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M. Morris

Northwestern State University (UNITED STATES)
The purpose of this paper is to explain how service-learning can be used as an innovative instructional strategy for pre-service teachers. The paper includes the following topics: 1) a detailed description of service-learning and how it can be used in universities, 2) a qualitative study based on pre-service teachers' experiences with a service-learning project, 3) an explanation of how universities can use service-learning to promote the skills of solving problems, making decisions, being responsible, and engaging in critical and creative thinking. Service-learning is a growing instructional strategy that many teachers, students, principals, and others might find useful in the educational setting.

Summary of a Service-Learning Project
A service-learning project took place in the United States of America in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The project partnered approximately 65 students from Northwestern State University’s education program with an organization called CASA of Central Louisiana. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. The advocates are community volunteers who provide legal representation for children placed in the foster care system. Children are placed with foster parents when their biological parents abuse or neglect them. In addition to providing assistance in court, advocates help to meet children’s needs in a variety of ways. For example, they interact with children to form a positive mentoring relationship. They also provide gifts to children in the foster care system from the community. CASA advocates play a vital role in helping children in the foster care system find a safe and stable home.

Pre-service teachers enrolled in a series of educational psychology courses participated in a service-learning project consisting of two phases. Phase one included 1) teaching pre-service teachers about service-learning as an instructional strategy they could use as future teachers and 2) training pre-service teachers to become CASA advocates. This phase was completed in eight professional development sessions taught by a CASA instructor. The content of the professional development sessions reinforced the content taught in the educational psychology course about child development. The supplemental content from the professional development sessions also prepared pre-service teachers to better recognize and address incidents of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that they might witness among children who will be in their future classrooms. Upon completion, pre-service teachers were certified CASA advocates. They were able to list the certification on their résumé and serve as advocates throughout the United States.

The second phase of the project included 1) pre-service teachers gathering school supplies for foster care children and 2) pre-service teachers assisting with CASA’s annual Christmas present project. According to September 2008 CASA newsletter, 170 children received gifts last year. For 2009, CASA wanted to provide gifts for at least 200 children. The pre-service teachers at wanted to help CASA meet their goal through this service-learning project.

Significance of Service-Learning
The service-learning project described above provides one example of how university students can learn through serving the community. This paper emphasizes the importance of service learning in multiple academic disciplines to help students become better citizens through service to others.