“It Depends on the Type of Program”: Student Perceptions of Service-Learning

“It Depends on the Type of Program”: Student Perceptions of Service-Learning

Timothy A. Micek (Ohio Dominican University, USA) and Judith M. Monseur (Antioch University Midwest, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0874-8.ch003


Effects of the organization on TESOL candidates' experience of service-learning were studied. Participants were 11 students enrolled in a graduate TESOL program. Students completed a 20-hour service-learning experience in a community-based organization that serves English learners and their families. Students filled out questionnaires, kept a journal, and participated in a class discussion. Analysis of the questionnaires indicated that students learned a lot about their organization, including its mission or purpose, curriculum, staffing, and training of volunteers. Journals revealed that students had a variety of experiences, that they learned a lot about their organizations, and that they learned valuable lessons about teaching in these organizations. Class discussion highlighted the variation in how organizations are organized and managed. These findings suggest that: 1) The organizations in which they serve affect candidates' experience of service-learning and 2) Teacher preparation programs should prepare candidates for the realities of this experience.
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Many studies of service-learning emphasize its benefits for participants, especially pre-service teacher candidates. Amaro-Jiménez (2012) describes a service-learning project that operates in conjunction with a free after-school program run by a public library in a large city in the southwestern USA. The project’s goals are to help pre-service teachers apply what they learn in the classroom to what they do in the field and to help meet the needs of the community. The pre-service teachers commit to volunteering at least two hours per week for 16 weeks, and they connect course material to service-learning by participating in classroom discussions, writing weekly reflections, and creating “developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate” materials for participants in the after-school program. “Thus far,” in Amaro-Jiménez’s words, the project has given over 200 pre-service teachers “opportunities to grow personally, professionally, academically and civically” (p. 212). Another study yielded similar results with a different population of students in a different type of setting.

Smolen, Zhang, and Detwiler (2013) describe a service-learning project connected to a TESOL program where they explored teacher candidates’ experiences teaching English to Karen refugees from Myanmar (Burma) in a Midwestern city in the US. Interviews with, and reflections by, the candidates indicated that the project “contributed to their academic and personal development and enhanced their academic knowledge, civic responsibility, and personal growth. Service-learning, the authors conclude, “is a powerful experience that can enrich a TESOL program by engaging teacher candidates and the community they serve in a mutually beneficial way” (p. 534).

Based on their results, Smolen, Zhang, and Detwiler (2013) conclude that service-learning was a “transformative experience” for the teacher candidates they studied. The opportunity to apply theory to practice “enhanced their academic learning and helped them develop professionally.” In addition, the candidates realized that doing community service and teaching ESOL “can be tremendously rewarding and meaningful.” It was clear that they “developed a strong sense of civic responsibility and commitment.” Finally, there was evidence that the candidates “enjoyed their service experience, which may partly account for their deep commitment to continue their civic engagement to serve others in the future” (p. 549). Another study in a similar setting had different results.

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