Service-Learning and Teacher Education. ERIC Digest.
by Anderson, Jeffrey
Throughout the decade of the 1990s, the use of service-learning increased
dramatically in both K-12 and teacher education. Educators at all levels
report that well-designed and implemented service-learning activities can
help address unmet community needs while simultaneously providing students
opportunity to gain academic knowledge and skills (Root, 1997). Researchers
and teachers note that service-learning often increases student self-esteem,
promotes personal development, and enhances a sense of social responsibility
and personal competence (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1995).
This Digest provides a definition and examples of service-learning, examines
rationales and approaches, reviews research, and discusses future challenges
related to service-learning in teacher education.
WHAT IS SERVICE-LEARNING?
Service-learning may be described as both a philosophy of education
and an instructional method. As a philosophy of education, service-learning
reflects the belief that education should develop social responsibility
and prepare students to be involved citizens in democratic life. As an
instructional method, service-learning involves a blending of service activities
with the academic curriculum in order to address real community needs while
students learn through active engagement. A growing body of research indicates
that carefully planned and implemented service-learning projects can contribute
to both K-12 students' and preservice teachers' learning and growth (Conrad
& Hedin, 1991; Root, 1997).
DISTINGUISHING COMMUNITY SERVICE, SERVICE-LEARNING, AND OTHER FORMS
OF EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION
Service-learning, community service, internships, and other types of
field education such as student teaching are all forms of experiential
education. They do differ, however, as to their primary focus and beneficiaries.
Community service involves students providing assistance to individuals,
organizations, or the community. The assistance can be direct (preparing
meals in a shelter for the homeless or picking up trash in a park) or indirect
(organizing a food drive or doing clerical work for a social service agency).
In all cases, the primary focus is on providing a service and the primary
beneficiary is the service recipient. Internships and student teaching
focus primarily on the student's learning and the primary beneficiary is
the service provider. Service-learning involves blending the key elements
of community service and internships so both the service providers and
the service recipients benefit. These benefits result from a dual focus
on the service being provided and the learning that will occur (Furco,
RATIONALES FOR SERVICE-LEARNING IN TEACHER EDUCATION
Teacher educators cite the following reasons for integrating service-learning
into their courses: (1) to prepare new teachers to use service-learning
as a teaching method with their K-12 students; (2) to help socialize teachers
in the essential moral and civic obligations of teaching, including teaching
with "care," fostering life-long civic engagement, adapting to the needs
of learners with diverse and special needs, and having a commitment to
advocate for social justice for children and families; (3) to enhance preservice
teachers' ability to reflect critically on current educational practices
and their own teaching; (4) to develop in preservice teachers the dispositions
and abilities needed to easily and fully adopt other educational reforms
such as authentic assessment, teaching with integrated thematic units,
focusing on higher order thinking skills, and making improvements in school
schedules and climate; (5) to accelerate the process of learning how to
perform a variety of roles needed to meet the needs of students such as
counselor, community liaison, advocate, and moral leader; and (6) to develop
human service-oriented teachers who can work effectively in schools with
integrated services or other social service settings.
APPROACHES TO INTEGRATING SERVICE-LEARNING INTO TEACHER EDUCATION
In order to help educators create high-quality service-learning programs
a number of groups and individuals have established principles of good
practice. Perhaps the most widely-referenced are the Principles of Good
Practice for Combining Service and Learning (Porter Honnet & Poulsen,
1989). The other frequently referenced principles are the Standards of
Quality for School-Based and Community-Based Service-Learning (Alliance
for Service-Learning in Educational Reform, 1995).
Teacher educators have applied these principles to widely varying degrees
in their efforts to incorporate service-learning experiences in their teacher
preparation programs. Erickson and Anderson (1997) include descriptions
of 14 different approaches utilized by teacher educators at diverse institutions
throughout the country. These approaches show considerable variation in
the degree to which service-learning is integrated into course and/or program
objectives. Approaches range from individual courses in which service-learning
is employed as a method to achieve course goals to courses that share this
focus but also endeavor to provide students with knowledge of service-learning
as a teaching method and philosophy of learning. A growing number of teacher
education programs also provide their preservice teachers with service-learning
experiences in which they work with K-12 teachers in a school and/or community
setting to design and implement service-learning projects.
Examples of service-learning activities in teacher education programs
include (1) preservice teachers taking a social foundations of education
course who tutor adults and children in ESL classrooms and at public libraries;
(2) as a part of a social studies methods course students work with children
in need in community agencies such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Neighborhood
Centers, or Head Start; (3) special education majors coordinate service-learning
projects with their own students during their student teaching assignments;
and (4) preservice teachers in reading methods courses help coordinate
a high school literacy corps, provide training, conduct evaluation studies,
and lead reflection sessions for the tutors.
RESEARCH ON SERVICE-LEARNING IN TEACHER EDUCATION
Research regarding the influences of service-learning experiences on
preservice and beginning teachers is in the early stages. The few studies
that have been conducted indicate that service-learning is associated with
gains for preservice teachers in the development of professional attitudes
and values needed for successful teaching (Root, 1997).
Sullivan (1991) found that preservice teachers who had completed community
service internships had a great degree of success in their student teaching
experience, noting specifically ease in planning activities, communicating
with parents, and using the interpersonal skills necessary to deal effectively
with adolescents. Wade (1995) noted an increase in preservice teachers'
positive attitudes about community participation, and gains in self-esteem
and self-efficacy. Root and Batchelder(1994) concluded that preservice
teachers who completed a service-learning class made significant gains
in the complexity of their thinking about a social problem of childhood.
Seigel (1995) found that teacher education students who completed a community
service experience as a part of a course on diversity increased their sensitivity
to diversity issues and became more insightful about their own responses
to diverse students. Vadeboncoeur, Rahm, Aguilera, and LeCompte (1996)
identified an increased commitment to social justice and a reduction in
teacher biases in teacher education students who completed a service-learning
experience. However, no changes were found in students' degree of social
activism. Wade (1997) found that service-learning can be a means for empowering
student teachers by providing them with authority and affirmation.
Numerous issues face teacher educators as they develop service-learning
experiences, including: (1) Should teacher education students participate
in service activities themselves, learn to use service-learning as a teaching
method for use with their future students, or both? (2) At what point(s)
in the continuum of teacher education, from preservice to beginning teacher
to master teacher, should preparation in the use of service-learning as
a teaching method be placed? (3) Is it essential for preservice teachers
to participate in service-learning in real community settings or is it
sufficient to expose them to service-learning solely in on-campus settings?
Jacoby et al. (1996) discuss a variety of issues in the administration,
curricular integration, and institutionalization of service-learning pertinent
to teacher education and other disciplines in higher education.
Research is needed to examine these questions and a number of other
important issues. These include (1) identifying specific features of service-learning
preparation that contribute to beginning teachers' interest in and use
of high quality service-learning with their K-12 students; (2) characteristics
of teachers, schools, and communities that hinder or support service-learning
practice; and (3) the degree to which teacher education students' civic
responsibility, commitment to social justice, and development of an ethic
of care are developed through service-learning experiences designed to
achieve these goals (Root, 1997).
Service-learning appears to have considerable potential as a method
to achieve important goals of both K-12 education and teacher preparation.
Initial research results, teacher educators, and preservice teachers all
suggest that service-learning can be worthwhile and powerful learning experience.
But there are many challenges to its successful use in teacher education,
including the already overcrowded curriculum, the difficulties of arranging
successful K-12 and community service-learning sites, and linking service-learning
to state and national teacher education accreditation standards. As more
teacher educators take on these challenges, innovative and successful approaches
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