— Jeanne M. Slattery
While she was here, Marité Haynes had our students doing service projects in Haiti, South Africa, and Clarion. Her retirement would leave a huge hole in our department, so she strongly urged me to find an opportunity to continue this tradition, and we discussed taking my students to 537 Clarion to do a book-writing project. Last semester my students met with local children to create a book about their emotions and how they handle them (both successfully and less so).
I wanted my students to practice their listening skills, work with children, practice their writing skills in a different context, and give back to our community – and see themselves as people who could make a meaningful contribution. In working in a “real context,” I hoped that their work would be more meaningful and that they would be more invested in the project.
Both my students and the little ones had fun, but was this a worthwhile use of class time? I asked my students this question. These are some of their responses:
It helped my students consolidate skills learned in the classroom
This experience was useful for someone who would like to work with children in the future. I learned that you can’t just assume children will tell you how they feel right away. I learned to paraphrase better and also summarize situations for the specific age group to understand. — Lea Earley
Every time that we learn something just in theory it is like half-way completed. So, having the opportunity to interview a kid brought me a lot of learning and also it gave me an idea of how things would work in the future….It was interesting how we could apply what we had learned — like closed and open questions — and how a kid could lead us to what we wanted to know just by drawing or telling us something about their life. — Monserrate Quezada
It showed how to interact and work with children. It also taught me to be a bit more patient than usual. With kids, you have to use clear language and guide them a bit to stay on track. It was a great learning experience and it was really fun too! — Liz Pellegrini
It changed the way my students saw themselves
I was nervous about this [project] because generally I have not had much experience with children and communicating with them. This experience made me feel more comfortable. — Jen Pusateri
I was a little nervous going in but eventually loosened up and had fun and enjoyed it. It was nice to get the children to open up and tell us about their feelings. — Matthew Kephart
My students felt good giving back to our community
It’s good to do things in the community for others. It made them happy, which made us happy. — Deanna Arms
This project was a surprising amount of work for both my students and me. It was stressful to give up control to my students. While most projects were done extremely well, I had to let go of my expectations in some places. They made their deadlines, while I wanted – and needed – their books to be turned in sooner, so they could be printed. They struggled with the technology and with the developmental needs of the children they were writing for.
Despite these concerns, I think this project was well worth our investment in time and energy. My students met and exceeded our goals, I attempted something outside my comfort zone and had a lot of fun, and Kyle (see the first book) was so invested and engaged that he stayed late drawing with his group and later asked me to send them this drawing. His mother said that he hadn’t been interested in drawing until this project. Well done, Kyle!
Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park). Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives will come out in 2016. She can be contacted at email@example.com