Each set of student organizers includes several Getting Ready Pages.
Read on to learn the Personal Inventory Process
Personal Inventory: Finding Out Student Interests, Skills and Talents
By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.
Often I am asked, How do we begin a service learning process? I always answer: With a Personal Inventory.
The idea of a Personal Inventory originated in 1991 when I was creating a service learning curriculum for a national program called StarServe. This unique program, founded by Mike Love of the Beach Boys, provided exemplary materials in English and Spanish at the elementary and secondary levels to every school in the United States. StarServe also engaged celebrities in events with youth to attract media attention and grow the concept of youth engaged in service.
Initially, in preparing these materials, I was intent on beginning the process with identifying a community need. While this is critical to know, being cognizant of your student resources first establishes a foundation of collaboration, mutual support, and acknowledges that everyone is a personal of value.
We know that every student has skills, talents, and interests. By collecting this information we can create a class database or chart of useful information. Teachers and students will reference this list again and again and add new talents and interests as they emerge. What an ideal way to build respect for all, to get to know each other, and to discover unexpected commonalities and sometimes fascinating differences.
How can this be helpful? A student who enjoys talking on the phone, for example, with a bit of skill development and practice, can become a group asset by contacting and making arrangements for a service outing. Do you have an “expert shopper” in your midst? Harness that talent for getting items donated or finding the best price on a “must purchase” item. Uncovering a “green thumb” will come in handy, too. What about interests? Knowing that some students have an interest in stopping vandalism or helping animals may set your service learning activity in a particular direction.
Use the Personal Inventory organizer provided here for Elementary and here for Secondary. Rather than having individuals complete the document, have students interview each other in pairs to reveal abilities and interests that will ultimately be helpful to the group.
If you have Students in Grades K-1: With K-1, I begin with a discussion of key terms—interests, skills and talents. Then, students think about and practice active listening and asking questions; using the organizers in the materials provided is optional at these grade levels. Then, in pairs, they interview each others. They first find out and then report on their partner’s interests. This is then recorded by the teacher or group leader. Then they dive back in to find out skills and talents. Again, this is reported out and recorded. As a class they can all share when they have helped someone and when they have been helped. This conversation can be ongoing as they then look for examples of helping at school and at home.
For Grades 2-5: Before the interview process, guide students through a review of Active Listening and Three Kinds of Questions; download the student pages. Then have them interview each other using the Personal Inventory document. They trade papers and take notes for each other. The first two questions are to find out the interests, skills and talents of the partner. The next two questions are to find out a time each student helped someone else and was helped by someone. This can introduce the idea of reciprocity.
For Grades 6-12: Use the Secondary set of materials. Review the Getting Ready for Personal Inventory documents. I like to role play both good and poor active listening skills so students observe my behavior and identify the differences. Discuss the sections on note taking and asking questions so that interviews will yield more detail and useful skills are developed. Be sure to alert the students to the possibility a student, when asked about his or her interests, skills or talents, could reply “I don’t know,” or “Nothing.” This is not acceptable when every student is of value! Practice responses. Also review the idea of probing questions. The interviewers trade papers, so the one asking questions takes note for his or her partner. As you will see on the organizer, the conversation also includes students describing a time when they helped someone and a time when someone helped them. This develops the recognition of personal reciprocity in the big picture of service learning.
The Value of Interviewing: By honing their interviewing skills and becoming better acquainted, students are preparing for other times during the service learning experience when interviewing will be essential. The components of interviewing also strengthen essential 21st century skills.
Follow-UP! Take the Personal Inventory home! Students can conduct this same interview to find out the interests, skills and talents of their parents or other significant adults. This has tremendous value as you extend into the community, need assistance, or resources. Also, as students inquire about times when their parent or other adults have been helped and been helpful, they learn more about each other. By completing this additional Personal Inventory interview, students sharpen their interviewing skills and gain confidence.
Organization Development Tool: Quite often, I find this same process or an adapted version, valuable when assisting with adults who aim to collaborate. Frequently, they have not taken time to know what skills and talents are in the room, or to find out any individual interests that might add to the work being accomplished. An adapted Personal Inventory process has proved most useful and effective, and fun! Groups like to interact and they appreciate taking time to dialogue.
For more about Personal Inventory, see The Complete Guide to Service Learning.
These documents are from The Complete Guide to Service Learning 2nd Edition by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., copyright © 2010 Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis, and from Strategies for Success with 21st Century Skills and Literacy: A Learning Curriculum that Serves Elementary Version by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., copyright © 2012 ABCD Books, Los Angeles. All documents are used with permission.