Introduction: 'Tis the Season for Service Learning
The month of November marks the start of the season of giving. Schools throughout the Land of Lincoln coalesce to honor those who served their country on Veterans Day. Thanksgiving is recognized with food drives to benefit local food pantries. The month of December is filled with toy drives and efforts to collect warm articles of clothing for those in need. These school traditions are the perfect opportunity for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms to engage in the proven practice of service-learning.
The knowledge, skills, and dispositions of civic engagement are not something you are born with. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained, "The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.” Service-learning allows students to develop and practice civic responsibility in a safe environment through inquiry that leads to authentic social impact.
Service-learning differs from community service in that student actions are informed by the curriculum that is designed around essential questions addressing responsibility, empathy, and power. Imagine how much more effective the annual food drive could be if students engaged in an investigation about the root causes of hunger in their community to deeply understand why their food drive is needed and advocate for public policies that promote sustainable change. A project to collect items for the local Veteran’s home could be informed by research and interviews of individuals and organizations, resulting in a more robust donation of goods and a deeper understanding of government institutions that impact veterans and their families.
When students’ actions or “what” is informed by a clear understanding of their “why,” (image from @Arends_SS) students develop agency and the ability to be important partners in addressing the essential question, “How should we live together?”
As we embark on this season of reflection and giving, think about how you can enhance the holiday traditions of your school to embrace the proven practice of service-learning. Keep in mind that the most effective service-learning projects have the following characteristics in common:
- There is student ownership and voice in the selection of the issue(s).
- The informed action meets actual community needs.
- The initiative is coordinated in collaboration with the school and community.
- Service-learning is a natural extension of the curriculum.
- The initiative is an opportunity to apply academic skills and knowledge in an authentic context.
- The activity provides time for a young person to think and reflect on the service-learning experience.
- The service-learning fosters Social Emotional Learning dispositions.
We will use the monthly Civics In The Middle newsletter and the weekly Illinois Civics Course Implementation blog to support educators in the use of service-learning and other proven practices embedded in both the middle and high school civics mandates.
Professional Development Opportunities
Listed below are some upcoming workshops and conference presentations that address the proven and practices of civic education and Illinois social science standards. For a complete list and up to date offerings, keep an eye on our Professional Development Calendar for new opportunities to enhance your classroom practice.
Get Connected to Our New Civics Instructional Coaches
In order to facilitate the implementation of legislation concerning a new middle school civics course requirement and sustain the support of the high school civics requirement, the McCormick Foundation has employed Civics Instructional Coaches
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Civics Instructional Coaches will facilitate professional development for middle and high school civics/social studies teachers in their respective regions. Civics Coaches will also be responsible for ongoing engagement with Regional Offices of Education, teachers, schools, districts, and pre-service programs in their area via newsletters, social media engagement, workshops, and conference presentations throughout the school year.
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#CivicsInTheMiddle Resources for Service Learning
An article from the November/December 2016 edition of Social Education titled Thermometers to Thermostats: Designing and Assessing Informed Action asserts, “Informed action gives students an authentic platform to practice literacy skills as they address real-world issues through the use of interdisciplinary content, aptitudes, and evidence, developing partnerships with institutions in their community as they work for improvement and sustainability. Students move from being ‘thermometers,’ taking the temperature of their environment, to ‘thermostats’ that can alter the climate of their community. They become agents of change.”
How can educators help students build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for productive service-learning through informed action? Here are a few of our Civics Instructional Coaches’ favorite places to start.
Alia Bluemlein- North Cook (5); Lake (34) and McHenry (44); Winnebago and Boone (4): One of the best ways I have found to authentically include service learning in the classroom--and promote taking informed action as a result--is through the use of Genius Hour. Genius Hour, "is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom (GeniusHour.com).” What I love most about this particular strategy is that it can take as little or as long as you would like. Cult of Pedagogy has a great article detailing common questions and concerns from teachers about Genius Hour, and this is a great explaining the origins of Genius Hour--a Google initiative.
Candace Fikis-West Cook (6); DeKalb (16); Kane (31); and DuPage (19): When studying a political issue, it helps to have resources that cover both sides of the issue that can be used to inform students. Students might then have to make an informed decision on where they stand on that issue through some active discussion or persuasive presentation or maybe a letter to a person in political power. Here are a few sources that I have used with my students:
- The Flipside which you can also sign up to receive daily emails about current issues and the left and the ride sides of those issues
- ProCon.org which gives you the pros and cons of current issues
- All Sides which allows you to search for news sources that lean towards a certain bias
- Also if your school gets Scholastic Magazines, like Upfront, they tend to run short to the point articles on current issues and will show pros/cons or left/right stances on the issues and some of them you can get for free on their website.
Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz- Wayne, Edwards, Wabash, White, Hamilton, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin, and Pope (20); Franklin, Williamson, Johnson, and Massac (21); Shelby, Moultrie, Douglas, Coles, Cumberland, Clark, and Edgar (11); Jasper, Crawford, Clay, Richland, and Lawrence (12): As students think more narrowly about civic action and protests, I like the Changemakers materials from Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO). I used some of that material with my own college students in planning a civic engagement forum for high school students last April. FHAO offers 10 questions that could serve as a useful framing device. It doesn't apply to service learning across the board, but the ten questions (and application to past student protest as well as the more recent events in Parkland) give students a sense of their own agency.
Logan Ridenhour- Clinton, Marion, Jefferson, and Washington (13); Perry, Jackson, Union, Pulaski, and Alexander (30); Monroe and Randolph (45); and St. Clair (50): My resource for educators that are needing help getting started for their service-learning project is the Civic Action Project website from the Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation. I have used this in the past to help get students started on the path to completing their project. It provides a fairly user-friendly step-by-step guide for students to follow when creating and carrying out their projects. The examples provided also help students get ideas on what type of projects they can carry out and how impactful they can be in their school, community, and beyond. Resources are also available to teachers such as prepared lessons and professional development to help support and strengthen the service-learning experience. I strongly suggest using this site even if it is just as a starting point.
Matthew Wood- West Cook (6); DeKalb (16); Kane (31); DuPage (19): Last summer, as I prepared for how to design my class to incorporate Civic Activism, I found Senator Bob Graham's book, America: The Owner's Manual, a refreshing and insightful read. It highlights 10 specific steps toward effective activism and provides examples of how these tactics operated and worked. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a professional organizer’s advice on getting active.
At IllinoisCivics.org, we endeavor to link educators with resources that address essential questions with proven strategies and tools to prepare students for college, career, and civic life. This monthly newsletter provides civic educators with timely professional development opportunities, classroom resources, and inspiration with #CivicsIsBack success stories. For weekly updates on emerging research on civics, “teachable moments” and related materials, follow our blog.