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Service-Learning Tools for Administrators

21st Century Skills and the Connection to Service-Learning

Wisconsin has joined the Partnership for 21st Century Skills to ensure that the Wisconsin PK-16 educational system prepares students with the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century workforce. Service-learning provides an instructional methodology that will provide students with experiences that bring these skills to life through the application of knowledge and skills in addressing community issues. For a list of the six key elements of 21st century learning, see the Educating for the 21st Century report.


Download "Service-Learning and A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act" here.

Principals report that service-learning has a positive impact on teacher satisfaction, school climate, academic achievement, and school engagement. Teachers who use service-learning are significantly more likely to use high quality teaching strategies like cooperative learning, participate in projects integrating technology and requiring data collection, use primary resources, and make meaningful connections to the community (Billig, Jesse and Root, 2005).

A review of research (Furco, 2007) indicates that high quality service-learning, because of its utilization of effective, experiential learning strategies, can enhance academic outcomes in such content areas as reading, writing, mathematics, and science. A variety of studies have shown evidence of a range of achievement-related benefits from service-learning, including improved attendance, higher grade point averages, enhanced preparation for the workforce, enhanced awareness and understanding of social issues, greater motivation for learning, and heightened engagement in prosocial behaviors.

Schools in high poverty areas are less likely to employ service-learning as a teaching strategy, yet research has shown this is a particularly effective pedagogy for use in such schools.

In Philadelphia, low socioeconomic status students in service-learning classes gained more on math and science standardized tests than their nonparticipating peers. Similar results occurred in Michigan and Texas when service-learning was of high quality (Billig, 2008).

Service-Learning can significantly reduce the achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. Low-income students who participated in service opportunities and had lengthier participation in service-learning had better school attendance and grades than low-income students who did not participate. (Scales, Roehlkepartain, Neal, Kielsmeier, & Benson, 2006).

A review of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS) suggested that:

Civic engagement activities raised the odds of graduation and improved high school students’ progress in reading, math, science and history.

Students who participated in service-learning activities in high school were 22 percentage points more likely to graduate from college than those who did not participate.

Students who participated in service-learning scored 6.7 percent higher in reading achievement and 5.9 percent higher in science achievement than those who did not participate in service-learning.

Service-Learning Makes Good Teachers.

Research demonstrates that successful teachers are those who are adequately prepared to use instructional strategies that challenge students to use higher order thinking skills, engage students in solving complex problems, probe for deeper learning, and seek opportunities for students to transfer knowledge from one context to another (Rosenshine & Furst, 1973; Darling-Hammond, Wise, & Pease, 1983; Good & Brophy, 1986; National Research Council, 1999).

Less well-prepared teachers are less able to manage active, inquiry-oriented classrooms and more likely to resort to easier to manage strategies that rely on passive tasks and workbook activities (Carter & Doyle, 1978; Cooper & Sherk, 1989).

Active pedagogies and inquiry-based instruction are the very methodologies that develop the 21st century skills our students need to succeed in their communities and workplace. Service-learning effectively addresses these 21st century skills, while also engaging students in their communities and meeting one of the essential, and neglected, functions of schooling: preparing students for active and effective citizenship.

Service-learning studies have shown a large impact when done well. This pedagogy works because students are more likely to be engaged when their work is challenging, when they have some autonomy, and when they are given meaningful tasks to perform (National Research Council, 2003).

Yet, of the estimated 53.3 million youth in our country, only 4.7 million K-12 students are reported to have been engaged in any kind of service-learning experiences (National Youth Leadership Council, 2008).

When teachers and administrators work in a thriving educational system, performance improves, retention is greater, and continuous improvement is evident at every level. Service-learning has been shown to have a significantly positive impact on teacher attitudes, student engagement, and overall school climate.

Students’ academic performance, civic engagement, and social-emotional functioning will improve when teachers are equipped with the skills they need to incorporate service-learning as an effective pedagogy. As importantly, addressing issues of teacher quality within a systems approach to preparing and supporting teachers in our lowest performing schools will increase the equitable distribution of quality teachers.

Implementation Tools

Components and Standards

Service-Learning Implementation Guide
This guide provides educators with a structure for planning a service-learning project that is meaningfully immersed into the classroom curriculum.

Quality Assessment Rubric
Reflect on the quality of service-learning practice in local projects. This rubric evaluates the elements that must be present in high quality service-learning projects to achieve maximum impact on students.

Powerpoint Presentations
Developed by Greendale School District.
Greendale Service-Learning History
Spring 2006 Greendale Service-Learning Overview

Building Coordinator Application
Application developed by Amy Keliher, Slinger School District.

Elementary Service-Learning Coach Job Description
Template .

For questions about this information, contact Victoria Rydberg-Nania (608) 266-0419