Teachers and students learning through service
Vol. 10, No. 2
Teachers and students learning through service -- a summary of an evaluation of Need in Deed’s work by Research for Action; Top projects get recognition; What is a high quality service-learning project; Kids get kudos for community problem solving; Welcome Elizabeth Soslau -- NID's newest Board member; Meet Pam Prell -- Profesional Development Manager.
Teachers and students learning through service
Summary of an evaluation of Need in Deed’s work by Research for Action
Quote from a first-year NID teacher who has been teaching for over 20 years
In the fall of 2006, Need in Deed commissioned Research for Action, a nonprofit engaged in education research and evaluation, to assess the effectiveness of Need in Deed's Teacher Network. Now in its fourth year, the Network is the mechanism through which NID staff give Philadelphia public school teachers the tools and support they need to guide their students through yearlong service-learning projects. Our goal in establishing this professional learning community was to expand our reach and increase the sustainability of our work.
As part of the RFA study, we wanted to know how teacher participation in the Network related to students’ service-learning experiences and outcomes.
The findings suggest that NID’s greatest impact on students is through the development of a supportive classroom environment. Students in the classrooms of teachers who participated most actively in the Network demonstrated consistently and significantly:
- Positive perceptions of teachers
- A sense of belonging in the classroom
- A sense of efficacy, or the belief that they can make a difference
- Improvements in the class’s ability to work together
- An improved mood in the classroom
- Improved discussion skills among students
- Improved student behavior
- Greater acceptance among students for each other
A middle school student said:
"The whole mood of the class is different. The feel of it. Because in regular classes, we would just do math or reading and take a test and have homework, but here we are doing something to help other people."
In assessing academic gains, teachers noted two specific areas – writing and literacy. Students and teachers at all grade levels indicated a focus on writing skills through their service-learning project.
RFA believes measuring student gains in persuasive writing, critical thinking and problem solving skills are particularly promising areas to evaluate. They will continue their research this year, developing and piloting tools to measure these outcomes.
RFA’s evaluation of Need in Deed's Teacher Network is one of the targeted initiatives funded through NID’s 20th anniversary campaign.
Top projects get recognition
Kids focus on littering, gun violence, child abuse, hip-hop music
Nancy Goldschmidt’s 2nd grade class at McClure Elementary School took on a tough issue with their service-learning project: gun violence. The springboard for their project was an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts called “Lost Dreams on Canvas,” which features 150 portraits of innocent victims of violence.
Motivated by the portraits and stories of these slain children, each student wrote a pledge to a family whose child was represented in the exhibit. Their pledges include a description of their dreams for the future and a declaration describing how they will address violence in their community. The pledges and student artwork are all collected in a book Ms. Goldschmidt arranged to have published. The title is Protecting Every Child’s Dream. Proceeds from the book benefit “Lost Dreams on Canvas.”
In writing about her 3rd grade students’ project on littering, Lisa Hantman at McCall Elementary School writes, “My students felt that littering was a very big problem in their communities. After loads of discussion, it was decided that the best way to tackle this problem was to inform others and increase awareness.” The children presented their findings at a littering symposium, for which they created a three-dimensional ecoscape model and power point presentations, as well as speeches, dramatizations and informational handouts. They designed and implemented the entire event.
“I would not have chosen this topic,” Ms. Hantman adds. “This project belongs to the children. They feel they are impacting the world.”
Joanna Bottaro’s 5th grade students at Andrew Jackston Elementary School chose an interesting slant on violence. Their premise is that negative messages in hip-hop music contribute to the violent behavior of some young people.
The students developed their project objective after interviewing their peers and analyzing the lyrics of popular hip-hop songs. During the course of their project, they met with a community activist and co-founder of Men United for a Better Philadelphia and two ex-offenders who are now successful producers of films, commercials and music videos. The two film producers videotaped a mock debate the students conducted in which they examined the consequences of this form of free expression.
Elizabeth Soslau, at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School, “gets” the idea of student voice. Her 8th grade students were the drivers for their project on child abuse.
She writes, “Throughout the project I pitched myself as their administrative secretary. I typed, copied, faxed and secured permission. But whenever an email was necessary, the students wrote it with me. In Rakeem’s words: ‘We have done everything ourselves, and on top of that we worked extra hard.’”
