K-12 Service Learning Coordinator
American School of Dubai
With my new position of K-12 Service Learning coordinator I am visiting classrooms and teaching teams to gauge our level of understanding with, and preparation for, service learning. Often teachers have a good grasp of service learning conceptually but have a bit more difficulty in "unpacking" it. I've found myself breaking down service learning into common characteristics found in engaging and powerful service learning experiences.
1. Is Directed by Learning Outcomes
No, it's not community service. No, it's not simply fundraising. It is a well orchestrated cycle of progression that revolves around a central learning outcome (or perhaps two). Service learning, for it to be "sticky" needs to have a reason for being. This often lives in the curriculum, but even when when it doesn't take place in the classroom - say it's an after school student organization - it should still maintain it sights on the target: The learning outcome.
2. Involves Student Agency
The term "invites" is a loose one for ideally you want to have students doing work "for the students and by the students". It's just that teachers often have a hard time letting go (which we need to get used to) and students are sometimes not developmentally prepared for a full release of all decision making. Still, a good teacher will be able to find that balance between guiding questions and providing freedom to wonder.
3. Is Inquiry Based
Most teachers are now well aware of the power and opportunity provided by student inquiry. Given a chance to ask questions, and a structure and opportunity to follow where those questions might lead, students can truly shine. So let 'em!
4. Addresses Authentic Needs
What constitutes a "need" is not always our impression of doom and gloom. No, it's not always helping the poor in some far away land (or even down the street). No, it's not based on assumptions we - often as outsiders to the "need" we are addressing - have about a community situation. It's a well investigated approach aimed at authentically recognizing a community need. Take a walk around your campus (for the little ones). Interview members of your community. Burst the expat bubble and see where it leads. Sometimes there are wonderful connections just waiting to be uncovered!
5. Connects Students to Real World Issues
Thing global, act local, they say. Just like that it's important for students to recognize the interconnections between the classroom and the world at large. If it's real to them it's worth inquiring about.
6. Develops "Critical Consciousness" About the Issue
Critical consciousness might need to be unpacked in your own context but, by and large, from where I see it, it is the connections made between students regarding their own place in the systems and structures in the world, their recognition of personal leverage and their analysis of personal behaviors as they relate to the people and place around them, both near and far.
7. Involves Reflection Throughout the Process
Nope, not just the debrief type of reflection, but the reflection that allows, as Cathy Berger Kaye notes, students "to become reflective". The constant offering of opportunities to reflect in a variety of manners - as they are most personally beneficial - is essential to the learning process, to pivoting when it is necessary and to adjusting and re-adjusting on an ongoing basis.
8. Makes Learning Visible
This is a catch word of the day, it seems, but demonstrating learning - both as a final product and throughout the process - is essential in building a community of service learning. Collaboration starts from working with others, sharing experiences, providing exemplars, changing things that have not worked and making them ever-better. Such is the nature of life, and such should be the nature of learning through service.
That's it in a nutshell. These elements, along with the recognition that learning at its best is "messy" (as is service learning) are a great starting point upon which to embark on an incredible journey toward building world changers.
This blog is currently being updated by Laurence Myers, K-12 Service Learning Coordinator at the American School of Dubai. We are hoping the blog becomes a compilation of posts from a variety of people in the region and around the world. Want to add something? Send it along!