Service Learning for Disabled Students
Service learning incorporates students' learning goals that are tied to the service-learning project. Service learning increases the effect of academic learning and provides opportunities for students to advance skills and acquire new ones, think critically, work with others agreeably, and relate to others; includes preparation and reflection. Service learning “involves youth in the planning process; makes a meaningful contribution to the community; and connects the school and community in new and positive ways” (Alliance for Service Learning in Education Reform, n.d., as cited in Council for Exceptional Children, 2007, ¶ 3). Service learning also differs from volunteerism or community service activities in that students not only learn but also reflect upon what they have learned from the activity (Kleinert, McGregor, Durbin, Blandford, Jones, Owens, Harrison & Miracle, 2004). Different types of service learning projects that are suitable for students with severe or mild disabilities are also included, as well as steps required for implementing a service learning project for students with disabilities and how service learning projects can be used to help meet each student's individualized education program (IEP) goals.
Keywords Community Service; Disabled Students; Individualized Education Program (IEP); Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Portfolio; Reflection; Service Learning; Service-Learning Projects; Volunteering; Volunteerism
Service learning is more than community service. Service learning incorporates students' learning goals that are tied to the service-learning project. Service learning strengthens academic learning; creates opportunities for students to learn new skills, think critically, work cooperatively, and relate to others; includes preparation and reflection; involves students in the planning process; makes a meaningful contribution to the community; and connects the school and community in a positive way (Alliance for Service Learning in Education Reform, n.d., as cited in Council for Exceptional Children, 2007, par. 3). Service learning also differs from volunteerism or community service activities in that students not only learn but also reflect upon what they have learned from the activity (Kleinert, McGregor, Durbin, Blandford, Jones, Owens, Harrison & Miracle, 2004).
Some type of service learning is used in over one-third of the nation's schools (Skinner & Chapman, 1999, as cited in Fredericks, 2003). Service learning can be used in every type of community, from small rural areas to heavily populated urban areas. Service learning can also be used for practically all subject areas and grade levels to connect the learning in the classroom to real-world, practical application and can be used across the curriculum because many service-learning projects will require the use of knowledge from many different subject areas (Fredericks, 2003).
Service learning enables “students to integrate and apply the knowledge and skills they learn in school to address significant needs in their schools or communities” (Yoder, Retish & Wade, 1996, as cited in Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 29). Since service learning is directly tied to the curriculum, for students with disabilities it is also directly linked to their Individualized Education Program (IEP) objectives. As such, service learning is being recognized as a valuable tool for all students, both those with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
One survey of special education instructors whose students were “involved in service-learning projects showed that their students had increases in attendance, academic skills, and social relationships with their peers” (Brill, 1994, as cited in Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 29; Dymond, Renzaglia & Euljung, 2007). A study of “inclusive service-learning projects between seventh and eighth grade students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, and general education students” found benefits for all students involved with the projects, including increases in "self-esteem, self-knowledge, communication, problem-solving skills, and social skills" (Yoder et al., 1996, as cited in Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 29). Additional benefits that can be derived from participating in service-learning projects are:
• Enhanced student engagement in school,
• The opportunity to learn about new careers, and
• A stronger sense of being part of the community (Students in Service to America, 2003, as cited in Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 29).
In addition, service-learning activities can be linked to “the evidence of learning to meet each state's alternate educational assessment under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)” (Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 28).
Through the inclusion of students with severe disabilities in service-learning projects, students without disabilities gain additional benefits, too. In one high school service-learning project, non-disabled peers who participated in service-learning projects with disabled students showed “significantly more positive attitudes toward people with severe disabilities than they had before their participation in the projects, whereas high school students who only engaged in service-learning projects directed solely to helping students with disabilities” did not show any significant changes in attitude (Burns, Storey & Cerlo, 1999, as cited in Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 29; Dymond et al., 2007).
Students with disabilities involved in a service-learning project can gain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth by completing a project that has social importance. The project can also engage them in curriculum and school-related activities, and it can also help alter others' negative views of their ability to contribute to society (Muscott, 2001, as cited in Scott, 2006). Service learning can play a major role in the furtherance of academic, social, and civic abilities for students who are disabled; and children also get to enjoy the pleasure of contributing to others’ objectives and education, which can increase their motivation and provide the springboard for them to be more active with their own learning techniques and processes (Scott, 2006).
Implementing a Service-Learning Project
When beginning an inclusive service-learning project, it is important to remember to include all students in the planning process and not just have students with disabilities participate in the actual project. Students with moderate and severe disabilities rarely have the opportunity to plan their own learning activities, and how they would like to contribute to their community. Students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers can jointly talk with civic groups and school organizations” to try to determine the need they would like to address (Kleinert, et al., p. 29). Before selecting a project, students can attempt to develop community partnerships by seeking out the help of community organizations to identify the needs of the community. Students with disabilities can work with their non-disabled peers to meet with these organizations, which gives them “opportunities to practice communication, social, and problem-solving skills and also allows those in the community that they meet with to view people with disabilities in a new light” (Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 30).
A Project Example
Kleinert et al. (2004) describe a project using a monthly social and recreational event designed especially for senior citizens at a complex where students plan and cook a dinner as well as plan the entertainment for the evening as an example, the following steps should occur (Kleinert et al., 2004):
• Clear educational goals and curriculum are set. Instructors need to make sure that targeted service-learning skills can be linked to educational goals and IEP objectives. Examples of IEP objectives may include “initiating and sustaining social interactions; cooking skills; meal-planning skills; mathematics skills, such as planning a budget, purchasing items, measuring and counting items; and recreational skills, such as playing cards and participating in table or board games” (Kleinert et al., 2004, p. 30).
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