With Common Core State Standards, Service Learning Matters Even More

by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A. and Maureen Connolly, Ed.D., CBK Associates

Cathryn Berger Kaye, FSP Author

What motivates us to do 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 that transfer to their lives outside of school, that guide them to adulthood with a solid sense of personal efficacy, and that give them the ability to make choices and decisions healthy for themselves and our society.

To experience this type of learning, students benefit from real-world applications of their academic learning while they are still in school. This can be accomplished with a research-based approach called service learning. Service learning gives students a laboratory where they can practice, review, reassess, and reflect, all under the guidance and support of knowledgeable teachers. They see the viability and purpose of their study. This process actually adds rigor to academics because students are depended upon. It 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 logoCommon 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. The goal of Common Core integration is for students to develop and hone their ability to read closely 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Comprehend as well as critique. They question the veracity and bias of their sources.
  5. Value evidence. They evaluate evidence and use evidence effectively to construct arguments.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. Educators then have the choice of determining prime methods for integration.

Everyday challenges often center on how we can deliver the curriculum so that the learner is motivated to go beyond doing the minimum to truly becoming involved with the content. In actuality, we may not be able to motivate anyone. Motivation comes from within. However, if we can engage a person, there is the 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 into our schools today? Absolutely. Service learning is already deemed a valuable educational approach in schools across the globe. So how does a teacher implement effective and meaningful service learning in a manner that garners these desired results?

The Five Stages of Service Learning
Complete Guide To Service LearningIf 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 those 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 and 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 toward 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.

© Mangostock | Dreamstime.comAction: 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 to build 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.

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. Students draw upon their unique and specific skills and talents in the demonstration stage, often integrating technology.

Service Learning Matters Because . . .
With service learning, student ideas become a reality; their excitement is genuine. Contributions made are significant, and students and their community are beneficiaries of the process. By discovering and applying their interests and talents along with academic content, 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 become valued contributors for our collective wellbeing, now and in the future.

How do you incorporate service learning into the Common Core? Please share your stories and ideas in the comments.

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by CBK Associates. A previous version appeared on the National Association of Secondary School Principals website.

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, and coauthor of Going Blue: A Teen’s Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands and Make a Splash! A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands, with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International.

Maureen Connolly, Ed.D., has been an English teacher at Mineola High School on Long Island, New York for 15 years and a professor of education at Molloy College, Adelphi University, and Queens College. She is the coauthor 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.

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