In the Service of Learning and Activism: Service Learning, Critical Pedagogy, and the Problem Solution Project

By Stenhouse, Vera L.; Jarrett, Olga S. | Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

In the Service of Learning and Activism: Service Learning, Critical Pedagogy, and the Problem Solution Project


Stenhouse, Vera L., Jarrett, Olga S., Teacher Education Quarterly


Prevailing policies and practices in teaching suppress teachers' autonomy in the classroom, leaving students subjected to scripted programs, standardized curricula, and passive rote learning (Leistyna, Lavandez, & Nelson, 2004; Sleeter, 2005). Such forms of teaching often run counter to those that support critical thinking, joy, and equity-oriented learning (Christensen, 2009; Nieto & Bode, 2008; Sleeter, 2005). In contrast to traditional pedagogy, scholars suggest that student-centered, democratic, participatory, and activist forms of pedagogy provide meaningful learning experiences that are libratory and empowering (Duncan Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Fisher, 2007; Freire, 1998; Shor, 1980/1987). Shor (1992) states:

   The difference between empowering and traditional pedagogy has to
   do with the positive or negative feelings students can develop for
   the learning process...Their consequent negative feelings interfere
   with learning and lead to strong anti-intellectualism in countless
   students as well as to alienation from civic life. (p.23)

To counteract disempowerment frequently experienced in education, in 2001 the authors initiated a Problem Solution Project (PSP) in the second year a two-year urban certification and Master's program. The PSP, designed to promote empowerment of first-year urban teachers and their students, involves both service learning (Anderson, Swick, & Yff, 2001; Claus & Ogden, 1999; EPA, 2002; Hart, 1997; Werner, Voce, Openshaw, & Simons, 2002) and critical pedagogy (Freire, 1970, 1998; Shor, 1992). The intention was to involve teachers and students in service, not as charity (King, 2004) but as a vehicle for social change (Claus & Ogden, 1999; Freire, 1998). Jarrett and Stenhouse (in press) discuss the first six years of the second year PSP.

In 2004, the authors began implementing a PSP in the program's first year, to enable preservice teachers to experience civically engaged learning using a student-centered, participatory approach. The purposes were to: (a) encourage preservice teachers' own active practice and participation in identifying problems and forging solutions and (b) model how they might conduct a PSP in their own classrooms the following year. This article describes five years of implementing first-year problem solution projects.

Service Learning

Service learning combines service with community connections and academic applications, enhancing students' academic growth as well as encouraging community awareness and social action skill development (Moore & Sandholtz, 1999). Among the various models of service learning, Eyler and Giles (1999) recommend balanced programs with meaningful service coupled with learning goals and reflection. Their research found that links to coursework, diversity, reflection, and community input aid student learning. Student learning and community benefit should be simultaneous. Geleta and Gilliam (2003) state "a well-planned service-learning project allows students to learn and develop through active participation in a carefully planned service that is specifically developed to meet and address real community needs" (p. 10).

As part of teacher preparation, various programs include service learning as a means of challenging or enhancing preservice teachers' abilities to work in various school settings and a small body of research indicates the effectiveness of such programs (Anderson, Swick, & Yff, 2001; Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Brown, 2005). Through field experiences and service learning opportunities, preservice teachers are encouraged to interact across racial, cultural, geographic, or socioeconomic settings to enhance their knowledge and examine their dispositions regarding various populations (Boyle-Baise, 2002; Brown, 2005; Brown & Howard II, 2004).

Typically, course instructors select the service learning opportunity or provide choices for students such as working with P-12 students in a neighborhood school and locating community organizations as sites to engage people who are culturally/linguistically diverse, homeless, and hungry/food insecure (Anderson, Swick, & Yff, 2001). …

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