Showing posts from 2007

Felices Fiestas, Buone Feste, Happy Holidays

I'll be in Costa Volpino, Italy until mid-January. I'll blog when I'm back home.

Instructor Reflection in Service Learning

I began teaching Spanish service learning in the fall semester of 2004. I had some clear guidelines about what community-based learning needed to include:

1. community service tied to academic content
2. a mutually beneficial community partnership
3. structured reflection for students

But I also knew that I was going to have to include a space and time for my own reflection. Since I was asking the students to do diarios digitales (oral reflections on their community service learning, to replace traditional "oral presentations"), I decided to do the same myself.

A lot has changed in three years (my hair, my Lasik surgery, my weight, ha), but a lot hasn't. In the video I talk about two things that I still work on:

1. Creating assessment tools that really get at what students learn in community service learning.
2. Creating systems so that students take responsibility for their own scheduling and learning.

Some things I dropped after the first year, like the "vocabular…

Beginning and Sustaining UIUC's Spanish Community Service Learning

The story in the LAS newsletter was great publicity for my program. I appreciate that publicity because it makes more students aware of this opportunity, more advisors aware that they could suggest the course to students, and more alums aware of a unique program they may want to support.

But one of the best parts of publicity is the e-mails that it generates.

Former students wrote to me after reading the piece to comment on the growth of the program. That was an opportunity for me to find out what they are doing now. One thing is for sure, Spanish service learning students go one to accomplish a lot.

Friends and colleagues on campus also wrote to say congratulations.

Anna Maria Escobar wrote a nice e-mail to me. She pointed out something that I think is very important: "both our students and the members of the Latino Champaign community are benefiting in ways that we might not comprehend completely." It's true; we have so much more to learn about the immediate as well …

International Service Learning

Prof. John Wilcox (UIUC) forwarded me the url for the latest e-newsletter from The International Partnernship for Service-Learning and Leadership (IPSL).

A few things of note from their newsletter:

*The 3rd Annual Conference on International Service-Learning: “Advancing Research and Practice” will take place at the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis from February 29 to March 2, 2008.

* Bibliography:
Merrill, Martha C., and Margaret D. Pusch. 2007. “Apples, Oranges, and Kumys: Models for Research on Students Doing Intercultural Service-Learning” in Shelley Billig and Sherril Gelmon, eds., From Passion to Objectivity: International and Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Service-Learning Research. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishers, pp. 21-40.

Barnhill, John H., and others. 2007. Promising Practices of International Service and Service Learning. Elon NC: North Carolina Campus Compact.

*Their service learning program in Siena, Italy.

I usually spend summers …

Integrating Community Service Learning into Your Life

When students take a Spanish class with us, we tell them what to read, what to talk about, and even tell them when and where to talk (e.g., every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1pm). But then they graduate, stop taking Spanish classes and discover that they don't read or speak in Spanish at all.

My advice to students has always been: use Spanish for something that you already do. So, if you read about sports every day, read about sports in Spanish. If you rent a video every weekend, watch it in Spanish.

If you try to "add" Spanish into your already busy life, it probably won't happen. But if you integrate it into something you already do, you just might keep up with your Spanish.

The same is true of community service learning. So many of our students sincerely want to continue working with their community partner the following semester. But when it isn't a course requirement, it's hard for them to "add it" to their busy, over-scheduled lives. T…

Spanish Community Service Learning Featured in LAS Newsletter

Dave Evensen wrote a concise yet compelling piece on the Spanish community service learning courses and internship program that I direct. The pictures really capture the spirit of working together and learning from each other. Read it here.


Following Jessica Polos' Career Path

Many students feel that they must decide during the beginning of their senior year whether or not to attend graduate school. Common wisdom holds that once you leave the university, it's hard to switch gears and become a student again. Yet I am seeing more and more students return to graduate school after working for a year or two.
One example: Jessica Polos.
Jessica took SPAN 232, "Intensive Spoken Spanish" with me before I converted it to a community-based learning course. She had already studied abroad and truly surprised me with her fluent Spanish and native-like pronunciation. She was obviously a very talented second language-learner.

She was also exactly the kind of student who would have benefited the most from a Spanish community-service learning course. She was already serving the local Latino community with her work at El CentroporlosTrabajadores (now closed). I'd like to think that her community service could have been enhanced by the reflective techniques…

Entrepreneurs without Borders (TM)

Yesterday we had a board meeting for Entrepreneurs without Borders (TM). Starting a not-for-profit from scratch is quite daunting, and I applaud Sara Bloem and Tony Mendes for all the work they did getting this off the ground. I have learned a lot in the process, and I will be able to pass that along in my teaching.

At the USASBEconference in January, Tony and Sarah will present Entrepreneurs without Borders (TM).

