6.13 Service Learning
Service Learning is a bit of education jargon worth knowing. It describes activities that involve students in structured activities that benefit others while connecting with their school experience in an intentional way. Service learning usually involves taking students outside the school, but whereas field trips are usually about seeing or experiencing something for the student’s benefit, service learning is usually designed to involve the student in something that benefits another.
A small, simple example of service learning is common: many kindergarten classes make a trip to a nearby assisted-living home to sing songs and share smiles. A much greater level of service is required to earn the Eagle Scout badge in Boy Scouts. Some ambitious teachers plan service learning opportunities in a way that folds in academic work such as research, writing and speaking. Service learning can also create real reasons for teamwork, offering students leadership opportunities and chances to learn about planning and working with others.
Service learning approaches vary widely, making them hard to study. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has given it a try, with some modest findings. Research about the benefits of service learning is largely anecdotal and suffers from selection bias, but that doesn’t make it wrong. John Mockler, a California education policy expert, often suggests that when it is difficult to figure out whether something complicated is worth the effort it is helpful to look at what independent private schools are doing. Service learning is an important movement in independent schools. (Note: Readers with an interest in service learning should also read posts 6.12 Internships and 6.11 Career Technical Education.)
Social/Emotional Learning occurs in school naturally…for better or worse. Students draw lessons from the rough and tumble laboratory of recess breaks. They reach conclusions in moments of boredom between moments of structure. The chaos of school regularly generates “teachable moments,” and we all should thank the teachers and principals who help students draw the right conclusions. Some schools lend structure to building “emotional intelligence” (EQ) as part of the curriculum.
A key element of any social/emotional learning strategy is to equip students with approaches to keep their cool and help others do the same. There are many, including these: ESR; Responsive Classroom; and Niroga. Full Circle Fund has worked with the Niroga Institute, a Bay Area organization that helps students learn yoga techniques to build awareness of their own state of mind.
Thanks to Peter Kuperman for help with this post