By Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO

Students want learning to be exciting and fun. Teachers want students to be engaged learners who are motivated and inspired to be in their classroom. Quality service-learning instruction accomplishes both.

Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy that supports students to develop as leaders by using their voice and power to make meaningful change happen in their communities and around the world. There are many definitions of service-learning, but NYLC defines service-learning as an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address a genuine community need.

Students outside demonstrating their learning for a group of their peers. Service-learning supports young people’s growth by allowing them to use their voice to take action on issues that they care about. It encourages them to apply their creativity and learning to real-world needs…sometimes they fail and that is okay. Through service-learning we reflect and learn from those failures so we can try again – building resiliency along the way. 

A service-learning classroom flips the traditional classroom setting. Students work together in groups investigating, planning and preparing to take action, and what I believe is most important to the process, students start teaching other students. Teachers become guides, encouraging students on their journey of self-discovery.

We know this type of learning is effective. Brain-based learning, like service-learning, works when there is active engagement during the learning process. Students are excited and invested in learning because they have a voice in how they are learning and they see the value in what they are learning. There is something new and different to look forward to in the classroom each day. Students are challenged by complex issues and they are allowed to engage with others to solve those challenges. 

So, how does service-learning benefit students?

Service-learning actually helps students learn better. When service-learning is incorporated into instruction, you start to see outcomes in several areas: 

  • Personal development: students see themselves as change-makers, as leaders, and as contributors to a better world. 
  • Social and interpersonal development: from social comfort and group work to social sensitivity and intergenerational connectedness. 
  • Values development and academic and cognitive development: students become better critical thinkers and increase their subject area knowledge.

There is a great deal of research that supports the benefits of service-learning including a greater connection to coursework, a sense of community within the classroom and the school, as well as a new type of relationship that is built between the teacher and the student. It builds self-confidence and a sense of empowerment, and is a strong predictor of commitment to civic participation. Students learn to discern between fact and fiction, plan in teams, and come to consensus. 

Service-learning experiences during students’ formative years will produce graduates who have the 21st century skills needed for college and career and a deep commitment to addressing the pressing issues facing our communities!

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