By Julie Rogers Bascom, NYLC Director of Learning & Leadership
Stage two in the service-learning process, determining acceptable evidence, is an often-overlooked stage in quality service-learning. In the classroom, it can be an “automatic” part of the practice. We connect acceptable evidence to formative (ongoing and more informal quizzes, observations and exit tickets) and summative formal and structured assessments. In out-of-school programs, we also can and must look at what we hope young people will know and be able to do as a result of the service-learning experience.
If your desired outcome is a specific content standard, tests and other assessments can give you a picture of whether students are achieving the goal. In the classroom or outside the classroom, there are other “artifacts of learning” that can be used to understand student growth.
For instance, if developing teamwork in your classroom or out-of-school program is a goal, what would that look like? Might you be able to observe instances where young people problem- solved as a group? How well did they listen to each other? What were their strategies to resolve conflict? These items can also be put into a rubric or checklist to measure growth — and shared with the young people early in the process.
If you hope that young people will use their skills and talents to address and solve community problems, how might you use reflection activities as a way to assess? I’ve listened to spoken word pieces, read student written scripts, and viewed outdoor murals as reflection and action. I also see these artifacts as ways to gauge how young people use their abilities to express themselves, create awareness, and advocate about an issue that is important to them.
Another way to interpret reflection activities and assess growth is in the final stage of the IPARD process, demonstration. When young people demonstrate what they learned and how they served, they are providing an opportunity for you to observe the impact they have made. Often called “demonstrations of learning,” these opportunities for school or program-wide science fair-type activities offer a chance for the community to see how young people are making a difference. They allow the greater community to welcome, partner, and support growing leaders.
And if you really want to understand where a young person stands on their desired outcomes, ask them. Be an interviewer: Model how to ask open-ended questions and allow for self-assessment of those skills. In the process, you both address Stage One in the Service-Learning Process – establishing learning objectives and Stage Two: determining acceptable evidence.
As the four stages approach to the service-learning process illustrates, service-learning can be a transformational experience — both for the community and the student.