Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Service-Learning
  3. Considerations for Including Students with Disabilities

Considerations for Including Students with Disabilities

Adapted from Dymond, S. K., Renzaglia, A., &, Chun, E. (2007). Elements of effective high school service learning programs that include students with and without disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 28(4), 227-243.

Text in italics reflects changes that focus groups made to the core elements and their descriptions.

Authentic context

  • Service-learning meets the needs of the school, students, and community.
  • Activities are purposeful and meaningful.
  • Activities involve real (not simulated) work to solve current problems in the community.
  • Students perform service in the actual setting, the real world (e.g., school or community).
  • Activities might not be purposeful or meaningful for all students.

Link to the curriculum

  • There is a strong connection between service and the academic curriculum.
  • State standards are addressed through service learning (formally or informally).
  • There is a connection between service and workplace skills.
  • Clear goals and objectives are identified for the program.
  • The curriculum is developed to coincide with the unit/theme. The curriculum is developed to coincide with a course or a unit within a course.
  • Service learning is integrated into and enhances the curriculum. It is not an add-on program.
  • There is a strong connection between service and the nonacademic, life skills curriculum.

Home, school, and community partnerships

  • Strong partnerships between the school and community exist and are sustained over time.
  • There are clearly defined roles and expectations for all partners.
  • Parents, students, and community members are involved in planning, implementing, and evaluating service learning.
  • Public and private organizations provide resources (human, technical, financial).
  • Community members serve as learners and teachers.
  • Teachers collaborate to develop curriculum.
  • Opportunities are available for all people in a community to participate in the solutions.
  • Collaboration and coordination among partners results in mutual benefit.
  • There is clear, frequent, and effective communication among the participants involved.
  • Partnerships result in group effort toward a common goal.
  • Formal and informal roles exist among partners.

Programmatic support

  • The building/district administration is supportive of the program and demonstrates active leadership to support the program.
  • Resources are available:
    • Scheduling is flexible.
    • Transportation is flexible.
    • Protection against liability.
    • Financial resources (grant and school district funding).
  • A designated school member coordinates the program.
  • An advisory board exists. Although an advisory board may be necessary, the lack of an advisory board should not prevent the development of a service learning project.
  • Teachers, administrators, and others involved with service learning receive ongoing professional development and technical assistance.
  • Students with and without disabilities follow the same school schedule.
  • There is state-level leadership for service learning (e.g. technical assistance, training, funding, materials dissemination, connection to local schools).
  • Local administrators support inclusive education.
  • Local administrators assume a philosophy of a "school without walls."
  • Schools seek visible recognition for their service learning program.

Frequency of instruction

  • Service learning involves structured, extended learning opportunities. Service learning involves structured learning opportunities.
  • Participants have sustained contact with the clients.
  • Intensity and duration of a project varies.
  • Most projects involve a short-term or long-term investigation.
  • There should be a variety of service learning projects across the year.

Planning and preparation

  • Student interests and community needs are assessed to determine appropriate activities.
  • Students receive instruction prior to providing service (gain new knowledge, learn skills, review the ground rules).
  • Characteristics of effective planning:
    • Adults and students work collaboratively to plan service learning activities.
    • Projects are thoughtfully planned with sufficient time devoted to preparation.
    • A variety of activities are identified.
    • The complexity of the tasks may vary.
    • Activities build on each other.
    • Logistics are coordinated.
    • Open-ended questions are selected for investigation.
    • Planning is flexible and allows for spontaneity.
    • Projects are initiated by students, teachers, or community members.


  • The service can be an individual or group/team project.
  • It occurs in the school or the community.
  • The type of service provided depends on students’ interests. Service projects meet community needs and, when possible, meet students’ interests.
  • Service involves face-to-face interactions. Students should experience some service activities that require face-to-face interactions and some that do not.
  • Students interact with diverse people (culture, age, etc.) in the community.
  • Students have a choice about the projects in which they engage.


  • Students are provided with structured times to reflect on the experience. All participants in service learning (students, teachers, parents, community members) are provided with structured times to reflect on the experience.
  • During reflection, students
    • think about their participation in the activities;
    • reflect on how the community experience relates to their academic learning;
    • discuss concerns and questions;
    • make connections between what they learned and how they could use that knowledge in the future;
    • blend their understanding of ideals and realities; and
    • identify how the service project could be improved in the future.
  • Reflections occur before, during, and after the service activities.
  • Reflections may involve discussions, oral dialogues, writing, or artistic presentations.
  • Reflections may be completed by individuals or by teams.
  • Reflections occur both formally and informally.


  • Time is set-aside at the end of the service learning activity for celebration.
  • Participants celebrate each other.
  • Celebration occurs with all participants (school, community).
  • Sometimes celebration involves a final product that is given to the community at the time of the celebration.
  • Celebrations can be both formal and informal.
  • Celebrations occur immediately after a project.
  • Celebrations should include extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

Student assessment and program evaluation

  • Student assessment is embedded throughout the service learning experience.
  • The type of student assessment matches the type of service learning activity.
  • Students are assessed individually and as a team.
  • The assessment documents and evaluates how well students have met the content standards.
  • Formative and summative evaluations of service learning projects are conducted.
  • School and community participants debrief to evaluate each project.
  • Everyone associated with the service learning project (e.g. students, teachers, parents, community members) participates in the evaluation process.
  • Program evaluation data are used to improve future projects and create a permanent record of process and product outcomes.

Student participation and ownership

  • Students who participate in service learning
    • share leadership with teachers/adults;
    • make choices about how to design and implement a project;
    • have decision-making power;
    • actively participate;
    • are expected to demonstrate autonomy;
    • assume responsibility;
    • participate in the construction of their own knowledge;
    • engage in tasks that challenge and stretch them cognitively;
    • apply new skills and knowledge;
    • use academic skills to provide service to the community;
    • practice communication skills;
    • learn to negotiate;
    • test new roles;
    • become learners and teachers;
    • assume ownership for the project and for their own learning;
    • assist in determining the need for the project;
    • serve as role models; and
    • try out new experiences that are outside their comfort zone.

Teacher, adult, and community participation

  • Teachers and adults
    • share leadership with students;
    • provide guidance in setting goals;
    • give students responsibility;
    • serve as facilitators to student learning;
    • supervise and monitor students;
    • provide support to students during service activities;
    • give advice;
    • serve as role models;
    • mentor students;
    • listen;
    • offer ideas;
    • demonstrate respect for students;
    • have a relationship with the students;
    • provide verbal praise to students; and
    • are open to learning from students.
  • Teachers teach students the skills needed to complete the activity and provide additional instruction as the need arises during the project.

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