DiggingService learning is one of the best elements in education, providing students with so many opportunities to learn, grow, see, do, give and connect. However, it is my experience that most students who undertake service learning do not have the skills required to really help those they are interacting with. The upshot of this is that whilst service is great for students, it is often a drain on the limited resources of the very organisations we are trying to help. This seems to be particularly true when students are asked to undertake tasks involving practical, physical skills. I have seen older students, up to 16 years of age, who struggle to handle tools in the pursuit of an outcome.

Over the last term, I have been trying to overcome this problem, through the introduction of an activity I call The Art of Physical Labour. Meeting once a week, students undertake a series of different tasks which aim to equip them with not only skills, but also a mindset of getting work done in an efficient, sensible and positive manner. My first group of 10 students recently completed a term of labouring, and all individuals I could see improvements in both ability and attitude as they moved through the following tasks:

  • Tree Processing – cutting up a fallen tree with hand saws, and tidying the remains for collection.
  • Sweeping
  • Cementing – producing a simple wooden mold, then mixing and pouring concrete to make the desired shape.
  • Screwing – using screw drives and self tapping screws to bore into wood.
  • Drilling – using small and large handheld electric drills on wood (I would have liked to have done concrete as well, but there was not enough time).
  • Digging – 6 minutes of continuous digging, aiming to move soil around.
  • Carrying – moving pots of soil from one location to another.

In general students were most engaged in those activities set up as a game or challenge (for example digging and carrying were combined into a two-team race, in which the winning team was the one to move all their soil first).

This activity will continue to run, and will be shared by myself and another teacher over the coming year. It is something I would really like to expand on, so that all students get at least one year of it. These skills are so useful in terms of being a well rounded, robust, resilient individual, that I think no student should leave school without them.

Note: thumbnail by Chiot’s Run on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC