Service-Learning in Teacher Education: Weaving a Tapestry of Relationships
Castellan, Catherine Marie
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The purpose of this interpretive study was to gain an understanding of the sense freshmen elementary education majors made of service-learning in their teacher education courses. Data were gathered from six majors during their Introduction to Education course in the fall and Learning Theory course in the spring of their freshman year. Three majors participated in a regular model of service-learning while another three participated in a cascading model. Data were inductively analyzed from codes organized into categories and then synthesized into themes. This study was conducted at a private college in a Mid-Atlantic city where many of the students came from middle and upper middle class backgrounds. Service-learning projects involved a local urban elementary/middle school. Findings indicated that majors made sense of their service-learning projects by recognizing that service-learning offered them the opportunity to establish relationships. A collaborative relationship was established between the majors and individuals in the school which resulted in majors learning how to collaborate and the benefits of collaboration. A reciprocal relationship was established between the majors and the teachers and students in the elementary school where the majors' service activities met school needs. A cognitive relationship was established as majors connected their course content to their service-learning experiences and learned the content. A relationship was established between the majors and others in an urban setting resulting in opportunities for majors to experience, address and adapt to issues related to diversity. Service-learning allowed majors to synthesize teaching principles from their experiences in an urban setting. There were some differences in perspectives between the cascading and regular majors. Cascading majors' experiences allowed them to develop more specific and in-depth insights into the world of elementary education than their regular model counterparts as they planned and carried out service-learning projects with the elementary school students. The cascading majors also experienced reinforced pedagogy when they taught the elementary students and then watched the elementary students teach others the same material. The effectiveness of the cascading majors' pedagogical approach was assessed by the application of that knowledge when elementary students introduced and taught the material to others.