Academic journal article Social Education

Visiting and Interviewing Older Adults: Service-Learning in the Sixth Grade

Academic journal article Social Education

Visiting and Interviewing Older Adults: Service-Learning in the Sixth Grade

Article excerpt

I teach social studies in the sixth grade at Chrism McAuliffe Elementary School in Bakersfield, California. Like teachers in many states, I have critically assessed my lesson plans in relation to the state's curriculum standards, which in California are contained in the History/Social Science Framework for California Public Schools. I discovered four areas in which I might strengthen my lessons: (1) civic values, (2) rights and responsibilities, (3) social participation, and (4) ethical literacy.

According to the "Goals of Democratic Understanding and Civic Values" in the Framework, civic competence means being "willing to participate actively in government, think critically and creatively about issues, confront unresolved problems of the society, and work through democratic processes toward the fuller realization of its highest ideals in the lives and opportunities for all of its citizens." (1) I observed that my students were grasping the curriculum's historical content, but they certainly did not consider themselves active participants in their community or in history. Neither were they equipped to confront social questions creatively or to take advantage of the democratic process that provides opportunities for each citizen to be involved in the life of the community. "Americans who came of age during the Depression and World War II have been far more deeply engaged in the life of their community than generations that have followed." (2) My students understood the concept of self (and self-gratification), but to them the thought that they had the potential to influence their world seemed lofty and abstract. They needed an experience that could help them contribute to society in a meaningful, productive way.

My students lacked a sense of being included. The "Goals of Skills Attainment and Social Participation" in the Framework state that students "must participate utilizing their personal skills, group interaction skills, and their social and political participation skills" in order to promote the "learning skills that lead to civic competence." (3) My students were developing a cognitive scaffolding of the past, but they were missing the personal connection that would have encouraged the development of a full sense of civic obligation.

Finally, the challenging category of ethical literacy needed to be addressed. As defined in the Framework, ethical literacy is "The recognition of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the individual." (4) The conflict in Kosovo, ongoing at the time, evoked some discussion among students who expressed pity for others, but this example still lacked relevance to the students' own lives because it was so distant.

What could be done to strengthen these areas of weakness in the development of my young students? How could I provide some kind of personal connection to history and to community, integrate these activities into the sixth grade curriculum, and attain the goals of the Framework? Here was my social studies challenge for the year.

Opportunity Close at Hand

Fortunately my principal, Dee Whitley, who was aware of my goals, suggested that I investigate Laurel Springs, the new assisted living center, located just two blocks away from our school. Administrators at the center were open to the idea of students visiting with residents, so I investigated the possibility of doing a service-learning project with the whole class.

I discovered many areas of the curriculum that could be covered in a service-learning project involving students and older adults. (5) Laurel Springs could be used as a community-based resource to teach social studies (history, social service, and good citizenship), science (the life cycle and aging), and language arts (vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and speaking). Some of the residents that the students would meet were in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, so I also taught a little about some forms of dementia that are more prevalent among the aged. …

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