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Community Service & Service-Learning: Differences, Evidence & Quality. Shelley H. Billig, Ph.D. RMC Research Corporation 2008. Activity 1: Describing the Situation. Turn to your neighbor and paint a written, verbal, artistic, or other picture of a disengaged student. Describe:

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community service service learning differences evidence quality

Community Service & Service-Learning: Differences, Evidence & Quality

Shelley H. Billig, Ph.D.

RMC Research Corporation


activity 1 describing the situation
Activity 1: Describing the Situation
  • Turn to your neighbor and paint a written, verbal, artistic, or other picture of a disengaged student.
  • Describe:
    • how you can tell that the young person is disengaged, using at least some of the senses, e.g., what does the person look like? what does the person sound like? how does the person feel?
    • What are the key cues to notice?
activity 2 5 whys
Activity 2: 5 Whys

Team with another person. Describe your disengaged student. Then ask the question:

Why is the student disengaged?

No matter what the answer is, ask why again.

Repeat three more times – see if you can determine the root cause of the disengagement.

common answers from the research
Common Answers From the Research
  • Lack of challenge (too easy)
  • Lack of success (too hard)
  • Lack of relevance (can’t see the point)
  • Lack of relationships (don’t care about the people)
  • Lack of value in what is being learned (don’t care about the information)
  • Other factors are interfering (e.g., safety, hunger, lack of sleep)
some facts about engagement in the united states steinberg 1996
Some Facts About Engagement in the United States (Steinberg, 1996)
  • Over a third of students do not take school seriously and get through the day by fooling around with classmates;
  • Half said their classes were boring;
  • Two-thirds say they cheated on a school test;
  • 90% copied homework from someone else;
  • 80% say it is not important to get good grades in school;
  • 20% say they do not try hard in school because they are worried what their friends may think;
  • 20% say disengagement is a result of confusion or difficulty of subject matter, particularly in math and science.
engagement research
Engagement Research
  • Ames, (1992), Strong, et. al., (1995) and Anderman and Midgley, (1998) show that teachers who are most successful in engaging students develop activities that address intellectual and psychological needs, including work that:
    • develops their sense of competency;
    • encourages self-expression and originality;
    • allows them to develop connections with others; and
    • gives them some degree of autonomy.
engagement research continued
Engagement Research (continued)
  • Other researchers (Brewster & Fager, 2000:7) recommend:
    • Ensure course materials relate to students’ lives and highlight ways learning can be applied in real-life situations (Lumsden, 1994; Skinner and Belmont, 1991);
    • Help students feel that schoolwork is significant, valuable, and worthy of their efforts (Policy Studies Associates, 1995);
    • Allow students to have some degree of control over learning (Brooks, et. al., 1998);
engagement research continued1
Engagement Research (continued)
  • Assign challenging but achievable tasks for all students. Tasks that seem impossible and those that are rote and repetitive discourage learners (Dev, 1997; Policy Studies Associates, 1995);
  • Stimulate students’ curiosity about the topic being studied (Strong, Silver, and Robinson, 1995);
  • Design projects that allow students to share new knowledge with others. Projects are more engaging when students share what they are learning in reciprocal relationships, as in collaborative projects where each student’s knowledge is needed by others in the group to complete an assignment (Strong, Silver, and Robinson, 1995); and
  • Develop caring and trust between teachers and students (Nodding, 2000: 36).
community service connected to education
Community Service Connected to Education
  • Community service - Students perform actions in the community to benefit the community in some way.
  • Mandatory service – Students must perform community service or face penalties, including denial of graduation
  • Service is mandatory in some states and cities in the U.S. (e.g., Maryland, Atlanta), but many now mandate service-learning rather than service (e.g., Philadelphia; Chicago).
service learning
  • Service-learning is an instructional approach whereby students learn important learning objectives as they address a genuine community need.


by definition k 12 service learning
By definition, K-12 service-learning
  • is linked to curriculum and content standards;
  • is a structured experience that includes planning, action, and reflection (at a minimum);
  • brings the community experience back into the classroom to be placed in context; and
  • is often explicitly and intentionally linked to other important outcomes such as character development, civic engagement, and career exploration.
research on community service
Research on Community Service
  • Mixed for both voluntary and mandatory service.
  • Generally found positive impacts on later volunteering; social responsibility; caring and trust.
  • Appears to be generational, with more recent studies (of Millennials) finding more positive outcomes than studies of young people in the 80s and 90s (Gen X and Gen Y).
some sample studies
Some Sample Studies
  • Metz and Youniss (2003) studied a Boston school before and after mandate for service was passed. Found that those who were predisposed to service made and retain gains; those who were not predisposed to service made greater gains and sustained ethic of service over time.
  • Planty, Bozick, and Regnier (2006) found all students sustained ethic of service two years after completion of service, but those who served voluntarily sustained commitment more often over time.
community service research
Community Service Research
  • Body of research shows that three variables appear to make the most difference, and these differences superseded the variable of mandatory v. voluntary. The variables were:
    • Structure of the programming – how it was planned and delivered (related to social development and commitment to community);
    • Role of the community organization – determines whether the experience was meaningful and supportive, both of which predict outcomes;
    • Opportunity to share experiences and identify learning or character development outcomes (making results visible).

