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Service Learning

Curriculum Design Toolkit: Service Learning

Informed action through service learning allows students to apply academic learning to real-world problems that are important to them. Service learning differs from community service or volunteerism in that the action is informed by the curriculum.

Components of High-Quality Service Learning

At its best, high-quality service learning facilitates students to take the L.E.A.D.

  • Learning: The classroom provides equitable opportunities for ALL students to address essential and supporting questions related to issues in the community through academic content and skills.
  • Explore and Engage: Students extend their academic learning by developing and exploring their questions about what is true in their community and engage with others to gather information and understand diverse perspectives. Students explore and deliberate various options for actions based on this inquiry.
  • Authentic Action: Students take authentic action that has a real-world impact, using what they learned in both the classroom and their exploration and engagement.
  • Digest and Demonstrate: Students digest their experience and reflect on the impact of their informed action through service learning on both themselves and their community. Students demonstrate how informed action through service learning is related to academic outcomes.

Qualities of Classroom Learning to Inform Action

The best foundation for a successful informed action experience is quality teaching. Classroom pedagogy that gives ALL students equal access to proven practices of civic education like service learning can bridge the civic opportunity gap and have a profound impact on academic and social-emotional learning.

Quality classroom learning has students:

  • Identify: Identify the essential and supporting questions related to service learning.
  • Understand: Understand the learning objectives (disciplinary content and/or skill) to be employed in the informed action through service learning.
  • Analyze: Analyze appropriate materials to acquire the background information necessary to take informed action through service learning.
  • Practice: Practice the pertinent civic dispositions and processes inherent in the informed action.

The learning needed to ground students to take the L.E.A.D. with informed action is not one size fits all. Other proven practices of civic education embedded in the middle school and high school civic course requirements can all be used to help students garner and practice the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that ground service learning. Please visit our resource pages for direct instruction on democratic institutions, current and societal issue discussions, and simulations of democratic processes for resources to ground students in rigorous and relevant learning to propel informed action through service learning.

Resources to Help Students Digest and Demonstrate Learning

Service Learning is a process, not a product. After students have taken authentic action, the endeavor is not over. Educators must provide opportunities to help students digest what they learned about themselves, others, institutions of power and demonstrate how this aligns with learning outcomes. These activities should allow students to:

  • Articulate how the informed action experience relates to the learning objectives, both skill, and content.
  • Identify areas of personal improvement for future actions.
  • Use the informed action experience to identify areas of future systemic change with democratic institutions and processes explored.
  • Extend learning by creating additional essential and supporting questions to extend the inquiry and inform future action.

Ideas for Service Learning During a Pandemic

IllinoisCivics.org published a blog, What Kind of Citizen During a Pandemic? that provides examples of how students can engage in service learning from remote and hybrid spaces.

Professional Development Resources from Illinois Civics