|2012-03-15||Steve Gardiner||Books for Africa: A Service Learning Project|
Much has been written in recent years about service learning projects. Students find them exciting and relevant, teachers appreciate the change and student enthusiasm, and communities benefit from the results.
The National Service Learning Clearing House defines service learning as “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.” In general, these projects are tied to the curriculum, require planning and preparation, prompt some helpful action, and then provide for a reflection/celebration of the project.
These are excellent opportunities to involve students in designing and planning learning experiences, giving them a sense of ownership in their educations. The key is service learning goes beyond just helping out a neighbor. It is more than planting flowers in a park or shoveling sidewalks for the elderly. These project assume a deeper study of the problem and a significant learning on the part of the students in exchange for their community service project.
For the past three years, my students have been involved in a project we call Books for Africa. There are several websites explaining how students can write and produce books for students in developing countries, so we have consulted those, then decided how we wanted our books to look. Based on experiences I had when I went to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2002, I have contacts with an elementary school and orphanage in Tanzania, so we have a direct connection to the recipients of our books. My students research aspects of life in Tanzania such as music, politics, sports, animals, geography, food, and other topics and share those presentations with the class. This gives them a background in their audience. We also discuss the age levels and English proficiency levels of the African students.
My students then write children's books for these African students. Some choose to write ABC books, number books, animal books, fruit books, and others prefer to write a story about children in Africa or children in Montana. The variety is amazing and exciting.
Students produce the books by drawing their own illustrations, cutting and pasting magazine photos or photos from the Internet, and then add the text in handwriting or printing from word processing. They assemble the books using cover material donated by a local office supply store and we staple or bind the final books which are shipped through a contact I have with the Tanzanian school and orphanage.
In the end, we always take a day somewhere near the day the books would be distributed in Tanzania and reflect on what that scene would look like if we could be there to see the African students receive their books. My students love this project and are proud of their books and the act of giving they represent.
We also discuss World Water Day, an international awareness project which takes place the end of March every year, and I make sure students know they could be involved in it or other projects that benefit the citizens of many nations by helping to explain global concerns like clean drinking water or other important issues. Simply knowing that these projects exist is often enough to get students thinking and taking actions they may have not considered before. Watching students get involved in their first humanitarian project is a great experience for a teacher and service learning is one way of creating these possibilities.
Although the Books for Africa involves an international audience because of my chance encounters with contacts in Tanzania, similar service learning projects could be done for others in any community in America or anywhere in the world. The values taught and the emotions experienced make the time and effort of service learning worthwhile.