• Service Learning With Fifth-grade Students: An Ethnographic Case Study Of Classroom Culture

      Walker, Brandi
      BRANDI E. WALKER SERVICE LEARNING WITH FIFTH-GRADE STUDENTS: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CASE STUDY OF CLASSROOM CULTURE Under the direction of JANE WEST, Ed.D. With the rapid onslaught of technology, there is a lack of citizens possessing 21st-century skills, such as collaboration, cooperation, and critical thinking. Many school systems are making large financial investments in one-to-one technology initiatives in the name of developing 21st-century skills, yet without a balance between genuine human interaction and the infusion of technology, students are not developing the interpersonal skills compulsory to growing into adult citizens equipped with a sense of community-minded problem solving. Lack of soft skills such as problem solving, working in a group, and verbal communication is a significant problem in today’s schools. This study investigated the culture of a fifth-grade classroom as students engaged in service learning. Numerous research studies of service learning address high school and college settings; however, a limited number of research studies investigate elementary students engaging in this learning approach. The methodology of the study was an ethnographic case study with the fifth-grade students as participants and the participants’ teacher as researcher. The students participated in two eight-week service learning units during the course of the school year. The first unit took place in the fall and the students worked in small groups on five different projects. The second unit occurred in the spring, and the students worked in small groups on four different projects. The results of the study included a central theme of a culture of belongingness. The findings also indicated two secondary themes that led to the inclusive culture. To move the work forward, the students used supportive actions and various negotiations while interacting with peers. The researcher also observed six additional outcomes of service learning that contributed to the culture of belongingness. Recommendations for future studies included a longitudinal study following elementary students who have been exposed to service learning across their middle and high school years and a mixed-methods study including student surveys.