Last year at this time, I was doing a lot of writing about the creation of a class called Connections, a writing class aimed at critical thinking, analytic reading, and centered around the idea of transfer. We had been working with teachers for a few months on the ideas behind it, but had no model for what it would look like. During the last few weeks of school here, I am going to be meeting with those teachers to do some exploratory surgery on the class after one year of implementation.
One element that all of the nine teachers who taught the class this year seemed to center on, and something they all indicated generated the most interest from the students, was that of service learning. What gave me pause was that most of the service learning projects we did all had to do with raising money or buying materials for the causes we employed (one group did raise money to make a series of Kiva loans, which was an interesting process). Is that what our students are viewing as service learning?
Gary and Miguel’s brief conversation brought this out again for me, and in conversations with my boss lately we have been wondering if there is reason to shift any service-type project away from raising money, and more towards raising awareness. Timely enough, ASCD released a brief meta-analysis of research on service learning projects. According to the studies examined, projects with
the strongest effects have generally been found for service learning programs that have the explicit aim of developing active citizenship, in contrast with those that emphasize community service and character building.
So the question as I go into helping the teachers redesign their process is how can we capture the motivation that the students showed this past year for raising money, and harness it in some project that is civic-minded and has little or no connection to raising money and sending it elsewhere. It jives very well with Gary’s line above. Let’s see if we can take care of our own house in the hopes that it will make those around us better for it.