Service-learning is fast becoming an essential tool used in schools to enhance students personal and interpersonal growth and development. But for service-learning to be effective, it needs to be a part of an integrated curriculum. What do we mean by this? What is an example of how schools can do this?
What is an integrated curriculum?
An integrated curriculum is described as one that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life. An integrated curriculum aims to connect the theory learned in the classroom, with practical, real-life knowledge and experiences. The practical and experiential learning aspect of an integrated curriculum is facilitated through service-learning.
There has been extensive research done on integrated curriculums and what they look like in the learning and teaching space. From this research, three particular integrated curriculum paradigms were identified, each of them having overlapped and aligned elements. These include:
- Multidisciplinary integration – focuses primarily on the disciplines. This approach relates different subject around a common theme. In this approach, teachers fuse skills, knowledge, or even attitudes into the regular school curriculum. In some schools, for example, students learn respect for the environment in every subject area.
- Interdisciplinary integration – in this approach to integration, teachers organize the curriculum around common learnings across disciplines. They chunk together the common learnings embedded in the disciplines to emphasize interdisciplinary skills and concepts.
- Transdisciplinary Integration – In the transdisciplinary approach to integration, teachers organize the curriculum around student questions and concerns. Students develop life skills as they apply interdisciplinary and disciplinary skills in a real-life context.
Service-learning is used as a tool in each of these paradigms to create engagement with students, enhance their learning experience and to motivate them to learn. Service-learning, as part of an integrated curriculum, addresses real issues and community needs, which creates more engagement and makes students more likely to invest their time and effort in their learning.
Can service-learning be incorporated into any type of course work?
It is often difficult for many educators to understand how service-learning can be integrated into their course work and curriculum. We have to agree with Barbara Jacoby’s answer to this, where she states that “service-learning is certainly not appropriate for every course, but it can be effective in every discipline. This is because service-learning works well for students across a wide range of learning styles, from theoretical learners, who learn best through abstract conceptualization, to those who learn best from active, concrete experience”.
An example of a Serve Learn Curriculum is a unit on sustainability. Students will understand how systems of nature, economy, wellbeing and society are interconnected. Awareness of consumption and implementation of innovative, practical solutions help us uphold our responsibility to live sustainable lifestyles. Students investigate the concept and through action research methods they are able to understand the needs and issues. Students select areas of focus that they are interested in: nature, economy, wellbeing and society- based on the verified needs of the community they are able to plan and prepare for action. Students work collaboratively with peers, partners, teachers, building skills and dispositions to solve real world problems for effective change together. They reflect before, during and after meaningful service learning experiences as they continue to learn and grow. To celebrate with partners and share their service learning with the community they demonstrate and communicate the service learning for sustainability.
Service-learning within an integrated curriculum enhances the learning experience and facilitates more engagement between the student and teacher as well as the course work. The concept selected in the Serve Learn example of sustainability is transdisciplinary, and various conceptual lenses are applied to sustainability.
How do you implement an integrated curriculum in your school?
The benefits of an integrated curriculum both for teaching and learning are endless. For an integrated curriculum to be effective, the curriculum does need to be thought out and developed. Here are a few steps that need to be considered when developing an integrated curriculum:
- Select achievable learning outcomes
- Consider what service experiences are most likely to enable students to achieve the desired outcomes
- Approach potential community partners
- Plan the experience in detail
- Determine how you will prepare students for the experience
- Select activities that are appropriate and meaningful for the students
- Integrate critical reflection through experience
- Address logistical issues
- Develop a plan to measure the achievement of students and community outcomes
- Seek closure, recognize and celebrate success
By creating an integrated curriculum using service-learning, you are changing the teaching and learning experience for both the teacher and the learner. Integrated curriculums allow students to have a deeper understanding of the course subject matter and how to apply the material that they have learned in the classroom in a real-world situation. This ultimately helps prepare them for their future studies, career and life in general.
[2, 3, 4, 5] Drake,S,M & Burns,R,C. (2004). Meeting Standards Through Integrated Curriculum. United States of America. ASCSD
[6,7,8,9] Jacoby,B, Howard,J. (2015).Service-Learning Essentials: Questions, Answers and Lessons Learned. United States of America, Jossey-Bass. PG 80-146 .
 Astin,A,W, Eyler,J, & Dwight, E,G Jr. (1999). Where’s The Learning In Service-Learning?. United States of America, Jossey-Bass. PG 80
Tara brings passion and a deep understanding of service learning, rooted in years of experience, to her training. Her training builds bridges from theory to implementation while generously sharing her resources and knowledge to ensure our success. Tara works with the whole school (administration, teachers, students, and SL leaders) to build a sustainable program that is embedded in the curriculum and tied to the mission. She energized a faculty on a Friday afternoon, no easy feat, leaving them with a desire to learn more about SL and to become more involved. I cannot recommend Tara highly enough.