Ms. Soslau used the project as a teaching strategy to improve her students’ reading levels. It was successful way beyond her imagining. The typical reading inventory growth for a student is 60-70 point in a year. Her students increased their scores an average of 100 points each. And beyond their academic achievement, the students, initially resistant to any level of participation at all, learned to support and encourage one another in class discussions.
What is a high quality service-learning project?
Student voice: Opportunities were provided for students to make decisions and share responsibilities regarding most aspects of the project, including the selection of the topic, and learning and service activities.
Curriculum connections: Meaningful connections to the Core Curriculum were planned and incorporated into the project.
Community partners: We prepared for CP visits to increase the likelihood that students had positive encounters with individuals who were informative and/or motivating.
Learning & service activities: We incorporated learning and service activities that were designed to meet our project objectives.
Reflection: Students reflected in a variety of ways (journal, discussion, artistic expression) throughout the process.
Student recognition: Student effort was recognized throughout the project, and there was a meaningful culminating celebration.
Learning styles: Activities that appeal to a variety of learning styles were incorporated, and opportunities were provided for students to utilize their gifts and talents.
Kids get kudos for community problem solving
Shout Out celebrates student effort
These are some of the questions students in Need in Deed classrooms explored this year in their yearlong service-learning projects as they focused on such problems as abuse, addiction, asthma, cancer, child abuse, crime, drugs, the environment, homelessness, littering, recycling, safe driving, urban blight and violence.
At the Shout Out, Need in Deed's culminating celebration for students, teachers, administrators, community partners and special friends took time to recognize students for their efforts in addressing tough problems with creativity and passion. The emcee was Laiya St. Clair, co-host of 100.3's top ranked morning radio show "Pooch and Laiya in the Morning."
Those classes whose projects each expressed one of the core components of a successful service-learning project were recognized for: student voice, curriculum connections, thoughtful reflection, authentic concern, meaningful service or transformation. And four classes received a plaque for "outstanding project" based on their project's overall success and effectiveness.
Besides the awards ceremony, students reported especially liking the pre-ceremony scavenger hunt, the brownies at the reception afterwards and getting Laiya's autograph!
Two TV broadcasts highlight NIDstudent projects
And McClure Elementary School teacher Nancy Goldschmidt’s’ second grade students’ project on gun violence was featured this summer on NBC-10’s special series “Safer City.”
Welcome Elizabeth Soslau
Need in Deed's newest Board member
“Kids don’t want to learn unless the teacher is excited about the material and the delivery methods,” says Elizabeth, who is returning to school this fall as a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of Delaware. “Service-learning is a great way to get kids engaged in learning. I think my kids fed off my excitement.”
It’s no surprise that Elizabeth plans to focus her research on motivation and the effects of experiential or “authentic” learning.
And she has a good head start. This fall a paper she co-authored with Deb Yost, a professor of education at LaSalle University, will be published in the Journal of Experiential Learning, as will a book chapter in a text focusing on K-12 service-learning partnerships. Elizabeth’s data came from an action research project she conducted two years ago comparing the students who completed a My Voice service-learning project with another cohort of students at Grover.
When asked what she thinks she brings to the Board, she said, “As a practitioner, I bring a practical perspective to the Board, and I will have time to do research that may help bring new ideas to the table.”
Meet Pam Prell
Professional Development Manager
Her colleagues at ICS describe her as “bright, open and thoughtful” and “able to see things in ways other people might not.” We’ve already seen evidence of these characteristics and couldn’t be more excited to have her as member of our staff.
Pam’s experience working with teachers and administrators will serve us well as we investigate ways to ensure local sustainability and create professional development offerings for schools and school districts outside the My Voice Teacher Network.
Her passion for public education is palpable and translates well to her work at Need in Deed, whose mission, she says, “resonates strongly with me.”
She thrives working as part of a team. “I feel supported by the staff here; their background and feedback are so helpful. I love to work collaboratively.”
Pam and her husband Michael have three children: James, age 11; Michaela, age 9; and Riley, 3. She enjoys “reading and talking about what I just read” and “gardening and cooking when the mood strikes.” And she speaks Spanish.