How Does One Teach Citizenship to Collegians?

By Thomas A. Kessinger, Ph.D. and Winston Vaughan, Ph.D.
Department of Education

The mission of the social studies is to develop informed and active citizens. One might ask if it is possible to connect service-learning to the social studies or vice versa. Not only is it possible to do so, but the results can be powerful. In its report Learning in Deed, the National Commission on Service-Learning defines service-learning as "a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities." According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, "[s]ervice-learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the [service] activity changes both the recipient and the provider of the service." Or, to state it another way, "service-learning combines service and learning in intentional ways." The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) stated in its May 2000 position statement: "Service-learning provides essential opportunities for students not only to develop civic participation skills, values and attitudes, but also to acquire first-hand knowledge of the topics they are studying in the curriculum." Earlier the NCSS had indicated in its 1993 statement, "A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies: Building Social Understanding and Civic Efficacy," that the social studies can be "powerful" when five attributes are present: meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active.

So how does one in higher education teach in-service teachers or pre-service teachers how to do "service-learning" to develop informed and active citizens?  Last Spring, upon receiving a university-wide and competitive Wheeler Grant, we amended our respective social studies methods courses?one for middle childhood teachers (EDMC 354-Middle Childhood Social Studies Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment) and the other for secondary grade-level teachers (EDMS 333/533-Secondary or Adolescent to Young Adult Methods, Curriculum and Assessment in Social Studies)?by incorporating, and then piloting, a service-learning component. Essentially, we collaborated to design, establish and execute a plan so that service-learning became a viable way to enhance and deliver more "powerful" social studies instruction for students (pre-service teachers or in-service teachers) at Xavier University during the semester.


Specifically, service-learning was incorporated into the two methods courses at Xavier University in the following manner:

  1. Pertinent and necessary steps were outlined so that each student learned about service-learning and selected and completed a service-learning activity at an acceptable (that is, pre-approved) service-learning site; the P-A-R-R model (see Learn & Serve Ohio 2000 Annual Report, p. 2) of preparation, action, reflection, recognition served as the overarching design for developing and executing the service-learning activity.

  2. A list of possible service-learning reflective activities was formulated and shared with the students.

  3. Students were given an overview of service-learning (that is, what it is by definition as well as what it is not).

  4. a. Students received a set of professor-prepared, materials on service-learning that was presented as a "Service-Learning Resources" binder.

    b. Students also received a copy of Ohio's newly adopted Academic
          Content Standards for K-12 Social Studies (2003) in order to make connections between required content and service-learning applications.

  5. Literature reviews were conducted in order to share relevant background, contributions and insights on service-learning with students.

  6. The statewide service-oriented conference, "Forging New Links," was attended and applicable notes shared with students.


On the first day of class, student-participants were informed about the concept,
"service-learning," and the relevant expectations for the semester by means of a course syllabus and handout on service-learning. The syllabus noted that students would be expected to "plan and participate in a service-learning/ citizenship-building opportunity or activity in accordance with the 'powerful' social studies." During the semester, students were introduced to and discussed the video, Learning In Deed: The Power of Service-Learning in American Schools. This video?produced by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Commission on Service-Learning, highlights the call for children from K-12 to participate in service-learning as part of their curriculum and the importance of service-learning in education. Students at Xavier were required to complete an eight-part service-learning requirement during the semester. An eight-part grading rubric was the standard and it consisted of the following criteria:

The student must?

  1. determine and address a community need [also, state the need];

  2. choose a service-learning model [PARR was encouraged; other models were accepted];

  3. select and name an appropriate site where the model would be executed;

  4. obtain permission to perform service or service activity at the site;

  5. serve a minimum of five (5) hours;

  6. perform service satisfactorily as confirmed by service supervisor;

  7. include an identifiable reflective component in the activity; and,

  8. submit a log of completed service-learning related tasks.

Students had to complete each one of the eight parts satisfactorily in order to receive a grade for the entire project. This grade constituted one-fifth of the student's grade for the course.


