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Service Learning

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 10 years, 3 months ago

Service Learning: Lesson Objectives

After this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives:

  • Define service learning

  • Understand the role of service learning in peace education

  • Understand different ways to integrate service learning into their classroom practice 


Guiding Questions

Before you read this section, consider the following questions:

  • What are some of the benefits of community service or volunteer work?

  • Think of a time you engaged in community service or volunteer work. What did you learn? What did you gain from the experience? How did it contribute to your community? 




"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others"





What is Service Learning?

The philosophers that have been the backdrop for this curriculum, as well as educational psychology theory, have all suppoted the incorporation of the real life of the student into classroom experiences.  One excellent manner to achieve this integration is through service learning.   Learn and Serve America (n.d.) defines service learning as an educational strategy that integrates community service with instruction and reflection.  It is integral to the succcess of this strategy that the community service is meaningful and is truly integrated with the instruction and reflection.  If community service is seen as something that is simply done on certain community service days, it will not be as powerful as if it is part of what students learn and is connected to their community.  The service and the education need to be given equal importance and cannot be separated.  According to Learn and Serve America,

 "If school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. On the other hand, when school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning" (n.d.). 

Service learning thus takes the community service ethos a step further and by having students apply critical thinking skills, reflection and analysis to take action to improve their communitites. 


Why Service Learning?

Service learning projects are easy to integrate into the curriculum for students from preschool through university level and beyond, and they are wonderful opportunities for students to expand their horizons while also helping their community. In the United States, service learning has been shown to improve academic performance, school attendance and concept of responsibility.  Effective service learning also is cooperative and promotes teamwork, addresses complex problems in their context, promotes learning where there are no right answers and challenges students emotionally and academically to think about their values and assumptions (What Is Service Learning, n.d.). Most importantly, service learning allows students of all ages to realize the importance of helping others, and it provides an opportunity for students to expand their world view and actively work to build a culture of peace in their communities.


How to Use Service Learning

Service learning is traditionally seen at higher level educational institutions.  However, it can be used with students of all grades, as Peace First demonstrates with their programs for students in primary grades in the US.


According to Robert Sigmon (1979), there are three principles that guide service learning. The first principle is that those served should control what services are provided.  This principle works to ensure that services being rendered are actually needed and wanted by the community.  The second principle is that those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions.  The final principle is that those who serve are also learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned. 


In 1989, the Principles of Good Practice in Service-Learning (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989) were developed in consultation with 70 organizations interested in service and learning.  These principles, which serve as excellent guidelines, state that the essential components of good practice in service learning are when the project:

1. Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.

2. Provides structured opportunities for students to reflect critically on their service experience.

3. Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.

4. Allows for those with needs to define those needs.

5. Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.

6. Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.

7. Needs genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.

8. Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.

9. Insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved.

10. Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989).


Service learning can be an incredibly powerful tool, but its power significantly weakens when it is not used correctly.  Therefore teachers need to take into account all of these considerations, which will maximize the possibility of a positive experience for all involved. 


Many schools already have community service requirements in place for their students. These requirements often take the form of school-wide community service days or a requisite number of service hours to be completed individually each semester. As mentioned above, these forms of "service learning" do not embody the term's full potential because they encourage students to view community service either as an isolated, infrequent event, or as an unsavory obligation to be fulfilled in a hodge-podge manner. Service learning is most effective when it takes the form of a more long-term or involved project that also involves elements of complementary education and reflection. Projects undertaken as a class, with the teacher's guidance for the instruction and reflection aspects, are often more meaningful. A system that requires individual service hours could also be effective, but it would need to stipulate that all hours be completed with one project or organization, and that the student turn in a reflection paper/project at the end of their hours in order to fulfill the requirement.


Example of Service Learning: Peace First

One excellent program that supports service learning in the United States is Peace First.  The program was started in the 1990s as a response to the horrific homicide rates in urban areas in the United States.  The idea behind the program is that youth should be problem solvers rather than victims.  Peace First has a curriculum in which students meet once a week for an entire school year.  Students spend the first semester learning developmentally appropriate skills that relate to peace building.  They then spend the second semester working on a service project.  This is a project that is designed by the group of students to address what they consider to be an issue in the community.  One example of a community service project carried out by PeaceFirst second graders in Boston was to create a joke book for sick children in the local hospital.  Another project, enacted by PeaceFirst Kindergartners in New York, was to build a sculpture out of all of the non-reusable lunch trays from one day at the school.  The used this display to demonstrate to the school administration the importance of having reusable lunch trays. The Peace First program is successful because it allows the students to identify needs in their communities and authentically determine ways to address these problems.  Additionally, the learning that students did in the first semester is directly tied to the service action that they take in the second semester, making it a true service learning experience.   


See the Additional Resources section below for more ideas. 



Sigmon, R. (1979). Service learning: Three Principles. Synergist, Spring, p. 9-11.


Honnet, E. P. & Poulsen, S. J. (1989). Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning: A Wingspread Special Report. Retrieved

     from http://servicelearning.org/filemanager/download/Principles_of_Good_Practice_for_Combining_Service_and_Learning.pdf


What is Service Learning. (n.d.). Learn and Serve America website. Retrieved from http://www.servicelearning.org/what_is_service-learning/service-learning_is


Additional Resources

University of North Carolina Service Learning Pedagogy Resource http://www.unc.edu/apples/faculty/2009%20Faculty%20Guide.doc


Learn and Serve: http://www.learnandserve.gov/

A U.S. government organization site that houses many resources regarding service learning. For teachers from the United States, the federal government also provides grants for service learning programs. Learn and Serve also maintains a database of service learning ideas and curricular examples at the following address: http://www.servicelearning.org/service-learning-ideas-and-curricular-examples-slice


Giraffe Club: http://www.giraffe.org/the-giraffe-heroes-program/training-tomorrows-heroes/

An organization dedicated to encouraging individuals ("giraffes") who "stick their necks out" to help others. The giraffe club's program can be applied to classrooms of all levels, and has been very successfully used even with elementary school children.


National Youth Leadership Council: http://www.nylc.org/

Organization that promotes service learning. The website holds all sorts of resources about service learning, including a library of project examples.


National Service-Learning Partnership: http://nslp.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=TR_teaching

Online network that has compiled links to a plethora of service learning project examples, as well as ideas and resources concerning the reflection and assessment aspects of service learning.


Peace First: http://www.peacefirst.org/site/

Comments (2)

Meghan Flaherty said

at 9:56 pm on Aug 5, 2010

I just have a small suggestion for this page- would it be possible when listing the Wingspread Principles to take out "an effective program" from the beginning of each line and make it a header (i.e. An Effective Program... 1., 2., etc.). It just feels a little cumbersome to read the same phrase so many times. Otherwise this looks great!

Julia Smith said

at 9:36 pm on Aug 6, 2010

Hey Meghan,
In response to your comment, I wanted to say that any changes that you want to make on any of the pages that are "mine"(that I've worked on) please go ahead. All of your comments have been insightful and well-founded and I have complete faith in whatever changes you think are necessary. Make a comment if you want, but you don't need to. I'm so bogged down in trying to make the classroom application section not such a complete mess that I definitely appreciate your comments on the rest of the pages. Also, I have deleted from this space the rest of the classroom uses(I can't remember the official title right now) page and have been editing it in chunks, to make it more manageable. If you(or anyone else!) wants to work on making that section more coherent, please let me know!
I would LOVE some help!

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