Department of Public Works
Generation Earth for Teachers: Environmental Education and Resources in Los Angeles County

Frequently Asked Questions

How is service learning different from community service or volunteer work?
Service learning differs from other forms of community service or volunteer work because the education of students is always at its core. Students are actively participating in the process of understanding, integrating and applying knowledge from various subject areas as they work to improve their communities. The question "Why am I learning this?" disappears as students help older people or register voters or work to restore a fragile ecosystem and see what they've learned in action.

How can I get my students interested in service learning?
An important aspect of service learning is student participation, not only in the actual activity, but also in the planning and suggestion phase. When students have a voice in choosing and designing a service project, they are intrinsically more invested emotionally and intellectually. Since projects often utilize student strengths and talents that aren't always apparent in day-to-day lessons, service learning can motivate students to impressive accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. From the primary grades through high school, teachers use this method to do more than meet educational needs and fulfill academic standards, but also as a way to excite students and build on their skills and talents.

Won't service learning just mean more work for me?
Initially, as you're learning to use service learning as a teaching method and finding ways to integrate it into your curriculum, you may find that it takes a little more time than regular lesson or activity planning. However, as you become more adept and comfortable with the practice, you'll start to see curricular connections and the possibilities for projects and community partnerships much more easily. More than likely, you'll also find that your own levels of engagement and enthusiasm reflect that of the young people you work with and guide through service learning. The academic results and accomplishments in the community reward the effort for everyone involved.

Does service learning really work? What does service learning research say?
Service learning research has shown a positive impact on participating students in four areas:

  • Academic or cognitive domains: what students were learning in terms of content or higher order thinking skills as a result of their participation
  • Civic domains: connection to society and community
  • Personal/social domains: personal and interpersonal development in areas such as youth empowerment, respect for diversity, self confidence and avoidance of risk behaviors
  • Career exploration skills: knowledge of career pathways and workplace literacy

Many studies found that the quality of service learning matters in terms of the relative impact of service learning. Early results appear to indicate that linkage with the standards, intention design and clarity of goals, and direct contact with the community are the strongest predictors of impact on students. (Billig, RMC Research Corporation, Denver)

How can I get my administration to support service learning?
Start by making sure your administrative team understands service learning and how it supports standards-based learning and enhances classroom activities. Assure them that service learning doesn't take away from the curriculum, but makes it much more meaningful for the students. Provide them materials and resources on service learning. Have your students give updates on the project so they can see service learning in action as well as be kept informed on the progress of the project. Keep the dialogue going!

FAQs excerpted from The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum & Social Action by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A. © 2004. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; All rights reserved.

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