Students in the two methods courses served at sites recommended and approved by the course professors. Some local sites included: Crayons to Computers (a free store for teachers' supplies), Great American Clean-Up, People Working Cooperatively, Evanston Clean-Up, Burton Elementary and Westwood Elementary (two Cincinnati public schools), Over-the-Rhine (a Cincinnati neighborhood), 1000 Hands, and St. Peter Claver School.

Finally, students were required to keep a log and produce some type of reflective piece (journal, artwork, poetry, video-tape, etc.) as they met with their professors and completed their service tasks. On completion of their service activity, students spent one class session discussing and reflecting on their experiences. During this debriefing session students were also asked to complete the "Checklist of Personal Gains," a survey instrument, recording their answers on the questionnaires.

This checklist consisted of twenty-five questions covering five areas of development: personal, social and interpersonal, values, academic, and career. Students selected their responses along a five-point Likert scale. Other, however optional, questions were included that permitted write-in responses by individual students. Finally, some demographic data was obtained as well.

Research methodologies consisted of both quantitative and qualitative designs. The quantitative data consisted of raw scores or frequencies and percentages of responses for students who answered according to the 5-point Likert scale. Mean percent scores were determined within each area of development by calculating "strongly agree" and "agree" frequencies of responses. Qualitative data, on the other hand, was obtained from the optional student write-in responses that followed each set of area (by development) questions. These responses effectively supplemented the quantitative data.


Results indicated that there were positive gains in all five various areas of development, and these results are noted in three major findings based on quantitative data:

  1. The aggregate group of two classes (n=16) showed positive gains, as denoted by "strongly agree" and "agree" responses, in all five areas of development; and, each course group demonstrated positive gains in the five areas as well.

  2. The positive gains, again as denoted by "strongly agree" and "agree" responses, were found in the following areas of development (in descending order): values, social and interpersonal, academic, personal, and career.

  3. The strongest percent gains were in the values development (the mean percent score = 68.75%) and social and interpersonal development (mean score = 67.5%) areas; the weakest percent gains were in the career development (mean score = 39.125%) area.


Qualitative data that included optional student write-in responses, following each category on the "Checklist of Personal Gains," were also obtained that supported the quantitative data previously highlighted.


Battistoni (2002) indicates "a case [can be made] for service-learning as a vehicle for civic education?" (p. 51). Both types of data demonstrate that positive gains can be attained in various areas of development?and citizenship education enhanced?by integrating service-learning into two social studies methods classes.

Students at Xavier University became aware of the service-learning concept and its potential by means of a theoretical model and a "powerful" experience. Students actively involved themselves in a service activity of their own choosing. In the process, they exhibited "powerful" social studies that were meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging and active by following and completing a well-defined and prescribed eight-item rubric. Students were pleased with the opportunity to participate in service-learning; and, these same students manifested growth in citizenship education as a result.

The hope now is that these same students (teachers or teachers-to-be) will take what they learned and experienced and share it with their students in local school classrooms. These teachers now have a tool and a method or procedure for enhancing citizenship education. They can use it and involve their students in similar activities and projects locally. Hopefully, citizenship education will be enhanced for others.


Battistoni, R.M. (2002). Civic engagement across the curriculum: A resource binder for service-learning faculty in all disciplines. Providence: Campus Compact.

National Commission on Service-Learning. (2002). Videotape. Learning in deed: The power of service-learning for American schools. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

National Council for the Social Studies. (1993). Position statement. A vision of powerful teaching and learning in the social studies: Building social understanding and civic efficacy. Social Education 57(5), 213-223.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2000). Position statement. Service-learning: An essential component of citizenship education. Social Education 65(4), 240-241.

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (2004). What is service-learning? URL  Retrieved December 25, 2004.

Ohio Department of Education. (2000). Learn & Serve Ohio 2000 annual report. Columbus, OH: Author.

Dr. Thomas A. Kessinger and Dr. Winston Vaughan are assistant professors in the department of education and were recipients of a 2004 Fall Wheeler Award.

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