Testing Tutor Training Effectiveness: Service-Learning at Fresno State
In 2001, Jumpstart at Fresno State began a model for tutor training and development by means of a service-learning course. Since 2001, five Jumpstart sites have replicated this model. A study was performed as part of a dissertation that validated the findings that both service-learning and non’“service-learning participants benefit positively from participation in service. In many outcome areas, however, service-learning students made statistically greater gains than non’“service-learning students. Areas where service-learning students saw greater gains included change of major, knowledge of early childhood practices, leadership skills, awareness of issues facing their community, and confidence levels in speaking to groups.
California State University, Fresno
Purpose of the Study
Institutions of higher education are increasingly seen as being responsible for student learning, promoting character, civic responsibility, and preparing students for future careers. One way to meet higher education’s mission for student development is to engage students in becoming responsible citizens through effective service-learning. With the growing demand for research in this area, this study addressed the impacts of service-learning on college student development within the Jumpstart program.
Background on Jumpstart
Jumpstart is a national nonprofit early education organization that ensures low-income preschoolers enter school with the foundation of skills necessary to their future success. Jumpstart pairs low-income preschoolers and college students in year-long, one-to-one mentoring relationships. The program operates at over 60 college and university affiliate sites nationwide. Many Jumpstart tutors receive Federal Work-Study (FWS) funds through their institution, plus and AmeriCorps education award.
Jumpstart programs recruit, train, and supervise college students to work with Head Start and other early childhood programs. Poverty is the single best predictor of children’s failure to achieve in school, and those who start behind often remain behind, resulting in increased rates of remedial attention, school failure, and incarceration (Children’s Defense Fund, 2002). On average, low-income children have far fewer literacy and language experiences at home than their more affluent peers. For example, by the time they are in first grade, low-income children have acquired 5,000 word vocabularies, compared with 20,000 word vocabularies of children from more affluent families. (Hart & Risely, 1995).
Jumpstart is an outcome-based model that offers both summer and school year programs for children. During the eight-month Jumpstart School Year, a Corps member (tutor) holds twice-weekly, two-hour Jumpstart Sessions, structured classroom sessions set aside at a preschool for a team of seven to ten Corps members to devote attention to children following the traditional school day. Each session includes a consistent set of experiences for children:
- One-to-One Reading. Each child has the chance to choose books and read with his/her Corps member.
- Choice Time. Children have the opportunity to work with different materials and activities in a variety of areas around the classroom. Corps members participate as partners in children’s play to support and extend their learning.
- Small Group Activity. During this experience planned by Corps members, children have an opportunity to engage in active learning experiences, often in smaller groups.
- Circle Time. Children and Corps members come together as a large group for an active learning experience that focuses on language and literacy.
Each Corps member spends additional time in his child’s classroom supporting the classroom teacher and other students.
Jumpstart’s assessment tools collect data on a range of areas of the program such as Corps Member attitudes, quality of program delivery and administration, growth of the Jumpstart preschool child, and training content and delivery.
The Jumpstart National Education and Training Department continuously conducts research to improve training and development for tutors. Jumpstart measures the impact of the program on the college students who participate as Corps members on an annual basis using a Corps Member Survey. In 2001, Jumpstart at Fresno State began a model for tutor training and development by means of a service-learning course.
Since 2001, over 16 Jumpstart sites have replicated this model of a service-learning tutor-training course. It has been hypothesized that this model of service-learning may enhance student development by providing enhanced and deepened training within the Jumpstart models required training topic areas, higher frequency of training, increased interaction and problem-solving among tutors, units/course credit and grade incentive, a training format that is more developmentally appropriate, and opportunity for reflection through class activities and projects. While viewed as an ideal model for tutor training within the Jumpstart program, this pedagogy had not been researched to test its effectiveness.
Research Study Design
The purpose of this study was to determine whether Jumpstart programs with service-learning tutor training courses have a greater effect on college student development compared than do Jumpstart sites with a non’“service-learning training component. The Corps Member Survey was used to collect data, which assesses the effectiveness and growth of college students engaged in the Jumpstart program. Measures included future work, knowledge of early childhood practices, leadership, confidence levels in public speaking and working with diverse populations, citizenship, and program satisfaction.
Participants included 198 Corps Members completing both the fall and spring Corps Member Survey in the 2003-2004 academic year from the following colleges and universities: CSU, Fresno; CSU, San Francisco; CSU, Northridge; Pitzer College; UC, Irvine; Pepperdine University; and the University of Washington.
Summary of Findings
Confirming early research by Astin and Sax (1998), this study validated the findings that both service-learning and non’“service learning participants benefit positively on outcome areas from participation in service. In many areas, however, service-learning does appear to have a significantly stronger effect on college student development than does non’“service-learning in the Jumpstart program.
Service-learning students made statistically greater gains compared with non’“service-learning students of the following measures:
- Change of major
- Growth of knowledge of early childhood practices
- Building leadership skills
- Awareness of issues facing their community
- Confidence levels in speaking to groups
These areas, as well as other areas measured, are discussed in detail below.
Change of Major
On the spring survey, students were asked if they had changed their major to education (early childhood, child development, elementary or secondary education) or related human services (psychology, sociology, nursing, or social work). Overall, 30.8% of participants reported changing their majors, with 11.1% changing to education and 19.7% changing to related human services.
The service-learning group had a somewhat higher rate of reported change (35.1%) than the non’“service-learning group (26.9%), demonstrating not only that community service effects a change, but that the service-learning component can create a more dramatic change. Considering that a career choice may be a lifelong decision, this positive effect of service-learning on choosing a career in education or human services is a significant finding.
