Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Citizenship, Curriculum, and Critical Thinking beyond the Four Walls of the Classroom: Linking the Academic Content with Service-Learning

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Citizenship, Curriculum, and Critical Thinking beyond the Four Walls of the Classroom: Linking the Academic Content with Service-Learning

Article excerpt


President Obama, along with several of our country's previous leaders, have repeatedly spoken of the need to actively engage all citizens, even our youngest, in service to our local communities and beyond. This call to service coincides with the recent focus on 21st century learning outcomes and the vital need to prepare teachers who are equipped to engage and inspire all learners to be creative and critical thinkers, not only for the good of their individual futures, but for the good of the future of the nation (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2006). For teachers, this means learning to use innovative approaches to engage students as thinkers and problem solvers so they may be successful global citizens and leaders of the 21st century.

Since civic competence is one of the primary goals of social studies (National Council for the Social Studies, 1994) then it makes sense to link service-learning and civic education to create opportunities for students to solve problems and make meaningful connections in a real world context. Research has shown that engaging students in civic education through service-learning encourages collaboration and communication among students as they work together to learn and use academic skills to solve real-world problems (Kelshaw, Lazaruus, & Miner, 2009; Schultz, 2008). Most schools today still have mission statements that list civic education as a top priority, but with the push for higher test scores, civic education is often "left behind" (Parker, 2008). This is true even in the face of a growing body of evidence proving that service-learning assists students in learning content on deeper and more meaningful levels, thereby increasing achievement, particularly in reading and math (Soslau & Yost, 2007). In addition, student motivation and interest toward school and learning increases as evidenced by increased attendance in classrooms that integrate service-learning into the curriculum (Boyle-Baise, & Zevin, 2009; Soslau & Yost, 2007).

If school is where children are going to acquire the required skills for life in the 21st century, then it is crucial for teacher educators to help classroom teachers become knowledgeable citizens who are capable of implementing a curriculum that will prepare students to be civic-minded, global, creative, and critical thinkers. Unfortunately, the curriculum in many schools has been sharply narrowed to focus on mathematics and language arts since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001). As a result, content areas such as social studies are often eliminated from the elementary classroom curriculum (Hinde, 2005; Rock, et al., 2006; Van Fossen, 2005; Zhao & Hoge, 2005). Real world experiences and meaningful curriculum projects are often obsolete because their format does not support the test preparation regimen mandated by their school districts. As a result, any request to deviate from a script that is focused on skill and drill strategies is often met with resistance from the administration (Hilliard, 2000; Santman, 2002).

The following article explores how 12 classroom teachers, enrolled in one of the author's graduate social studies methods course, used service-learning as an instructional tool to help students practice active participation in their community and beyond, while also recognizing the relevance of academic coursework as they applied their knowledge and skills to meaningful issues and contexts beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Theoretical Framework

Experiential Learning

Learn and Serve America's National Clearinghouse defines service-learning as a "teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities" (para. 1). In an attempt to revive meaningful curriculum and reaffirm its role in the preparation of 21st century global citizens, we determined that teachers must first experience and reflect on the complex task of integrating service-learning into their instruction. …

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