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What is Service-Learning


What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.

Picking up trash on a river bank is service.

Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.

When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency – that is service-learning.

Why Service-Learning?

A national study of Learn and Serve America programs suggests that effective service learning programs improve grades, increase attendance in school, and develop students' personal and social responsibility.

A growing body of research recognizes service-learning as an effective strategy to help students by:

  1. Promoting learning through active participation in service experiences;
  2. Providing structured time for students to reflect by thinking, discussing and writing about their service experience;
  3. Providing an opportunity for students to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations;
  4. Extending learning beyond the classroom and into the community; and
  5. Fostering a sense of caring for others.

Service-Learning also strengthens both education and local communities by:

  1. Building effective collaborative partnerships between schools or colleges and other institutions and organizations.
  2. Engaging parents and other adults in supporting student learning.
  3. Meeting community needs through the service projects conducted.
  4. Providing engaging and productive opportunities for young people to work with others in their community.

*The above information was provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Learn & Serve America

What makes it work?

Successful service-learning is a multifaceted teaching and learning process. Though each service-learning project is uniquely tailored to meet specific learning goals and community needs, several elements are critical for success. These elements are the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice.

Go deeper with the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice.

Access our Virtual Briefcases - links to resources, documents, videos, and webinars on how to enhance your service-learning practice.

Read the research.

What does it look like, K-12?

Service-learning is a flexible approach, easily adapted to different age levels, community needs, and curricular goals. Projects can engage entire schools over an academic year, or involve a small group for a short period of time.

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

Fifth-graders tutored younger students in reading over the course of a school year. The project improved language skills for both younger and older students and helped the tutors develop their organizational and leadership skills.

A middle school science class studying pollution and disease worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to learn about the dangers of radon and how to test for it in homes. To educate the community on hazards, testing, and cleanup, students created an infomercial to share with local schools and community groups.

Tackling discrimination against HIV-positive people, tenth-graders wrote skits that drew parallels between the treatment of people living with AIDS and racial discrimination. They built sets, made costumes and programs, and performed their work for the community. Proceeds supported a local AIDS hospice.

Successful service-learning projects are tied to specific learning objectives, and many of the best are tied to numerous areas of study. For example, when seventh- and eighth-graders studied the historical significance of a local river, they developed projects to build nature trails, tested water samples, documented contamination of the local habitat, and restored historical sites. Their teachers connected those activities to studies in earth science, mathematics, language arts, physical education, music, visual arts, and social studies. These connections not only deepened the impact projects had on learning, but also provided the young people with a broader understanding of how different subjects are interrelated. Through a student-centered inquiry model known as IPARD — an acronym for Investigation, Planning and Preparation, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration — this process is broken down into a step-by-step framework.

How can I implement service-learning in my school or community-based organization?

Successful service-learning relies on trained practitioners, and NYLC can help you gain the skills you need. It only takes a couple of days to get a firm grounding in the fundamentals, and ongoing training is available on advanced topics. NYLC provides custom training opportunities for schools and community-based organizations.

Learn more about NYLC's professional services.

Where can I meet others who are involved in service-learning?

Find like-minded service-learners online or in person. NYLC's Online Membership is a community of youth and adults committed to service-learning, coming together in an online space. Browse user-created projects, share your own work, and participate in discussions and groups related to topics of interest to you. The National Service-Learning Conference is a gathering of over 350 youth and adults engaged in service, learning, and youth development, focusing on current and emerging issues, best practices, and the challenges facing us today.

Where can I find service-learning publications?

NYLC and other service-learning organizations offer many helpful publications. Visit the Resource page for access to videos and resources designed by NYLC to turn service-learning research into practice.