Monday, June 14, 2010

Information about Service Learning from Steffanie Triller

In May, writing instructor Steffanie Triller attended the Community College National Center for Community Engagement’s annual national conference: Formulas for Success in Service Learning and Civic Engagement. Steffanie attended the conference as a recipient of a Community-based learning grant from the School for New Learning. She emerged from the desert (the conference was held in Scottsdale, AZ) with some tips for developing service learning (SL) courses:

·         Making SL Reciprocal using the “Non-Zero Sum” principle. The main idea of this principle is that working for reciprocity in a SL experience results in a non-zero sum. When a sum is non-zero, everyone benefits from the experience. “Ideal” community-based service learning experiences benefit all stakeholders involved. Some tips for developing reciprocity in your SL courses include:
o      “Think like a second grader” (no boundaries!) in the planning process of a course; this allows you to explore more possibilities when you develop your course
o      Involve all stakeholders in all conversations; (stakeholders=anyone who will benefit from this work. Think big.) 
o      Request a needs-assessment from all stakeholders;
o      Record deliverables to institutionalize service learning; (Broward College puts podcasts on the web where students/community partners record reflections on successful experiences.)
o      Plan on partnering with a community-based organization for at least three years to maximize meaningful service;
o      Connect service learning experiences to the learning outcomes of your course;
o      Develop protocols for SL in your classroom.

·         Suggested Protocols for SL. In one session, participants brainstormed and the facilitator shared successful protocols for SL courses. I think they’re pretty good, so I’ll share a few:
o      Service should be meaningful.
o      Reflection time should be provided.
o      Curriculum and duration of project should be clearly established and disseminated to the students and the community partner.
o      All involved have the right to a voice.
o      Diversity and pluralism should be equally valued. (Diversity values difference; plurality retains it as we work together).
o      Partnerships must be reciprocal.
o      Education is really co-education, facilitated by the teacher and the community-based learning site.
o      Developing a SL class is an integrated process.

·         Creating a SL Writing Experience.
o      SL instructors should ask themselves three questions before developing a class:
§       Who do we want to help?
§       What is their goal?
§       What do they need to do?
o      Once we decide what we want to accomplish, we need to connect with coordinators in community organizations and schools who are prepared to run a sustainable service experience.
o      Start small with the right people.
o      Do not do grammar instruction. The goal is to give students a voice.
o      Have an outcome. In this case it was writing with intercultural growth and transformation.
o      This advice went into the award-winning “Chandler Writes” program in Chandler, AZ. College students entered high school and grade school classrooms for four sessions. In the first session they tutored students; in two subsequent sessions they wrote together as equals with students. In a final session, the college students presented the grade/high school students’ work.
o      This is a beautiful model of literacy for any writing instructor wanting to incorporate SL into the classroom.
o      This model is based on the methodology and work of Thomas Deans, who has written two excellent texts: Writing Partnerships and Because We Live Here.

Research by the American Association of Community Colleges has shown that SL participation is a predictor of increased student learning outcomes. The more students do, the more they can learn. If you are interested in developing a community-based service learning course, Steffanie is more than happy to talk with you. 312-362-7631 or

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