While we continue to build Entrepreneurs without Borders (TM), I am excited to see how it will take shape during the coming months. And I am happy that it represents one more opportunity for Spanish students (and all students!) to become involved with entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship with a global, multilingual and multicultural context.


p.s. I am also learning a lot about "TM"!

Chile's "English Opens Doors" Program

I'm always happy to see the different paths that my former students take towards success. I think that many of our students would love to do what Jason Flynn has done after graduation.

Jason took my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Language, Cultures & Communities" course the very first semester I offered it. (I co-taught it with Darcy Lear that first semester.) Jason worked with the Boy Scouts in Shadowwood, and I remember the unique sense of humor that he brought to all his work in the class.

So I wasn't surprised when I heard from him and learned that he is doing something that really utilizes all his strengths: teaching English to children in Chile. The pictures he sent showed that he still has his sense of humor. And the letter that he wrote showed that he needed it in order to really connect with the students! I also saw that he had indeed connected with them. Here is some specific information from Jason:

"im stationed in calama, a city in the north of ch…

Impact of Spanish Community Service Learning

For the fall 2007 semester I experimented for the first time with allowing honors students in any Spanish course to do community-based learnng for their James Scholar Learning Agreement. I was afraid that without the learning that takes place within the classroom in a fully integrated community-based learning course, student learning outcomes would not be what I would want. Well...

It definitely was more work for me. Students still had to write weekly diarios escritos; that component I certainly couldn't give up. But I had to read and respond to them.

Some students felt that requiring 28 hours of community service learning work was too much, especially if they didn't settle on their honors project until later in the semester. Those students simply picked a project for a different course, or with a different faculty member.

A few students did their work in the community rather reluctantly. In these students' diarios escritos I could sense that that attitude colored their…

International Internship Opportunity

I've been to Costa Rica twice and loved it.

UIUC students can study abroad and do Spanish community service learning at the Instituto San Joaquín de Flores.

My children's Spanish teacher from Next Generation left everything behind this fall and moved to Costa Rica.

Obdulio Fonseca, my kids' current Spanish teacher is Costa Rican. Munia Cabal, my wonderful Spanish community service learning TA, is Costa Rican.

There are so many wonderful things about Costa Rica.

One more: Prof. Stacy Harwood (a UIUC Urban Planning faculty member who teaches community service learning ) sent me this information on student internships at the Monteverde Institute. If you have any questions, e-mail Prof. Harwood at

Job Opportunity for Spanish Community-based Learning Students

Sandra Mazuera never took a Spanish community-based learning course, but she wrote about it.

After returning from her year abroad in Barcelona, Sandra continued to explore many of her interests, including writing and drama. I knew that she was a talented writer because of the interesting e-mails that she regularly sent from Barcelona (and now from Boston).

She wrote an article for the Daily Illini's Buzz about my Spanish in the Community course and students' work at the Refugee Center. It certainly did generate buzz, which was great for the course.

After graduation last May, Sandra moved to Boston to work at the MATCH Charter Public High School. Through her e-mails I have seen how meaningful this experience has been for her. Now, she and the others at MATCH are recruiting. Sandra sent this message:

Here's a little information about the MATCH Charter Public High School:
The MATCH school employs 40 recent university graduates from all over the country to live in the school in a d…

Religion and Spanish Community Service Learning

Yesterday I met with my community partner supervisor at Habitat for Humanity. We discussed how next semester's students might be able to use their Spanish more. This semester's students spent most of their time at ReStore and did some translations, but very few Spanish-speakers came to the store while they were volunteering. We brainstormed some ways to increase students' contact with the Latino community in CU and use their Spanish. Then Alejandra mentioned that she also works with St. John church and that our students would be welcome teachers' aides during the Saturday catechism classes. There the students would use Spanish all of the time.

My first reaction was no. I was uncomfortable with the idea of mixing a university course with religion.

Then I began to think about it more. Students have almost ten community partners to choose from for next semester; no one would be obliged to work there. Some students are religious/spiritual; if community-based learnin…

Entrepreneurship Education and Spanish Community Service Learning

Today I met with Jane Alsberg from UIUC's Center for Teaching Excellence to discuss a session on entrepreneurship education that Larry Schook (Institute for Genomic Biology), Tony Mendes (Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership), and I will give at the Faculty Retreat.

Abstract of our session:
Once thought of only in terms of starting a new business, entrepreneurship is a framework that is now used in order to create sustainable programs for social change, intellectual work and cultural creativity. At its core, entrepreneurship in any context is about recognizing opportunities, gathering resources and creating something of value. When we bring this framework into our courses, we allow students to engage with the academic content in new ways. Without necessarily teaching an entire course on entrepreneurship, faculty can include activities in their current courses that connect entrepreneurial insights to their established curriculum. This concurrent session will feature speakers fr…

Senior Honor Thesis on Spanish & Illinois Summer Internships

I continue to be amazed at the powerful ways in which students can benefit from a Spanish curriculum that incorporates community service learning, entrepreneurship education and Spanish for the professions. Case in point: senior honors theses.

