With Common Core State Standards, Why Service Learning Matters Even More

A guest post from our friends at CBK Associates, Cathyrn Berger Kaye, M.A., and Maureen Connolly, Ed.D.

What motivates us to our work as educators? While raising test scores and achieving accountability may be critical to our everyday tasks, most of us entered education to make a difference in the lives of children, families and communities—to provide children with optimum learning experiences transferable to their lives outside of school, that guide them to adulthood with a solid sense of personal efficacy, and the ability to make choices and decisions healthy for themselves and our society.

For this to actually occur, students benefit from real world applications of their academic learning while they are still in school, with a research-based approach called Service Learning. This allows them a laboratory to practice, review, reassess, and reflect, all with the guidance and support of knowledgeable teachers. They see the viability and purpose of their study. This process actually adds rigor to academics as students are depended upon, builds interdisciplinary understandings, and deepens learning, all while improving the viability of the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core and Student Engagement

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) serve as a guide for purposeful learning with real world application. Many CCSS descriptors and elements comprise essential 21st century competencies well suited for our 21st century learners. With Common Core integration the aim is for students, through academics, to develop and hone their ability to read closely so as to analyze, interpret, and synthesize information and ideas, collaborate with others, and utilize refined language skills to present information through writing and speaking with the support of technology. All of the unique standards add up to a desired outcome as seen in the CCSS outline of seven “Capacities for the Literate Individual,” a “portrait of students who meet the standards.” This summative document describes students who:

  1. Demonstrate independence

They read complex text independently, and question and clarify information. As self-directed learners, they seek appropriate resources (teacher assistance, peers, print and digital media) to increase understanding.

  1. Build strong content knowledge

As purposeful readers, viewers, and listeners, they research to increase general and content-specific knowledge and understanding. They share knowledge through writing and speaking.

  1. Respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline

They shift tone, word choice, and selection of evidence to best fit the writing context.

  1. Comprehend as well as critique

They question the veracity and bias of their sources.

  1. Value evidence

They evaluate evidence and use evidence effectively to construct arguments.

  1. Use technology and digital media strategically and capably

They navigate media to find useful information, integrate online and offline sources, and choose tech tools wisely to best support their intentions.

  1. Come to understand other perspectives and cultures

Students seek to understand other cultures, communicate with others, and evaluate perspectives of themselves and others.

This description of literate individuals is what we hope teachers keep in mind, rather than preparing students to pass standards-based tests. Passing such tests will be easy for students if they truly possess the capacities listed above.

So, we know where we are going; how do we get there? Of critical note regarding Common Core State Standards is this: They provide an outline of what we want students to be able to do, however the how of the process is left to us, the educators–those who prepare and design the day-to-day programs and curriculum and greet learners as they arrive at this place called “school.” We then have the choice of determining prime methods for integration. We can choose learning to occur only in the classroom with evidence of learning being observation, exams and tests. Or we can provide a more authentic context for the application of the learning, and by so doing elevate students’ abilities and understandings, assist them in seeing why learning matters, and recognize they already are people of value to society.

Will this approach motivate students? Everyday challenges often center on how we deliver the curriculum in ways that motivate the learner; motivating them beyond doing the minimum to truly becoming involved with the content. We observe the lack of motivation daily. All a teacher has to do is give an assignment and hands fly up as students ask: What do you want me to do? This is a powerful indicator that students want to be told step-by-step, inch-by-inch how to meet the requirement, complete the task, do what’s necessary to please the teacher. What is lacking in this scenario? Student engagement best recognized through thinking, initiative, problem solving, and many other descriptors from the list of capacities for the literate individual. Ultimately what is missing is the wanting to learn.

In actuality, we may not be able to motivate anyone. Motivation comes from within. However, if we engage a person, there is a likelihood the person will choose to be motivated. The question then becomes, How can we best engage students in a learning process that maximizes their ability to meet and exceed the Common Core State Standards in our daily classrooms and encourages the habits of learning we want to see? What methods and pedagogies best inspire intrinsic motivation while increasing the likelihood of student accomplishment and engagement?

