Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. “Bridging Gaps and Creating Rich Service-Learning Experiences for Marginalized Students.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.4 (2017): 351-71. Web. 27 May 2017.
Kassia Krzus-Shaw argues that service-learning research has not adequately addressed the ways in which students from community colleges experience service-learning. Using her own practices teaching a service-learning component in a composition class at a two-year institution, Krzus-Shaw discusses how her students’ identities as members of the community they were expected to serve affected their learning and their engagement within an academic environment.
Previous research, Krzus-Shaw contends, generally addresses the “immersion” model in which privileged college students, usually white, enter very different cultural environments (353). Research that does consider students with different ethnic and cultural identities, she writes, has attempted to focus on individual identity groups, while in her experience, community-college students are likely to exhibit many different overlapping identities (352).
Krzus-Shaw presents her teaching model as an exploration of how these overlapping identities complicate service-learning when the culture the students serve is their own. She notes that her study must be considered “anecdotal” because, as contingent faculty, she had no “access to the IRB process, or other institutional supports” and thus could not present data such as student writing (355).
Within such community-college contexts, Krzus-Shaw argues, service learning can address marginalized students’ struggles with embracing an academic identity that confers authority and expertise, develops rhetorical awareness and agency, and encourages commitment to academic and professional contexts (353). This focus, Krzus-Shaw reports, differs from that of more traditional service-learning models in that traditionally, students are assumed to develop academic authority as a result of the service experience; in her class, students needed to begin embracing their identity as analysts and researchers before entering the service-learning environment (357). Unlike students in traditional service-learning courses, her students did not need time to become acquainted with the new culture but “already were experts on the lived social experience embodied by the service sites” (357). The new perspectives marginalized students encountered as they did service work within their communities were the views of themselves as scholar-researchers with “the academic identity to contextualize their experiences in a way that the academy recognizes as rhetorically exigent” (357).
Krzus-Shaw used a “bridge model” as “scaffolding” for her students’ service experiences (355-56). One element of this model in designing service-learning curricula is “flexibility,” for example as a criterion for the sites where the service will take place. Krzus-Shaw emphasizes that for these students, transportation and child care can prevent participation and commitment; her most effective site was within walking distance of the classroom, family-friendly, and bilingual (356).
Also central to the bridge model’s focus on agency, Krzus-Shaw writes, is the decision to make participation optional. She reports that her course outcomes and materials were pre-determined by her program, and that she was probably the only instructor to build a service-learning component into the preset course design (356). Making the service-learning unit optional made it easier for students to feel “ownership” of their choice to participate (357).
Krzus-Shaw writes that she found it possible to build her service-learning model on her department’s focus on “genre; the composition process; and rhetorical awareness” by assigning, first, a narrative “locating their rhetorical voice within their community” (357), followed by an analysis on some aspect of “community action” (357). The class moved on to writing “reports” about visits to the classroom by people active at the sites (357). These visits provided students with role models and mentors as well as contact points for the upcoming service component (358).
Students could then choose one of two tracks for their argument and research papers, either on issues related to the service site itself or on issues related to “community-based problems” to which they proposed solutions (358). Work by students writing for the service site was used to “create new public initiatives and to apply for new grants” (358). Krzus-Shaw writes that awareness that their writing would actually be used inspired students with an increased sense of audience, with subsequent effects on the amount and quality of revision as well as engagement both in the classroom and in the community (360).
Important components of the “pedagogical bridge” involved in service learning, in Krzus-Shaw’s view, are “observation and journaling” prior to developing formal research papers using secondary sources (359-60). In her view, it was during this process that students were able to “negotiate their personal identity with that of the organization, the community, and with the student-scholar role they’re being asked to engage” (359). This negotiation, she writes, contributes greatly to transfer, as students carry these identities forward into future academic, civic, and professional environments.
Krzus-Shaw reports that reflection further enhanced the identity transformation that resulted from becoming leaders and authorities within their own communities. Reflection allowed students to process “shock” at the level of problems faced by members of communities where they themselves were “living within those statistics” (361). Reflection, she contends, allowed them to recognize how systemic factors influence individual lives at the same time that it encouraged them to see how effective rhetorical action could make a difference (361) as they began “reaching for new ways of interacting with their world” (362).
Fifty percent of students in the last of the three semesters during which Krzus-Shaw taught the unit opted to participate, and two students in particular continued working with the participant organizations, noting that the experience “changed their life trajectory” with regard to career choices and confidence in their rhetorical agency (363).
Krzus-Shaw argues for more formal longitudinal studies of students from marginalized communities who undertook service-learning roles in those same communities (364). Such studies could validate her findings, which she contends were necessarily limited by her position as contingent faculty despite encouragement from her institution. First-year writing students, she maintains, are among those who would most benefit from the identity transformation that service-learning can enable (365), yet those students are most likely to be taught by part-time faculty who are burdened by their own economic status and workloads, as well as by being excluded from the formal support needed to design and implement service-learning initiatives (365-66).
She points to the “civic engagement statements” included in the mission statements of many two-year institutions as grounds for providing more support for service-learning in these environments. Meanwhile, she writes, instructors in these colleges can institute “small steps” in service-learning that, over time, can establish networks and practices that ease the workload involved (366-67). For students who become involved in service-learning within their communities, she states, “there is an aspect of service-learning on the student level that sustains itself well beyond our liminal role as professors” (367).