By Nills Alesandro Rojas Mora -  English Teaching and Translation Major student

Does the implementation of service-learning represent benefits for students with special learning needs? Service-learning means having students help their communities and schools using critical thinking and academic knowledge as well (Toole, 2015). Teachers may doubt if this type of project can actually improve the attitude and academic skills of students that need a differentiated instruction. Even though some experts consider the presence of these students as an obstacle for the service-learning experiences, research shows that students with special needs may benefit from service-learning since their motivation towards learning can be increased, their teachers’ planning skills can be enhanced, and stereotypes against these students can be fought.

One of the principal benefits of the implementation of service-learning programs in Language courses is the increase in the students’ motivation towards learning. Anjomshoa (2015) exemplifies this when she mentions that “without student motivation, there is no pulse; there is no life in the class.” This is no exception for students in the special education classroom. Service-learning can represent a key element when it comes to increasing the students’ motivation in class. Implementing these types of projects in the special education classroom can boost students' desires towards learning and helping others as it would in a normal classroom (Olnes, 2008). Taking this into account, special education teachers should consider the development of service-learning projects in class.

Another element that can motivate teachers to implement service-learning projects in the special education classroom is the fact that their planning skills can be enhanced. While it might be believed that only students can benefit from service learning, research shows that special education instructors may also enjoy positive outcomes after participating in service-learning projects. As explained by May et al. (2017) after they conducted an experiment with preservice special education teachers, “teachers reported confidence in transition planning and in designing and delivering instructional opportunities based on assessment of high school students’ transition needs. Moreover, the preservice teachers met the course learning standards by working directly with high school students”. As the authors explain, this type of experience can help special education teachers gain or improve some of their skills directly linked to the classroom experience.

Besides increasing students’ motivation and teachers’ instructional skills, implementing service-learning projects in the special education classroom can boost the pupils’ academic skills. This idea is challenged by some experts when they say that students with special learning needs may experience a “disservice” instead of a learning experience (Gent, 2001). Some of the reasons provided to affirm this are that students might be used just as recipients of the service-learning programs instead of being active characters in the development of the tasks and that students will be immediately seen as childish because of their conditions and, therefore, not capable of achieving the goals of the projects. However, by actually performing service-learning projects with students that have special learning needs, these affirmations can be contrasted. If students that require different instruction partake in service-learning projects, people that do not have learning disabilities may prove themselves wrong about the previous misconceptions and actually change their minds (Howard, 2001). Students with special learning needs can benefit from service-learning projects and be active participants in them.

Service-learning projects and the special education classroom might be seen as two incompatible elements. Teachers may ignore the benefits that implementing these programs can have on students with learning disabilities. Among the reasons to have service-learning projects in the special education classroom, it can be said that students’ desire to learn can be improved, teachers’ instructing and planning skills can be enhanced, and stereotypes about these students can be challenged. Special education teachers should definitely consider having their students participating in service-learning projects in order to provide them with better classroom outcomes.


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  • Anjomshoa, L. (2015). The Importance of Motivation in Second Language Acquisition. International Journal On Studies In English Language And Literature (IJSELL), 3(2).
  • Gent, P. (2001). Service-Learning: A Disservice to People with Disabilities?. Michigan Journal Of Community Service Learning, 8. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  • Howard, M. (2001). An Introduction to Service-Learning for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Disabilities, 13.
  • May, M., Chitiyo, J., Goodin, T., Mausey, A., & Swan-Gravatt, C. (2017). A Service Learning Model for Special Education Teacher Preparation in Secondary Transition Programming. Career Development And Transition For Exceptional Individuals, 41(3), 156-165.
  • Olnes, L. (2008). Special Projects for Special People: Students with Disabilities Serve Others through Service-Learning Projects. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 5(2).
    Toole, J. (2015). How to Design Service Experiences that Narrow the Opportunity & Achievement Gap. Americorps Promise Fellows.