See, McLellan & Youniss, 2007; Stukas & Dunlap, 2002; Loupe, 2002; Foster & Meinhard, 1999

common impacts of high quality service learning on students youth
Common Impacts of High Quality Service-Learning on Students/Youth
  • Increase in academic engagement including affective, behavioral, and cognitive;
  • Increase in valuing school;
  • Increase in academic achievement;
  • Increase in social-emotional outcomes such as resilience, managing conflict, respect for diversity and character development (caring, bonding, social responsibility);
  • Increase in civic outcomes including knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
sample studies test scores
Sample Studies: Test Scores
  • High school students in service-learning in Philadelphia scored higher on state reading achievement tests than nonparticipants (Billig & Jesse, in press);
  • Writing and Social Studies scores on the Michigan Educational Achievement Program higher for 5th grade service-learning students than for comparison group; no differences in scores for grades 7 or 8 (Billig, 2003);
  • Math achievement scores on Metropolitan Achievement Test statistically higher for students randomly assigned to service-learning group than for students in control (non-service-learning group). (Santmire, Giraud, and Grosskopt, 1999);
  • Gains in students’ reading and language arts scores on California Test of Basic Skills significantly higher for students participating in service-learning. (Weiler et al., 1998)
sample studies other academic
Sample Studies: Other Academic
  • The attendance rates among service-learning students were higher than peers at the school who did not participate in service-learning. (Shaffer, 1993; Melchior and Orr, 1995)
  • Florida schools that offered service-learning showed a rise in overall student attendance rates over a three-year period.(Follman, 1999)
  • Middle and high school students participating in service-learning showed higher learning of math content than comparison group. (Melchior, 1999)
  • High school students who served as tutors as part of a service-learning program were less likely to drop out of school than comparable students not participating in the program. (Supik, 1996)
sample studies character and civic outcomes
Sample Studies: Character and Civic Outcomes
  • Philadelphia service-learning middle and high school students had significantly higher scores than nonparticipating peers on resilience; prosocial behaviors; and citizenship (Billig & Jesse, 2006; 2007; Billig, Jesse & Grimley, in press; Billig, Jesse & Brodersen, in press)
  • Wisconsin studies showed growth in all areas measured (next two slides)

WI Learn and Serve

Overall Results for Grades 3-5 Service-Learning

Student Subscale Increases


Overall Results for Grades 6-12 Service-Learning

Student Subscale Increases – WI Learn and Serve

many more studies available
Many more studies available
  • See the impacts summary.
canada s conclusions
Canada’s Conclusions
  • “What does seem clear from the research is that the distinction between mandatory community service and service-learning is more than one of semantics. Without the features that distinguish service-learning from mandatory community service, the latter seems far less likely to generate intended outcomes. There are important lessons in the research literature that point to how programs ought to be developed and structured, and program structure is the only variable that seems to consistently influence success.” – Graff, 2006, p. 17 (Volunteering and Mandatory Community Service: Choice-Incentive-Coercion-Obligation)
overall service learning does better than community service but outcomes are provisional
Overall service-learning does better than community service…but outcomes are provisional…
  • Research showed repeatedly that without high quality, there was limited student benefit.
what is quality
What is Quality?
  • Research studies within service-learning identified key variables by testing Essential Elements and other hypotheses;
  • Variables were compared to those in the greater body of research on what works in education;
  • Expert practitioners tuned the variables into statements of standards and indicators;
  • Results were compared back to the literature to ensure they were supported, measurable, and actionable.
new standards for high quality service learning practice
New Standards for High Quality Service-Learning Practice
  • Duration and intensity;
  • Link to curriculum;
  • Mutually beneficial partnerships;
  • Meaningful service;
  • Youth voice;
  • Diversity;
  • Reflection;
  • Progress monitoring.
service learning components
Service-Learning Components
  • Investigating a Community Issue Through Research and Community Needs Assessments
  • Planning the Ways Students Will Address the Issue
  • Action – Performing the Service Activity
  • Reflection – Thinking About Impact on Others and Self, What Worked and What Did Not, Relationship of Oneself to the World
  • Demonstration – Showing Impact on Others and Self
  • Celebration of Impact
duration and intensity
Duration and Intensity


  • Service-learning has sufficient duration and intensity to address community needs and meet specified outcomes.
duration and intensity indicators
Duration and Intensity Indicators
  • Service-learning experiences include the processes of investigation of community needs, preparation for service, action, reflection, demonstration of learning and impacts, and celebration.
  • Service-learning is conducted during concentrated blocks of time across a period of several weeks or months.
  • Service-learning provides enough time to address identified community needs and achieve learning outcomes.
link to curriculum
Link to Curriculum


  • Service-learning is intentionally used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards.
link to curriculum indicators
Link to Curriculum Indicators
  • Service-learning has clearly articulated learning goals.
  • Service-learning is aligned with the academic and/or programmatic curriculum.
  • Service-learning helps participants learn how to transfer knowledge and skills from one setting to another.
  • Service-learning that takes place in schools is formally recognized in school board policies and student records.


  • Service-learning partnerships are collaborative, mutually beneficial, and address community needs.
partnership indicators
Partnership Indicators
  • Service-learning involves a variety of partners, including youth, educators, families, community members, community-based organizations, and/or businesses.
  • Service-learning partnerships are characterized by frequent and regular communication to keep all partners well-informed about activities and progress.
  • Service-learning partners collaborate to establish a shared vision and set common goals to address community needs.
partnership indicators continued
Partnership Indicators (continued)
  • Service-learning partners collaboratively develop and implement action plans to meet specified goals.
  • Service-learning partners share knowledge and understanding of school and community assets and needs, and view each other as valued resources.
meaningful service
Meaningful Service


  • Service-learning actively engages participants in meaningful and personally relevant service activities.
meaningful service indicators
Meaningful Service Indicators
  • Service-learning experiences are appropriate to participant ages and developmental abilities.
  • Service-learning addresses issues that are personally relevant to the participants.
  • Service-learning provides participants with interesting and engaging service activities.
  • Service-learning encourages participants to understand their service experiences in the context of the underlying societal issues being addressed.
  • Service-learning leads to attainable and visible outcomes that are valued by those being served.
youth voice
Youth Voice


  • Service-learning provides youth with a strong voice in planning, implementing, and evaluating service-learning experiences with guidance from adults.
youth voice indicators
Youth Voice Indicators
  • Service-learning engages youth in generating ideas during the planning, implementation, and evaluation processes.
  • Service-learning involves youth in the decision-making process throughout the service-learning experiences.
  • Service-learning involves youth and adults in creating an environment that supports trust and open expression of ideas.
  • Service-learning promotes acquisition of knowledge and skills to enhance youth leadership and decision-making.
  • Service-learning involves youth in evaluating the quality and effectiveness of the service-learning experience.


  • Service-learning promotes understanding of diversity and mutual respect among all participants.
diversity indicators
Diversity Indicators
  • Service-learning helps participants identify and analyze different points of view to gain understanding of multiple perspectives.
  • Service-learning helps participants develop interpersonal skills in conflict resolution and group decision-making.
  • Service-learning helps participants actively seek to understand and value the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of those offering and receiving service.
  • Service-learning encourages participants to recognize and overcome stereotypes.


  • Service-learning incorporates multiple challenging reflection activities that are ongoing and that prompt deep thinking and analysis about oneself and one’s relationship to society.
reflection indicators
Reflection Indicators
  • Service-learning reflection includes a variety of verbal, written, artistic, and nonverbal activities to demonstrate understanding and changes in participants’ knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes.
  • Service-learning reflection occurs before, during, and after the service experience.
  • Service-learning reflection prompts participants to think deeply about complex community problems and alternative solutions.
reflection indicators continued
Reflection Indicators (continued)
  • Service-learning reflection encourages participants to examine their preconceptions and assumptions in order to explore and understand their roles and responsibilities as citizens.
  • Service-learning reflection encourages participants to examine a variety of social and civic issues related to their service-learning experience so that participants understand connections to public policy and civic life.
progress monitoring
Progress Monitoring


  • Service-learning engages participants in an ongoing process to assess the quality of implementation and progress toward meeting specified goals, and uses results for improvement and sustainability.
progress monitoring indicators
Progress Monitoring Indicators
  • Collect evidence of progress toward meeting specific service goals and learning outcomes from multiple sources throughout the service-learning experience.
  • Collect evidence of the quality of service-learning implementation from multiple sources throughout the service-learning experience.
  • Use evidence to improve service-learning experiences.
  • Communicate evidence of progress toward goals and outcomes with the broader community, including policy-makers and education leaders, to deepen service-learning understanding and ensure that high quality practices are sustained.
what next
What Next?
  • Support through professional development
  • Support through assessment
  • Support through research
  • Support through policy
  • Support through certification
  • Support through exemplars
  • Research papers and standards:
  • Research summaries, lesson bank, standards:
  • National Service-Learning Clearinghouse:
  • Questions/answers: