Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

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 "vocabulary logs" that students were supposed to keep and share. But mostly I have just continued to reflect on what student needs appear during the course of the semester so that I can write curricular materials to fill those needs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

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 as long-term benefits of this type of community-university partnership.

I always mention that Anna Maria began Spanish service learning here through independent studies with groups of students. I also always mention that I wrote the original grant proposal for the course with Amy Swanson. That never gets quoted, but it's important to note. Anna Maria put me in contact with Sherry Alimi and Mary Borgeson from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign, and that began a wonderful partnership with them.

Sustainability is a huge issue for any service learning program. As long as independent studies don't "count" in faculty evaluations for promotion and tenure, no one can expect a professor to continue that route forever.

But there are some ways to build in sustainability:

*Tie service learning to a course that does "count."

*Share the service learning responsibilities. Faculty members have sabbaticals, leave time, graduate seminars to teach, etc. If it is always the responsibility of one faculty member, it is inevitable that there will be semesters, even years, when it isn't taught.

*Train TAs to teach the course. We cannot overburden our TAs, and I would suggest that a faculty member always oversee the community partnership communication, but TAs can benefit greatly from teaching the course. It also looks great on their CV when they apply for jobs.

*Write teaching materials that others can use. Throughout the semesters I taught and supervised SPAN 232, I created complete lesson plans for every single class. I put those together with the help of Daren Prather at TIS, and now I feel confident handing this course off to any of our wonderful TAs. TAs are not overburdened because they already have their classes prepared. But if they want to create their own lessons, they are free to do so. This is perhaps the biggest step in sustainability--well-written curricular materials. I'll be writing much more about this in future posts; it is my passion.

*Write grant proposals. My program began and grew with internal grants from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement (at the time, Steve Schomberg) and the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Now it's time to explore external grants.

So, thanks for the note, Anna Maria, and thanks for laying the groundwork for UIUC's Spanish community service learning.


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 and Christmas-time at my in-laws' home in Costa Volpino, Italy, so I am particularly interested in service learning programs in Italy. I always teach Spanish, but my hope is to teach Business Italian one day--in Italy, and using community service learning. Ideally, I would have some students do their community service learning in not-for-profits and others in for-profits. That would lead to rich classroom discussions about commercial entrepreneurship versus social entrepreneurship. We'll see...


Thursday, December 20, 2007

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. They may go a couple of times, but then they get busy and drop it.

But if you want community service to be a part of your life, you need to connect it to something you already do. Like getting together with a group of friends on the weekend? Go to the Refugee Center's Saturday morning program together and help refugee and immigrant children learn English. Find yourself browsing in your public library on a regular basis? See if you can help with any Spanish-language programming they have going on. Or start one! Moving to a new town and need to meet people? You could join a gym, or you could join a service organization. And if attending church is for you, attend one that takes community service seriously.

That is the case of Bill and Sadie Bauer, my aunt and uncle who live in Battle Creek, Michigan. Their church has a very active program to sponsor and support Burmese asylees in particular as well as other activities. So when Sadie read my previous post on religious organizations and community-based learning she wrote the following:

"...there are many benefits to those who are helped & the helpers as well. Many people from other countries are very suspicious, if not downright fearful, of getting involved with governmental agencies. Churches may represent a place where they feel safer to ask for help.

"For 25 years, our church had a professional staff of volunteers who operated a free pre-school for 3, 4, & 5 year-old children without any attempt to recruit families to join our church. It was originally conceived as a way to improve the lives of, & chances of success at school later for children in the general neighborhood of the church. As that neighborhood changed (fewer family homes, & etc) it expanded to other areas & we provided some transportation. A big part was parent participation in the classroom & in adult classes to help them understand the needs of children & ways they could reinforce what children were learning. The program was a huge success as feedback came through the schools they later attended. Parents also praised it.

"In recent times, of course, we've worked more with new immigrants (asylees, really) from Burma. It sounds as though your Center for Refugees may be providing what we offer to our people through church. A biggie is helping them get through complex, automated phone systems when they need help. Ironically, the phone company is the worst of those! Immigration, of course, is the other. Bill has helped many people that way when their phone bill is messed up by the phone company, or when they've been billed for things they didn't know were costly, or other problems."

She also wrote about some of the intergenerational aspects that may come with community service and religious organizations:

"A couple of other points about churches is that they frequently have people like us who are retired & willing to use the skills from their work life to help others. The fact that there is a large facility with rooms for meetings is also a plus. We know a retired accountant from another church who regularly helps people set up bank/credit union accounts & tend them. Sometimes he runs interference when things get messed up there, too.

"Bill started 12 years ago, going with a Burmese speaker at first, to enroll new students as they arrived. Since he knew all the ins & outs of forms, free lunches, & all the other inside stuff about schools, it was an invaluable help to the families. [My note: Bill was a school principal for many years.] He still does that, & enrolled 14 new students at various levels this fall. Some of them needed extra shots to be enrolled, so he took them to the Health Department for that, along with a father of 4 who had to sign his name 34 times on all the forms Bill filled out for him! They were all exhausted at the end of that day!"

I'm sure that Bill and Sadie would say that their work with the Burmese community has enriched their own lives and the entire Battle Creek community. That is the "mutually beneficial" dictum of community service learning. And they have connected that community service to something that was already a part of their lives. Which doesn't make it easy, but it does make it possible.

It also shows that community service learning isn't just for K-16 students!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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 Centro por los Trabajadores (now closed). I'd like to think that her community service could have been enhanced by the reflective techniques and classroom activities that now form the basis of SPAN 232. But she had already obviously learned a lot on her own. The other students, however, benefit so much when one of their classmates already has considerable experience with either service work in general or specifically with Latino communities. Jessica would have enriched the classroom discussions and level of analysis considerably.

And we have many students like Jessica. But we often don't know that. Traditional classroom learning rarely gives us access into what students are like outside the classroom. But when we engage students in community service learning and the associated teaching materials, we often see them more fully. Reading students' diarios escritos gives me insight into their personalities and characters that I would never get from a traditional test; hearing my community partners praise a student for a particular skill that never gets utilized in the classroom makes me appreciate all the different ways in which students can contribute to a social and academic endeavor.

Jessica has worked in the Illinois Office of the Comptroller in Chicago for the past 2 1/2 years. Now she is applying to graduate programs in public policy and international relations. Her work experience will certainly enhance her profile. But I believe that her work with El Centro por los Trabajadores will as well.

Jessica proves that you don't have to enroll in grad school right after you graduate.

She proves that Spanish majors can get jobs!

She proves that civic engagement can be woven into all aspects of our lives: community-based learning, jobs, post-graduate studies, whole careers, as well as volunteer work.

Her resume shows students how they can do it, too. I'll write about that later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

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 USASBE conference 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"!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

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 chile. its in the middle of the driest desert in the world and, ill be honest and say that its not the most beautiful place in the world... ive been living with a host 'family' as well, though its actually just myself and a 60-year-old woman. ... [if] any of your students are interested in doing this after graduating, they can find out more at and look around for the 'english opens doors' program. it is run through the chilean government, specifically the ministry of education [mineduc]."

He sent pictures of student projects. (Nunchucks?! Dynamite?! What are you teaching them, Jason?) And links to the play that Jason wrote and the students performed. Hint: they're playing penguins. I think. Part 1. Part 2.

I asked Jason about his community service learning work with the Boy Scouts in Shadowwood.
Ann: ¿Te acuerdas cuando estabas trabajando con los niños Scouts? ¿Jamas pensaste que ibas a estar trabajando con niños chilenos? :)
Jason: i do remember working with the scouts in shadowwood, but if you had told me i would be volunteering in chile the next year, i would have questioned your BAC.

(What does "BAC" mean, Jason?)

But he did just that.

So have a great Christmas in Santiago, Jason. And students, if you want to talk to Jason about his experiences, e-mail me at and I will pass along his contact info.

Here are a few more photos.
A street in Calama. Jason enjoying the food. A student dance. (I have to be careful not show the students' faces. But they are adorable!)

While they are doing community service learning, many students never imagine how it could impact their futures. Jason's experience, instead, aligns perfectly with the path he has chosen for himself. So far.

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 interpretations of their interactions with the community partners and community members. I had to be alert and aid their learning without the teaching space of the classroom, just e-mails.

Other students threw themselves into the work and really enjoyed it.

For their final diario escrito I asked the honors students to write in English and compare this honors project to others they have done. I was really struck by Samantha Dwyer's diario (read it here). In it, she is able to really trace a learning "arc" that took place over the semester. She's also honest: she doesn't say that it was easy or that she always liked it. But the realizations and changes in opinion that she states are very powerful proof of how Spanish community service learning reaches students in ways that a traditional classroom simply cannot.

Friday, December 14, 2007

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 dorm-style residence on the top floor. For one academic year, we meet with 5 or 6 students, paired with them at the beginning of the year, and tutor them every day in their classroom subjects like Algebra, Non-Fiction Literature, and US History. The student body is exactly like the average Boston Public School... almost entirely African American and Latino minorities... and our school mission is to erase the racial achievement gap that afflicts so many urban high schools in the nation. Because of the MATCH Corps tutors, our students are very high achieving. We recently ranked #1 in the state in the MCAS math proficiency test among state-wide 10th graders, and were given a special report on ABCnews in New York City.

I greatly recommend this program for students education and teaching, as well as anyone interested in doing a service year and addressing one of the most glaring social issues that faces our nation today. All majors are welcome... especially Spanish and Spanish Education. =)

Please feel free to read the ABC news article about MATCH and spread the word to your fellow students.

Thank you so much for your support with the MATCH mission!

I asked Sandra a question that I thought my Spanish students would like to know.
Ann: Are there opportunities to use Spanish in the school and neighborhood?
Sandra: Siempre hay oportunidades para usar el español aquí, sea ayudar a la maestra de Español o ayudar con llamadas telefónicas a los padres Latinos (los que no hablan bien el inglés). Este año empezamos un nuevo currículo de Español Nativo (para los estudiantes Latinos) y creo que necesitaremos mas apoyo del Español con el año que sigue, siendo que esta clase es muy nueva.

Interested? Contact Mr. Ross Trudeau (, Recruitment Director. Or contact Sandra ( for questions about her own experience at MATCH.

Students: If you apply for this job and have done community service learning in a school, be sure to mention that and use vivid examples from your experiences there!

Good luck, Sandra. I hope this helps interested students hook up with MATCH.


P.S. As always, I love to get e-mails from my current and former students. E-mail me, and if you give me permission, I'd love to write about you on this blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

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 learning attempts to go beyond the classroom and engage students as "whole people," religion/spirituality is a part of some students' lives. Religion is a part of the culture of many individuals who live in the Latino community; students may gain a broader understanding of the community members' lives if the see them in numerous community contexts.

I knew I had to talk it through with someone else. I called Val Werpetinski and e-mailed Darcy Lear.

Val said many interesting and important things, but for me this was her strongest point: when she has done community service learning within African American communities, churches are often a very important part of the fabric of that community. If you don't engage with them, you may not be truly engaging with the community.

Darcy mentioned a colleague of hers from UNC-CH who does anthropology community service learning with local churches. That never struck her as odd, Darcy said, because that seemed like something that an anthropologist would do. But does Spanish do that?

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that it was one more choice for students. Choices are good.

I will give it a try for one semester and see how it goes.

And I will use it as a teaching tool in class and in reflective diaries for students to discuss the roles of religion in a community and a culture. Positive and negative. Churches as a place of refuge for immigrants facing deportation. Churches as supporters of the Refugee Center. Why is the Refugee Center located in a church? Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, and other religions in Latin America and amongst US Latinos. Maybe we can all learn more about religion, Spanish community service learning, and our own prejudices.

Including mine.


Thank goodness for such insightful and thoughtful colleagues. It's important to have a community of serious community service learning scholars with whom you can consult. The issues we face can be very complex and it helps when you don't have to face everything alone.

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 from diverse academic disciplines—humanities, life sciences, psychology and business—who will highlight the teaching techniques they use in order to infuse an entrepreneurial spirit into their students’ coursework. We will discuss:
• Using established teaching techniques from your own field to address entrepreneurial content (e.g., active learning exercises, multi-media content, community-based learning, team projects, senior theses, etc.)
• Adding and adapting techniques from entrepreneurship education (e.g., case studies, simulations, etc.) to your teaching repertoire.
• Being entrepreneurial ourselves, as educators, researchers and in other ways.
The audience will participate in some of the very exercises we use in our courses and will take away from the presentation specific examples that they can use in their own courses.

Jane was very encouraging, mentioning that she would be interested in the session even if she weren't the session facilitator. I was glad to hear that. I truly believe that entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship give students (and faculty!) wonderful tools to utilize in their approach to any discipline. No one would have expected a Spanish course on social entrepreneurship, yet that is exactly what I will be teaching next semester in SPAN 332, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities."

Our focus in the session will be to not just explain how we do entrepreneurship education in our own fields, but rather to help faculty imagine how it could enhance student learning in their own fields.

And what is the connection between Spanish community service learning and entrepreneurship? In my course, students learn the theory of social entrepreneurship and through community-based learning put it into action in the community, using their Spanish skills and developing cultural knowledge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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 key strategies could help the Refugee maximize the CBL students' capabilities and at the same time maximize their learning. Lena Lee combined her internship experiences with theories of experiential learning to write a thesis that spelled out ways that students, internship directors and internship hosts can enhance the internship experience. Jennifer Mull and Melissa Dilber have teamed up to analyze their separate international internships/service experiences and compare their language/culture/professional needs with the curriculum materials offered in some Spanish textbooks.

You can see more about these students by clicking on the "about us" tab above.

Lena finished her thesis this week. It's now in the hands of the second reader. I'm very pleased with Lena's work, and I am especially happy that her appendix includes handouts that will be useful to all of us involved with the Spanish & Illinois Summer Internships (see link in left navigation bar).

But these theses don't fit within the traditional mold of what and how Spanish students do research. They involve careful self-reflection on their own learning experiences as part of the data. But I the learning that happens in these theses is deep. Students are truly invested in their research when it involves something that they care deeply about--including themselves!

Congratulations to Lena on finishing her thesis--and graduating.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

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 clearing my calendar for two days next week just to communicate with them. Darcy Lear and I are co-writing an article in which we state (among other things) that community service learning instructors/directors should simply accept their role as intermediary. It's true that all of us who do this are also instructors, committee members, thesis advisors, final-exam graders, and a dozen other labels that we could give ourselves during this busy period. But if you simply accept that your role as instructor/director of Spanish CBL also includes time spent with community partners you will plan for it, not be taken by surprise by it.
It's time well spent.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

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. In the real world, that's not what you get. "¿Qué?" "No te entiendo." Or the Spanish-speaker switches to English. Walks away. Hangs up. Ouch. But Darcy's students had to take risks when approaching unknown people, establish a connection with that person, think on their feet, recover from failure then make a report. Wouldn't that be an excellent story for one of these students to recount during their future job search? (Interviewer: "So, tell me about a time you made a mistake and what you did about it.") Isn't that what scientists do? Athletes? Isn't that what any successful person in any field does in the real world?

Connections. Yes, that is precisely what successful people do. But our students often think that they "just" did an assignment. This is just a Spanish class. Their learning deepens if we help them make connections between their experiences in the community and other contexts. Between their Spanish composition course and the flyer they produced for the community partner. Between that freshman diversity workshop they had to take and examples of discrimination they have seen in the community. Between their work in the community and their summer job as camp counselor, their study-abroad experiences, their family's own immigration stories, the career they hope to have in the future.

The challenge for us is to create curricular materials that help students make those connections, aid their language acquisition and foster their learning of cultures at the same time. That's a future post.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"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 that they want to get into (and at the time they want, too!), but I'm inclined to believe that students truly are excited about Spanish community-based learning. It taps into a desire that students have to use their Spanish in a real-world context and with a purpose. Many of them have studied abroad and want to understand how they can continue to make Spanish a part of their lives back home. And many students say that they are looking for more opportunities within the Spanish curriculum to develop their spoken Spanish. (I'm sure that all Spanish professors feel that they ARE giving them opportunities to talk, but somehow they don't all recognize that.)

On the other hand, that excitement for Spanish community-based learning can be overwhelming. Those of us who do this know the work involved in administering these programs. Admitting more students means more administrative work. It's hard to disappoint students, but you can't stretch the program so thin that then it isn't mutually beneficial anymore.


It's a slick, snowy morning in Champaign-Urbana. I wonder how many students will call in to their community partner saying that they can't make it this morning?


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

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 that body of work--to remind myself and to show others.

For some instructors who haven't accumulated a body of work yet, this certificate can be a clear and intelligent guide on how to become a true "citizen scholar." I have often lamented the fact that there are no mentors that I am aware of in Spanish community-based learning whose path you can "imitate" or whose guidance you can depend upon. It's too new. It doesn't "fit" into Spanish departments' idea of research. Yet. And I suppose that is the case in other fields as well. Val's certificate is a "mentor-in-a-checklist."

It's not easy to complete all the necessary steps. It requires work and reflection. That makes it worth doing.

Thanks for putting this together, Val.

If you are at UIUC and want to do the certificate, contact Val at

If you're at another institution, I'm sure Val would be happy to give you information on the certificate and her experience implementing it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

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 Fulbright opportunity arose. In the letter of recommendation I wrote about her dedication to community-based learning and the classroom experience it gave her with Spanish-speaking youth. I don't know how the Fulbright committee makes its decisions, but I firmly believe that her CBL work made her application even stronger.

¡Felices Fiestas, Nicole! ¡Felices fiestas a todos mis estudiantes!