Preparing Students for Service-Learning
In developing a service-learning course, build time into your schedule to prepare students for the experience. In addition, allow time for sharing and discussing problems, concerns, and experiences throughout the process.
Understand that your students are going to be at different places developmentally. They will vary in their levels of comfort with service-learning and in the meaning they take from the experience.
- Personal attitudes/stereotypes - Help your students discuss these issues in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way before they go "live."
- Nature and significance of the work - What kind of work are they expected to do. What kind of agency is appropriate for your course? Why are you asking them to do service-learning? What will it add to their learning? What are they expected to accomplish for the service- learning site? Answering these kinds of questions will go a long way toward deflecting resistance. Students need to understand that a service-learning project isn't just busy work.
- Basic do's and don’ts - Even though your students are volunteering, the service- learning site may have some definite policies regarding dress, body piercing, decorum, etc. Discuss these issues with your students because many of them have not been exposed to professional expectations before. Handouts explaining appropriate dress and decorum are available from the Center for Civic Engagement.
- Anxieties and questions - Some students are anxious about their service-learning placements; others have questions. Allowing class time to address issues and answer questions will enhance the learning value of the experience.
- Logistics - Getting to and from service-learning locations and having the time to do service-learning will be problems for some students. This office has dealt with these issues from the beginning and solutions are not always easy to find. There are a few placements on campus for students without transportation--the Family Resource Center, computer labs, the Center for Academic Achievement, some areas use students as research assistants, providing assistance to students with disabilities, etc. There are also off-campus placements with liberal hours such as the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen that is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 5:30 AM to 7:30 PM. Creativity and flexibility are the keys to a solution that fits everyone's needs.
The following is one of my favorite quotes about education, where service learning can and should contribute:
"An education should develop hearts, not just minds, so that people can live noble lives as well as have productive careers. An education should be, then, the development of character, a quest for values, the raising of visions, not merely the hoarding of facts and honing of skills. It should be the creation of a way of life--a way of looking at people and things--not a problem or an assignment or a job."
Department of History
Valdosta State University