Senior theses reflect the advisor's research. Therefore, the majority of Spanish senior honors theses are analyses of some cultural product (literary piece, film, etc.) or some linguistic component. Students learn a lot through these projects, sometimes most importantly about the research process itself and the student's own post-graduate academic aspirations.

Since I don't focus on those two areas, my students' senior theses take a different turn. A few years ago a team of three *wonderful* students (Jenna, Stephanie & Mateo) wrote a case study on the impact of community-based learning on the Refugee Center, and vice versa. Picking up on that same thread, Katrina Bone studied theories of volunteer management and how some …

Communicating with Community Partners

Classes are over for the semester, and finals begin tomorrow. Students have wrapped up their community service learning work for SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community." Now the administrative duties kick in: tie up loose ends about this semester and plan for the next.
One of my community partners is Obdulio Fonseca (see photo), leader of the Boy Scouts from Shadowwood. Last weekend, he and the CBL students worked on renovating and beautifying the trailer where the Boy Scouts meet. I visited them (no, I didn't do any painting) and talked to Obdulio and the students personally. I know that the students all did a good job. But for other community partners, I need call, send e-mail and meet with them. One community partner and I are meeting for coffee next week. And since I am on the Board of the Refugee Center, I always check in at our monthly meetings. But I have eight community partners (and the list is growing to accomodate all the students for next semester), so I am cleari…

Students' Confidence and Spanish CBL

To my previous post, Darcy Lear from UNC-Chapel Hill added a comment about some of her students' final projects for the Spanish service learning course she just finished teaching. Two words in particular struck me as very important for what we do in Spanish community-based learning: confidence and connections. We help students build confidence and make connections.

(When Darcy was here at UIUC she and I co-founded Spanish & Illinois. For more about Darcy click on the "about us" tab above; or see the Spanish for the Professions Minor that she directs at UNC.)

Confidence. We have all been second language learners ourselves and know how much confidence it takes to speak up in that language, knowing that you're probably going to make mistakes and possibly not even be understood. In the classroom we can create an environment in which mistakes are recast, we elaborate on a students' skeletal sentence and no one gets impatient while someone else momentarily struggles.…

"Dream Class"

For the spring 2008 semester, we are offering 4 sections of SPAN 232, "Spanish in the Community." Enrollment was capped at 20 students per section. At the time, I wondered if we would have empty seats; that's 80 spots, double what we offered this fall.

I was wrong.

Student demand for the course has been pretty overwhelming. I spoke several times with our Spanish advisor, Beth Chasco, this week about enrollments. In order to accommodate more students, one section was raised to 30 spots. That still wasn't enough. Students continue to write to Beth and to me asking to take the course. It's difficult to turn the students away, but I tell them that we will offer it in the summer and again in the fall. However, many of these students are seniors who won't have another chance to take it.

One student who wants an override to get in the course this semester wrote to me last night and said that it was her "dream class."

Maybe students say that about any class tha…

Citizen Scholar Certificate

I met with Val Werpetinski this afternoon to begin my application for the "Citizen Scholar Certificate" offered through the UIUC Center for Teaching Excellence. She has put together a certificate program that is thorough and useful--a real service to all on the UIUC campus who are currently using community-based learning in their teaching or want guidance on how to do that.

It is thorough because you need to offer documentation of your work and reflective essays in five categories: teaching experience with CBL, original CBL work, exploration of pedagogy, engaged service/outreach research and contribution to a community of practice.

It's useful for several reasons.

For me, it was a very nice way to put together "a package" reflecting the work that I have accumulated over several years doing Spanish community-based learning when there really weren't any models to follow. I will put this together as a portfolio so that I can have a tangible product to document th…

Turrón de Alicante

What a nice surprise this afternoon to go to my mailbox and find a package sent from Spain by my former student, Nicole Pivato. And an even nicer surprise to open it and find a turrón inside. (Turrón is a special treat made with almonds that is eaten during the Christmas holiday season in Spain.)

But the real treat is hearing from a former student and finding out what is going on in her life. Nicole received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English abroad. She is living in Madrid and teaching in Alcalá de Henares "en un colegio con primer and segundo ciclos y 5 años infantil. Los niños son muy majos y también muy listos."

Nicole was a wonderful Spanish community-based learning student. She was studying to be a Spanish teacher, and she did her community learning work at BTW elementary. That was a smart way to combine her efforts and put into practice not only what she learned in my "Spanish in the Community" course but also her education courses. Then this Ful…