We are all familiar with the idea of service in communities and service in schools. Service learning however has distinctive aspects that separate this pedagogy from what we often call “community service” or “project-based learning.” With high quality service learning, students:

  • Increase academic rigor through relevance and application of content and skills
  • Participate in social analysis as they investigate an authentic community need, typically through action research using media, interviews, surveys, and observation
  • Take initiative, make plans, and follow through on their ideas
  • Engage in inquiry based problem solving
  • Use literature—fiction and nonfiction—to advance knowledge
  • Experience intrinsic growth rather than depend on extrinsic rewards
  • Find out about an array of career opportunities as they develop as social entrepreneurs
  • Make global connections to increase international-mindedness
  • Integrate cognitive and affective development as they develop an aptitude for becoming reflective
  • Apply acquired knowledge and skills in purposeful ways that benefit other people or the planet while showing evidence of learning

Does this sound suspiciously like many of the desired outcomes listed for the Common Core State Standards? Yes.

Can we integrate service learning in our schools today? Absolutely. Service learning is already deemed a valuable educational approach in schools across the globe. Implementing service learning in a manner that garners these desired results raises the question: How does a teacher implement effective and meaningful service learning?

The Five Stages of Service Learning

If you imagine that the Common Core State Standards are the ingredients, the Five Stages of Service Learning are the recipe. This framework constitutes a process that is key to students’ effectiveness and critical to their learning transferable skills and content. Even though each stage is referenced separately, keep in mind that they are linked together and often experienced simultaneously. Visualize how overlays are used in an anatomy book to reveal what is occurring in the human body system by system. Each stage of service learning is like one of these overlays, revealing one part of a dynamic interdependent whole.

Investigation: Includes both the inventory of student interest, skills, and talents, and the social analysis of the issue being addressed. This analysis requires gathering information about the identified need through action research that includes use of varied approaches: media, interviews of experts, survey of varied populations, and direct observation/personal experiences.

Preparation: Includes the continued acquisition of knowledge that addresses any resultant questions from investigation along with academic content, identification of groups already working towards solutions, organization of a plan with clarification of roles, responsibilities and time lines, and ongoing development of any skills needed to successfully carry the plan to fruition.

Action: Includes the implementation of the plan that usually takes the form of direct service, indirect service, advocacy, or research. Action is always planned with mutual agreement and respect with partners so this builds understanding and perspective of issues and how other people live.

 Reflection: Reflection is the connector between each stage of service and also summative. Through reflection students consider their thoughts and feelings (cognition and affect) regarding any overarching essential question or inquiry that is a driving force of the total experience. Reflection informs how the process develops, increases self-awareness, assists in developing future plans, and employs varied multiple intelligences.

Demonstration: Student demonstration captures or contains the totality of the experience including what has been learned (metacognition) and the service or contribution accomplished. Beginning with investigation, students document all parts of the process, resulting in a complete and comprehensive ability to tell the story of what took place during each stage that includes key informative reflection. Students draw upon their skills and talents in the manner of demonstration, often integrating technology.

Service Learning Matters Because . . .

 

With service learning, student ideas become a reality; the excitement genuine. Contributions made are significant with students and their community as beneficiaries of the process. By discovering and applying their interests and talents along with academic content and skills and knowledge, students bring the Common Core State Standards to life. Service establishes a purpose for learning. Students and the exceptional educators who engage them prove to be valued contributors for our collective well-being, now and in the future.

 

Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., president of CBK Associates, International Education Consultants, provides program development, and highly engaging professional development and keynote addresses on service learning, 21st century competencies, literacy, engaged teaching, school climate and culture, and integrating Common Core State Standards. Cathryn is the author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010), and Going Blue: A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans and Waterways, with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International.

Maureen Connolly, Ed.D., has been an English teacher at Mineola High School on Long Island, NY for 15 years and a professor of Education at Molloy College, Adelphi University, and Queens College. She is the co-author of Getting to the Core of Literacy for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Grades 6-12 and Getting to the core of English Language Arts, Grades 6-12: How to Meet the Common Core State Standards with Lessons from the Classroom. Maureen resides in New Jersey.

Both Cathryn and Maureen can be reached through CBK Associates by emailing cbkaye@aol.com. Watch for our new website: www.cbkassociates.com coming in June!

Excerpts from this article are from The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action second edition by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010) www.freespirit.com, Minneapolis, MN.

This article is copyrighted by CBK Associates © 2013 All Rights Reserved. May be printed for education purposes. For reprints and all other uses contact cbkaye@aol.com.

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