ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The Academic Service-Learning Answer to Student Engagement

Teri Dary

Post submitted by Teri Dary, cochair of whole child partner the National Coalition for Academic Service-Learning (NCASL) and service-learning consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. At NCASL, she leads collaborative efforts to advance academic service-learning in the school setting among state-level service-learning experts. Connect with Dary through the NCASL website and follow her on Twitter @NCASL_TeriDary.

Service-learning engages students in powerful ways, helping them to increase their academic engagement and performance, civic engagement, and social-emotional learning. Students connect to the community and their classmates in ways that are far more powerful than simple cooperative learning. And by applying their knowledge and skills to solve actual community problems, students experience the real-world value of what they are learning in school.

Service-learning is a method

  • Through which students learn and develop through applying knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to meet authentic community needs.
  • That develops important 21st century skills that will prepare students to be competitive in a global economy, such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, information literacy, and global awareness.
  • That is integrated intentionally into students' academic curriculum and provides structured time for students to think, talk, or write about their participation throughout the service experience.
  • That increases student engagement in and ownership of the learning process.
  • That is supported by regular assessment to inform progress monitoring, provide evidence for data-based decision-making, and drive continual improvement.

When done well, service-learning is integrated into the academic curriculum and provides opportunities for students to apply their learning by implementing solutions to community issues.

The results from research (PDF) are clear. Service-learning addresses crucial mediators for learning: engagement, empowerment, motivation, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. It is these elements that put students in a position to achieve academically and help keep youth in school. Principals report that service-learning has a positive effect on teacher satisfaction, school climate, academic achievement, and school engagement. Teachers who use service-learning in the classroom as a type of positive teaching strategy achieve better results in a variety of academic and behavioral categories than those who don't.

Academic service-learning has been shown to have a significantly positive impact on teacher attitudes, student engagement, and overall school climate. Systemic implementation of service-learning will help transform our schools into vibrant centers of learning that radiate a positive, safe, and caring environment in which all students thrive. Teachers will be more effective, challenged, and energized within their chosen profession. Students will be meaningfully engaged in their education and will emerge from our schools better prepared for success in college and the workplace and skilled in 21st century skills, which will increase their competencies as global citizens who contribute meaningfully to the global economy.

Comments (1)

Javier Betancourt

February 29, 2012

Service-Learning is indeed a critical strategy for fostering total school success and for supporting the holistic education of each and every student. It is however, not an implementation that should be introduced without sufficient needs analysis, planning and systemic thinking. Each school is a very unique case and how service-learning fits this picture must be considered carefully. Too often service-learning is considered to be the same thing as “community service” but as is noted above there are clear differences if your goal is to achieve real academic outcomes and lasting results for the students and the community involved.

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