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Designing Writing Assignments

Designing Service-Learning Writing Assignments

John Suarez, Coordinator, Office of Service-Learning


CHARACTERISTICS of writing and of service-learning:

1.    Each is a

a.  creative,

b.  social, and

c.  practical ([re writing] Deans, 2003, p. 3, and Bacon, 2000, p. 59) 

d.  process

2.     Writing is contextual:  message, medium, and timing – among other considerations – should evolve from an understanding of (for example) setting and of relationships between the people involved in the communication.

3.     Service-learning, in contrast to traditional pedagogies

a.  Is, in part, symbols (language)-based 

b.  Includes an experiential component; it is an holistic methodology.  As such, 

1)  It is multimodal, involving

a)  Physical movement.  Movement can contribute to understanding.  (See, for example, Thiroux et al., 2009.)

b)  Most, if not all of the senses;  partially because of this,

2)  It generates emotions (Mastrangelo & Tischio, 2005, p. 31); 

a)  Emotions are integrally linked to thinking and learning (Felton et al, 2006).

b)  Some emotions grow from disconnects between students’ beliefs and their current service-learning experiences (“cognitive dissonance”). 

c)  Those emotions and their related experiences and ideas can provide students with exceptional material for reflection (Felton et al, 2006).

c.  It is a constructivist approach

1)  Through reflection, students generate insights into course content and community service.  In this way,

2)  Students become semi-experts, from whom the teacher can learn.



1. Understand – and tailor assignments for – your “audience.”

2. Integrate writing as process:

3. Encourage students to take advantage of the social and creative aspects of writing and service-learning:



Bacon, N. (June 2000).  Building a swan’s nest for instruction in rhetoric.  College Composition and Communication.  (51) 4, pp.589- 609.  Retrieved January 24, 2010, from JSTOR.

Deans, T.  (2003).  Writing and community action:  A Service-learning rhetoric with readings.  New York:  Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Felton, P., Gilchrist, L. Z., Darby, A.  (Spring 2006).  Emotion and Learning:  Feeling our way toward a new theory of reflection in service-learning.  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.  Spring 2006.  pp. 38-46.

Mastrangelo, L. and Tischio, V.  (Spring 2005).  Integrating writing, academic discourses, and service-learning:  Project Renaissance and school/college literacy collaborations.  Composition Studies.  (33) 1, pp. 31-53.  Retrieved January 24, 2010, from Academic Search Complete.

Thirioux, B., Jorland, G., Bret, M., Tramus, M., & Berthoz, A.  (2009).  Walking on a line:  A Motor paradigm using rotation and reflection symmetry to study mental body transformations.  (Article in press)  Brain and Cognition.  Retrieved March 27, 2009, from Science Direct.