level interested in service learning. It is full of ready-to-use activities and ideas for the classroom. I particularly like this guide because it also includes an annotated list of books for students.

    Online Resources

    Be Big!: Scholastic's Be Big! comes complete with a service project planning guide

    Learning to Give: Lesson plans and guides to inspire a spirit of service in your students

    DoSomething.org: A collection of service projects and action campaigns for young people

    generationOn: Service learning resources and professional development for teachers

    Generator School Network: An online community with resources and ideas for service learning

    Youth Service Opportunities Project: An organization that provides service learning opportunities in New York City and Washington, DC

     

     

    You can follow me on Twitter @johndepasquale_.

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