Below are suggestion for the classroom offered by service-learningg faculty from UMass and Holyoke Community College who participated in the 2014 assessment group.
Practice and Theory:
In many service-learning courses, we begin the semester with discussions on theory before students head into their service-learning sites. Consider starting the semester with a field trip to the site, so that students get a context of what the agency does and who they serve in real terms and see the complexities of working with the population served. If a trip to the site is not feasible, a documentary or a pertinent piece of literature that can demonstrate the realities of the lives of the people students will be in contact with can be helpful as well to give context and to humanize the situation. This may give students a context in which to better understand the theoretical concepts the course covers.
Near the beginning of the semester, offer students a question pertinent to the content of your course. It could be something like ‘should people in prison be able to get a college degree?’ or ‘Should we put money into a run-down community or should we move people out of the community?’. Invite students to debate the topic. You may find students with very adamant views. Bring the topic up later in the semester and allow students to reflect on if and how their views on the topic have changed or at least taken on a more complex view.
A short story can offer students insight into experiences very different from their own and can invite a sympathetic and nuanced view of a protagonists life. One faculty member has used a powerful story about a Jewish immigrant woman in the late 1890s. The faculty member found that the story was actually something they used it in their minds to interpret some of the more theoretical stuff. OR the things that were more alien that we’re reading. Again, a short, but powerful literary story can offer student the context in which to understand the concepts that run through your course.
End of the semester meeting:
It can be a good idea to invite your students, your partners, and even your department chairs to a meeting near the end of the semester. This can be an opportunity for students to share what they’ve learned, a chance for students and partners to offer input on the logistics and strength of the partnership, and an opportunity for your department chair (or others) to witness the partnership at work and recognize the benefits it has on student learning and community service. One faculty member who has found success with this used the meeting to discuss the shared mission of the partner and the academic department, for students to present a Shared Powerpoint of what they had learned through their service-learning and to brainstorm questions about how the partnership went during the semester and what can be done differently.
Writing or Discussion Opportunities:
- Private journals where students can talk about difficulties with these issues, or identify themselves as part of the group that suffers the discrimination/oppression the class talks about
- Prompts to understand importance of being involved in the community outside of the agency itself --. What does it mean to get to know the community? What does it mean to work in the community? What’s the difference between being just in your agency and walking around outside?
- Using a moodle forum. They went in on a weekly basis, responded to my post. Maybe only have their initial post as evidence-based and then the rest do more of a flow of what they saw, what they experienced
- Create an RSO around the issue you work on in order to invite students not in your course to become involved and to invite deeper and longer term involvement from students who took your course.
- I think a lot of this modeling and personalizing. I realize that I ‘ve gotten much more comfortable talking about myself. Yes, I have racist feelings. And I’m aware of them. The question is what do I do with them once you realize them? It’s something that we’re not very comfortable with, but if we want them to do it, and be reflective, we have to model that, and I think it makes a huge difference. And it doesn’t make us lower in their estimation, it creates that power relationship in a very different manner. It’s a conversation , it’s more interesting. By telling your story, and letting them know that yes, I’ve been through the same socialization processes as you have. I have stereotypes. That’s critical to them being able to self reflect. You’re giving them permission to do the same thing.
Activities that could be included in class:
Service Thermometer Activity
In class actvites such as the Service Thermometer provide interactive ways to encourage dialogue about what it means to serve and how different people experience and value various types of service. What makes service valuable? Impactful? Meaningful?
Minimum Wage budgeting activity:
A great activity that can be used to help students connect with the realities of being a low wage earner is to ask them to create a budget for a single parent who works minimum wage. Many students have never created a budget and even fewer have created a budget that does not include a weekly trip to the movies.Create a scenario of a minimum wage worker: You work minimum wage at Walmart. They keep your hours low enough that you don’t get health benefits. You are a single parent and you don’t get any financial assistance from family. You grew up in Hadley. You have to move to a new apartment. Create a budget. Find out what subsidies you might qualify for and what you have to do to receive them. Then have a class discussion to discuss a) what is in everyone’s budgets b) Can you get by without the subsidies? Can you get by with the subsidies? c) and beyond.
- Start off with something like, ‘ people should be able to do this or that.’ By middle or end of the semester, the people who are most adamant. The first day of class, I set them up in little debates about ‘should people in prison be able to get a college degree?’ ‘ Should we put money into a run down community or should we move people out of the community?’
- I used a short story at the beginning of the class because I do use Literature. Because it was about an immigrant Jewish woman at the turn of the 19th-20th century. And it was a very powerful story about how she felt. And it was actually something they used it in their minds apparently to interpret some of the more theoretical stuff. OR the things that were more alien that we’re reading. I think that’s another thing we can do is use literature very carefully.
Additional material and suggestions about Class are available through the organization Class Action
Other suggestions from colleagues:
- After my first semester of teaching a service-learning course, I held an end of the year meeting with my students, staff from the community partners, and my department chairs. My students had created a group powerpoint of what they got out of their service-learning experience and shared it with the I wanted to see how everybody liked it, and what we could do better; it was a real quick debriefing. It was this open communication and it was all a brainstorm her question to the community partner was how did it go? What could we do differently? It was this open communication and we got that all on film. We talked about what our mutual objectives are, both looking at the mission of nursing and that. So we kind of put in a comparison. We started off , what our project is all about to begin with.
- I found that although my students had service-learning placements in Holyoke, they did not get any experience of the community of Holyoke. Their entire experience took place within the walls of the agency they served. With some conversation with colleagues, we’ve identified some important questions that can ask the students to reflect on that experience. They are: What does it mean to get to know the community? What does it mean to work in the community? What’s the difference between being just in your agency and walking around outside?
- Students in my class have become very impassioned about the discrimination issues we talk about and work on. Last year, my students and I created a Registered Student Organization that focused on issues of discrimination. This was a great opportunity to invite students not in my course to become involved and to invite deeper and longer term involvement from students who took the course. I think it is a great extension of the work students do in my class.
- I’ve always started my service-learning course with covering a substantial amount of theoretical concepts in the first half of the semester and then once students have an understanding of the theory, bringing them into their service sites during the second half of the semester. In a recent conversation I had with the director of one of our service sites, she suggested that early in the semester I bring all of my students for a field trip to the site, so that they can get a context of what the agency does and who they serve in real terms and see the complexities of serving the population. It makes so much sense and I can’t believe I never thought of it before. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to work out the transportation logistics to make this happen. If I can’t, I intend to show a documentary that can demonstrate the realities of the lives of the people students will be in contact with can be helpful as well to give context and to humanize the situation.
- I realize that over time I‘ve gotten much more comfortable talking in class about myself, my socialization, and my process of reflecting on my stereotypes. With my students I’ve witnessed that when I offer them my truth of working through my stereotypes, I offer them a model in which to do the same. As I talk with my students about the fact that I carry stereotypes and I’m aware of them and I work to explore them critically, I model self-reflection as an important process. It allows students to be open to the fact that they have stereotypes and offers constructive ways for them to think about them. If we want them to be reflective about their assumptions, we need to model that. Admitting that I carry stereotypes doesn’t lower the students’ opinion of me. It re-creates the power dynamic in the classroom in a way that allows them to be honest with themselves in their self-reflection. I think it makes a huge difference. By telling my story, and letting them know that yes, I’ve been through the same socialization processes as you have. I have stereotypes. That’s critical to them being able to self-reflect. I’m giving them permission to do the same thing.