An exploration of middle school teachers' essences of participation in service-learning activities
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The purpose of this phenomenological study was to discover the essence of middle school service-learning teachers' experiences with service-learning. Service-learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” (Learn and Serve, 2012, para. 1). For over a century, service-learning has become more widespread in schools across the United States (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2012; Rocheleau, 2004; United We Serve, 2012; Wilczenski & Commey, 2007; Youth Service America, 2011). While some empirical studies have been reported on pre-service teachers and students' experiences, this study seeks to examine the service-learning teachers' experience more closely. Phenomenology is a research paradigm in which the goal is to discover the essence of a particular experience for those who live it. For this study, a phenomenological research and analysis model defined by Moustakas (1994) was used as the methodological basis. Data for the study was generated from six in-depth interviews with middle school service-learning teachers in the Midwest. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed according to the steps outlined by Moustakas. Each of the participants also had the opportunity to provide a narrative account of their most memorable experience with service-learning. Data for the study was also generated from two observations; data was gathered while the service-learning teachers and their students participated in service-learning events. The narrative and observation data were analyzed according to the steps defined by Miles and Huberman (1994). These steps provided a useful structure to the phenomenological research method. From the interviews, two dominant themes provided meaning of the phenomenon of service-learning. From the narrative documents, two themes were present. The observations presented three common themes. Essences of the experience revealed through the data analysis process revealed fostering relationships as the copiously common dominant theme present in the phenomenological interviews, and narrative documents, and observations. The essence of fostering relationships was defined as students and teachers building relationships. The following meaning units were used to determine the essence: notations regarding the process of teachers and students getting to know each other on a deeper level, building relationships, forming close bonds, and making and sharing personal connections. Also notable, the essence of teacher support was prevalent in the interviews and observations, but not the narrative documents. The results of this study support the practice of service-learning in the middle school classroom. The findings revealed implications for two key groups; the first, educational leaders and administrators and secondly, service-learning teachers, classrooms, and the community. When implemented appropriately, service-learning can have the potential to provide a conduit for educators to address issues of social justice and cultural diversity awareness and to enhance student growth and responsibility.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Review of literature -- Methodology -- Findings -- Conclusions -- Appendix: IRB informed consent form