Service Learning: What You Need to Know

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership

What is Service Learning?

Service learning is taking the benefits of learned classroom goals and objectives and applying them to some sort of service within an area outside of the educational setting. Simply put, applying what you have learned at school to everyday life for the benefit of someone or something else. Service learning is mostly conducted on a voluntary basis by the person participating.

The goal of service learning is the hands-on fulfillment of the goals and objectives garnered in the classroom. The objective for students in this hands-on activity is to drive learning from the classroom to practical understanding and useable skills for the future. Of course, the benefit for the community or organization can be multi-tiered. Service learning is a win-win educational tool. Everyone involved in a successful service-learning project can come away with many meaningful learning opportunities. Service learning generally involves five components.

  1. Preparation – This is where we put the project together. This is where we determine the who, what, where, when, and how the project will be implemented.
  2. Action – This of course is where “the rubber meets the road”. This is the time that classroom learning and practical hands-on experience join to hopefully create something meaningful to everyone.
  3. Reflection – This is a time to look back. What was successful? What could we have done better? How do I apply this back to the curriculum I brought with me? Overall, what have I learned and how do I feel about it?
  4. Demonstration – This is a time when a student or group of students can show their peers what they have done and how they did it. This is also a time to possibly raise awareness to an issue that you have become passionate about.
  5. Celebration – As with any job well done, the end should be a celebration. This is a time when the person supervising can make sure that the effort put forth is noted and celebrated.

Service learning is different from community service in that the student is specifically applying learned objectives from the classroom to practical applications in a systematic way to reach certain positive goals for themselves as well as others.

Benefits of Service Learning

The benefits of service learning are multi-faceted. Conducted properly, service learning can be beneficial to everyone involved and can continue to be beneficial to everyone for many years to come after the project is completed. One of the main benefits as mentioned above is for the student to make practical application of learning they have gained in the classroom. When a student can take those practical applications from the classroom to the real world, deeper knowledge is gained and the student becomes more confident in that certain area.

Service learning is also beneficial to those receiving aid from the student learner. The hope is that the student is using their classroom experiences to help others or to make something better than it was before.

Service-Learning Projects to Try

There are a multitude of projects that could fall under the category of service learning. Here are three examples and a brief summary of each. Maybe you will be inspired to try one of these yourself!

Riverbank Trash and its Effects on the Water

As part of the service, a student can pick up trash along a section of a riverbank. The student can solicit volunteers to help in this endeavor as well. While cleaning up the wastes, the student can collect water samples. The student can then take those samples back to their school lab and analyze the results. These results/findings could then be given to local authorities, which in turn will benefit others in keeping our waterways clean and safe for everyone.

Literacy Awareness

As part of this service-learning activity, a student can collect books to donate to low-income schools or boys’ and girls’ clubs. The student can then go into these areas and read with the students and stress the importance of literacy with the students. The same can be done with older students by giving your time to provide tutoring services, of course based on the knowledge you have already obtained.

Animal Welfare

The main action for this activity would be collecting donations of food, blankets, and toys for animals housed at a local humane shelter. In addition to collecting items, the student can volunteer time at the shelter helping with grooming, feeding, and generally caring for the animals at the shelter. The student can benefit from not only the affirmation of doing something kind, but learning basic care for animals that have nobody else to care for them.

Service learning is a wonderful way to get the hands-on experiences students so desperately need to drive learning more deeply. With service learning, students may also find the career they are seeking that will spur them to deeper learning. At the end of the day, it is people helping others and learning while we do so. We sure need a lot more of that today, don’t we?

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