Part 1: Introduction: Best Practices for Developing High-Impact Service-Learning Curricula

Posted by: on Jul 9, 2012 | Leave a comment
AJWS - Live the Questions

This blog post is one of a six-part series on how to develop high-impact service-learning curricula. Each post discusses one best practice for writing effective service-learning curricula and provides an example of implementation. These best practices are informed by the development of Live the Questions, American Jewish World Service’s service-learning curriculum for the World Partners Fellowship in India. To engender greater collaboration and support the development of a robust service-learning field, we have made the complete curriculum available here.


Best Practices for Developing High-Impact Service-Learning Curricula

A growing body of research on Jewish and secular service-learning indicates that service-learning programs can provide impactful service to communities in need. They also have the potential to instill a long-term commitment to social activism in volunteers.

However, these outcomes are only achievable if service programs integrate a strong educational foundation. Without education, we risk sending volunteers to the field who are unprepared; unaware of the cultural, socioeconomic and political contexts in which they work; unsuccessful and, in the end; disillusioned by the experience.

So then, how do we integrate learning into service programs? And how do we do it effectively: in a way that that fosters deep and authentic reflection, compels volunteers to examine the context of the poverty and injustice in which they work, prepares them to be humble and effective in their placements and catalyzes them to engage in sustained social justice activism far beyond their term of service?

It may seem like a tall order, but with careful consideration and commitment, creating curricula that achieves these goals is possible. In this blog series, I will identify guidelines to developing high-impact service-learning curricula. These best practices are based on my experience developing service-learning curricula at American Jewish World Service (AJWS).They are the product of an intensive and collaborative learning process between  AJWS staff members, former volunteers and colleagues in the field of service-learning. By sharing these best practices, I hope to expand our collaborative learning process to include a greater number of practitioners and provide support to new service-learning curriculum developers.

The examples I provide in this blog series are based on AJWS’s most recent service-learning curriculum, Live the Questions, which serves as the educational foundation for the World Partners Fellowship, a 10 month volunteer fellowship in India for recent college graduates and young professionals. Live the Questions is designed specifically for a Jewish volunteer program that is long-term and includes individual (not group) service placements. However, the lessons that emerge are broadly applicable to Jewish and secular service-learning programs of any length and structure.

Each subsequent blog post will highlight one best practice, followed by an example of how we integrated this practice into Live the Questions. The series will conclude with a reflection on the implementation of Live the Questions by Will Nassau, AJWS senior program officer, who oversees the World Partners Fellowship. To engender greater collaboration and support the development of a robust service-learning field, we have also made the complete curriculum available here. I invite comments from other practitioners on any of these posts, and welcome questions from those who are new to developing service-learning curricula.


Post #1

Introduction: Best Practices for Developing High-Impact Service-Learning Curricula

Post #2

Best practice: Ground the curriculum in the experience

Post #3

Best practice: Push participants out of their comfort zone to learn from what emerges

Post #4

Best practice: Foster personal and professional growth

Post #5 

Best practice: Integrate Jewish text and tradition as a source of guidance when grappling with big questions

Post #6