Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5 Ways to Simplify Your Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

The beginning of the semester is a very hectic time for those of us doing community service learning (CSL). In addition to the normal course prep work, you also need to make sure things are lined up with your community partners and that students will be ready to hit the ground quickly. You can feel like you're balancing too many tasks, too many stakeholders and too many expectations.

Simplify. CSL is never simple, let's be honest. But there are some things we can do to simplify our work.

1. Course Wiki. This is the single most important thing I have found to simplify my work administering our Spanish CSL program. It lets you, your students and your community partners access and update all necessary information.

2. One community partner. Students want choices, and you want to help as many deserving organizations as you can. But if you find yourself unable to handle several community partners, try focusing on just one. Sometimes it's better to serve one partner well than several partners so-so.

3. Redefine students' work. If your students have been working every week with the community partner, could your students still serve your partner's needs if they concentrated on a project instead? An intensive Saturday of service?

4. Delegate. Ask students to self-schedule. They can also suggest reflection prompts. Ask them to write a letter to next semester's students: "Everything I wish I would have known about working in the community."

5. Sources for lesson plans. You don't have to come up with every lesson plan on your own. You can use Comunidades: Más allá del aula as your textbook or a supplement. You can also access the website to find listening comprehension materials, video interviews and links that can serve as the basis of at least some of your lessons.

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