Service Learning: Why Do It?

Spring 2012: Clarion University Psychology/Spanish and  Early Education/Special Education majors presenting their  service learning project to students in the Dominican Republic.

Spring 2012: Clarion University Psychology / Spanish and Early Education / Special Education majors presenting their service learning projects to students in the Dominican Republic.

— Marité Rodriguez Haynes

In the last few years, I have incorporated service learning (SL) into my classes; these projects are always students’ favorite part of the class. Why not let them have some fun while they put to work what they are learning in your class? The grading is not onerous (you are grading a few group projects and reading personal essays), and the students see a PURPOSE in the class assignment.

Engaging in SL allows students to:

  • APPLY what they learn in class
  • CONTRIBUTE to the community, locally or globally
  • COLLABORATE to accomplish a goal
  • BE ACCOUNTABLE to group members and to the professor
  • REFLECT on how their knowledge and skills can be used for a practical purpose

A few representative quotes from student essays about their experience:

“This helped me remember the children behind all the research in the text.”

“This project taught me more about the application of child development. In order for our kid to understand and enjoy the book, we had to know a lot about him (his age group and his developmental stage).”

“I have always had a preference to do projects on my own, but this service learning project changed my mind. I don’t think I could have done this project on my own. There were so many ideas that I never would have thought of without my group.”

“I’ll be the first to admit that I do not like to be corrected when I’m wrong. However, this experience has better taught me that it is okay to be wrong. I understand that I will not always have the best ideas and that someone else may have a stronger point.”

“I think that this project helps connect the students with the community, and that helps blur the line between the university and the town.”

Spring 2012: Clarion University Psychology/Spanish and  Early Education/Special Education majors presenting their  service learning project to students in the Dominican Republic.

Spring 2012: Clarion University Psychology / Spanish and Early Education / Special Education majors presenting their service learning projects to students in the Dominican Republic.

How can I make SL a success?

Students should:

  • Work in groups, not alone
  • Evaluate contributions of each group member (this cuts down on social loafing)
  • Reflect on their experience, in writing and in class discussion
  • Earn individual grades for their reflective essay and for contributions to the group, based on peer evaluations

What’s in it for me?

  • The classroom is a happy place!
  • You are grading a project to be USED, not just filed away somewhere.
  • It’s gratifying to see students at work, applying what they are learning.

Examples of SL Projects from my classes:

  • Interviewing a child, then creating a storybook based on that child’s interests (e.g., superheroes, dinosaurs, travel, etc.) using pictures, child’s drawings, etc. Highlight: Presenting the book to the child 2 months later!
  • Putting children’s books on cassette tape for children in a South African day care center.
  • Creating the window displays at the Community Learning Workshop, 537 Main Street.
  • Creating flashcards, board games, videos, music cd’s, etc. to introduce children and teens in the Dominican Republic to English language and American culture

If you want to incorporate SL into your classes:

  • Start with one project in one class.
  • Accept that things will sometimes go wrong.
  • Give students SOME class time to work on projects: it reduces their anxiety!
  • Include peer evaluations.
  • Have them write individual reflective essays.
  • Let students experience or witness their projects in use.

So, take a chance! I guarantee your students will learn something they can’t learn just sitting in the classroom, and I guarantee there will be some laughter. Can that be so bad?


Marité Rodriguez Haynes is a professor of psychology. Her classes incorporate team-based learning and service learning. She has taken students to the Dominican Republic for a number of years.

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One Response to Service Learning: Why Do It?

  1. Pingback: Book-writing project | Hand in Hand

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