Saturday, April 16, 2011

Community Service Learning in the Curriculum

Works Cited

Howard, J. (1993). Community Service Learning in the Curriculum. In J. Howard, Praxis I: A Faculty Casebook on Community Service-Learning (pp. 101-104). Michigan: The Office of Community Service-Learning Press.


Author Jeffery Howard put together a “tool-kit” on how to implement community service learning in the curriculum. His tool-kit is aimed towards college faculty members, encouraging them to add a component of community service learning to their currently existing courses. His opening introduction defines community service learning (CSL), explains why CSL is important, and lists principles of good practice in CSL pedagogy. His chapter begins with reasons why CSL is important. “Much of the attention and support for college student involvement in community service has focused on students’ contributions to the community and on the development of students’ lifelong civic responsibility.” (101) Some of his reasons why CSL is so important are:
• community service experiences enhance academic learning
• community service experiences are important sources of knowledge and scholarship
• students are more likely to intentionally learn because they are more accustomed to, and accountable for, learning in academic courses than in co-curricular activities

Howard also notes an important distinction between community service and community service learning. “Where it differs is in its deliberateness about student learning. Though learning necessarily occurs in the act of serving in the community, with community service learning there is an intentional effort made to utilize the community service experience as a learning resource.” (101) He also discusses the three different ways educators typically incorporate CSL, the third option being his preferred way. The three ways discussed are: to have students “self-direct” their own learning and keep a reflective journal, for a campus community service program to provide the structure (i.e. guidebook, seminars, student placement), and to have the CSL intentionally integrated into the academic course. Speaking of the last option, Howard suggests, “When used this way, community service learning may be conceptualized as a pedagogical model that connect meaningful community service experiences with academic course learning.” (101)

Howard continues his opening chapter with his 10 good principles of “good practice in community service learning”. With his 10 principles, he notes that CSL should be driven by student learning, rigorous, structured with learning goals, and strategically selected.
“…the duration of the service must be sufficient to enable the fulfillment of learning goals; a one-time two-hour shift at a hospital will do little for the learning in a course on institutional health care…filling records in a warehouse may be of service to a school district, but it would offer little to stimulate learning in a course on elementary school education.” (103)

An important principle I connected with was the principle to “minimize the distinction between students’ community learning role and the classroom learning role”. In the classroom, students are usually led and guided through various lessons and tasks. In CSL, students are expected to be leaders, especially in regards to their own learning. It’s important to show students how to be self-motivated learners by allowing them lead their own learning in the classroom. “For students to have to alternate between the learning-follower role in the classroom and the learning-leader role in the community not only places yet another learning challenge on students but is inconsistent with good pedagogical principles.” (103)


I felt that this chapter introduction was nicely written, thorough, and to the point. The author did not write with any excessive educational jargon, leave terms undefined, or fail to elaborate. Each principle was followed with an explanation and corresponding examples. He effectively provided descriptions when needed, yet kept things simple and to the point. With his titles, headings, and efficient organization, I was able to move through the article with ease, yet was still able to absorb pertinent information. One area of concern was the lack of cited work. Many of Howard’s statements would have had more of an impact had they been backed up by professional sources or corresponding research. Much of his advice and information come from a place of personal experience, not from actual cited resources. In one small section, he does mention some sources, but none too specific. “The 10 principles below are derived from a host of sources, more notably the models depicted in this book, my 16 years of involvement with curriculum-based service-learning, and the candid responses of 10 University of Michigan academic leaders as part of the evaluation of our Kellogg Foundation grant.” (102)


This article reminded me of how intricate CSL really is. Many times, teachers add CSL to the curriculum as an extra assignment, rarely connecting it to the learning that is taking place in the classroom. Like project-based learning, many teachers assume that the mere presence of the project equates to student learning. It’s important for me to remember that CSL, like project-based learning, needs to be thoughtfully created and strategically structured. It needs to be meaningful and embedded in current instruction. It should not be a separate activity that is rarely visited. To optimize student learning, CSL needs to have deliberately planned learning goals. One of Howard’s quotes also reminded me that not all students will learn the same way and not all our projects will have the same outcome. Sometimes even our grandest projects/lesson plans will have failures. “In community service learning courses, the variability in community service placements necessarily leads to less certainty and homogeneity in student learning outcomes.” (104) I must be prepared for “uncertainty and variation in student learning outcomes”.

More Quotes:

-“…the student’s grade is for the quality of learning and not for the quality (or quantity of service.” (102)

-“Adding a service component, in fact, may enhance the rigor of a course because, in addition to having to master the academic material, students must also learn how to learn from community experience and merge that learning with academic learning, and these are challenging intellectual activities that are commensurate with rigorous academic standards.” (102)

-“Learning interventions that instigate critical reflection and analysis of service experiences are necessary to enable community learning to be harvested and to serve as an academic learning enhancer.” (103)

-“…if the students are expected to assume a learning-leader role in the community, then room must be made in the classroom for students to assume a learning-leader role; otherwise, students will enter the classroom wearing the inappropriate learning-leader hat.” (104)

-“A shift in instructor role that would be most compatible with these new learning phenomena would move away from information dissemination and move toward learning facilitation and guidance.” (104)

-“If learning in a course is privatized and tacitly understood as for the advancement of the individual, then we are implicitly encouraging a private responsibility mindset; an example would be to assign papers that students write individually and that are read only by the instructor. On the other hand, if the learning is shared amongst the learners for the benefit of corporate learning, then we are implicitly encouraging a group of responsibility mentality; an example would be to share those same students papers with the other students in the class. This conveys to the students that they are resources for one another, and this message contributes to the building of commitment to community and civic duty.” (104)

-“And, it [CSL] provide opportunities for developing real world skills and real world knowledge.” (104)

1 comment:

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