Early Childhood Practices
A difference score was calculated between fall and spring ratings of 14 questions on early childhood practices, which tested the participant’s knowledge of best practices in early childhood education. Both the service-learning and non’“service-learning groups showed increases in their knowledge between the fall and spring semester. On eight of the early childhood practices measures, the service-learning treatment group showed significantly greater mean increases than the non’“service-learning group. These findings are evidence that suggest the enhanced learning that occurs among Jumpstart participants when there is a connection between academic content and service.
Using a five-point scale, 1 = not at all confident and 5 = very confident, participants were asked to rate their level of confidence in taking a leadership role among their peers. In the fall, the service-learning group rated their confidence in accepting leadership (M=3.89) lower than the non’“service-learning group (M=4.12). This difference was not significant. In the spring, both groups rated their confidence at the same high levels (M=4.22). The gain made by the service-learning group was not significant, but approached significance (t=1.93, p=.055).
One possible explanation for of these results is the respondent demographic data of alumni and freshman participants. On the measure of how strongly participants felt the program helped them to build leadership skills, service-learning students made statistically significant gains over non’“service-learning students. This data suggests that service-learning provides Jumpstart participants with leadership development not offered at non’“service-learning Jumpstart programs.
Citizenship was measured in the spring, using two five-point scales, 1=strongly disagree through 5=strongly agree. The first scale measured participants’ attitudes, skills and knowledge before Jumpstart, and the second scale measured the same indicators after Jumpstart. Both groups showed statistically significant increases at the .001 level in their self-ratings on the citizenship scale, which they attributed to the Jumpstart experience.
In their after-Jumpstart ratings, the two groups were not significantly different on the citizenship items with the exception of citizenship question two. The number two item measured the participants’ understanding about the most important issues facing the community in which they served. The service-learning group rated themselves significantly higher (M=4.44) than did the non-service-learning group (M=4.08; t=3.64, p<.001). This increase of awareness in service-learning participants may be attributed to the additional reflection activities that are part of the service-learning model.
Program & Training Satisfaction
Both the service-learning and non’“service-learning groups rated their satisfaction with the program high on the four-point scale for items 1 (training at the beginning of the year), 2 (training throughout the year), 12 (overall program satisfaction), and 13 (whether they would recommend Jumpstart to others). The mean responses for these four items ranged from 3.17 to 3.81.<.p>
Item 2, which measured satisfaction of training throughout the year, was significantly higher for the service-learning group (M=3.45) than the non’“service-learning group (M=3.26; t=2.23, p=.027). Reasons for this increased value may be due to the consistent nature of the service-learning model, additional training time provided by a service-learning course, or the availability to receive feedback and reflect on course content and the service experience.On the other three items, the groups were not significantly different and both groups were positive about their experience in Jumpstart.
Both service-learning and non’“service-learning students reported that they felt more closely connected to their college/university as a result of their Jumpstart experience. There was no significant difference in this area between the groups(t=1.14, p=.257).
The four confidence items measured participants’ confidence levels in taking leadership roles among peers, speaking to groups, working with people from diverse backgrounds, and working with people with different work styles and attitudes. The four confidence items were tested for significance from the fall and spring survey administration. The two groups rated their confidence high in the fall, with the exception of speaking to groups. The service-learning group had a mean score of 3.76 and for the non’“service-learning group, the mean score was 3.87. The other three items were rated above 4 by each group and there were no significant differences between the two groups for the fall or the spring ratings.
However, there was a statistically significant (t=2, p=.042) higher gain made by the service-learning group (.33) than the gain reported for the non’“service-learning group (.08) on the item measuring participants’ confidence speaking to groups. Considering that service-learning students are engaged in classroom dialogue, reflection, group presentations, and also portfolio presentations, the data suggest that service-learning can enhance a participant’s public speaking confidence levels.
The spring survey asked participants if their Jumpstart experience helped them academically. Of the service-learning respondents to this item, 20.9% reported that the program had helped them academically. This response was somewhat lower than the 32.4% of the non’“service-learning participants who reported that the program had helped them academically. This finding may be interpreted in several ways, depending on what students felt was helpful academically. It should also be noted that this measure was a yes or no question rather than the Likert scale used in most other areas. Once conclusion may be that many of the service-learning students who entered the program in the fall with a high percentage of education majors (31.9%) compared with the non’“service-learning group (2.9%) had already completed some coursework related to those in the Jumpstart service-learning course.
One of the limitations to the study is the small sample size. In efforts to maintain similar demographic characteristics among respondents, participants were only selected from Jumpstart sites in the western region of the United States. Also, with the need to analyze data containing matched pairs of surveys, the sample was narrowed to 198 respondents. Also related to the sample, is the possible bias of the sample. This sample was not a random sample, since Jumpstart participants self-select themselves to be a part of the program. Furthermore, service-learning students did not have an option between a service-learning or non’“service-learning training model.
Another limitation that may greatly affect the outcome of the statistical analysis is that most of the service-learning participants were alumni; therefore they have already experienced all of the benefits of the program previously.
This study examined outcomes from the perspective of the Jumpstart college student, a self-report measure. It may be beneficial to examine other measures of how service-learning may impact college student development.
The citizenship measure did not follow the same procedures as other measures. The citizenship outcome was only measured in the spring, using a before and after question to measure gains. This procedure may not reflect an accurate measure of participants’ pre- and post- attitudes and beliefs toward citizenship.
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[Note: This article is excerpted from Amy Lukianov’s dissertation, “The Effects of Service-Learning on College Student Development.”]