Saturday, April 5, 2008

Research on Spanish Community Service Learning

Darcy and I have an article coming out this month in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, and we submitted a manuscript to Foreign Language Annals yesterday. We have another manuscript--about aligning expectations between students and community partners--that needs about one week of work, and then we can submit it as well. We're very excited to be putting our work out there!

In the spring of 2006 we collected data from the students in our first "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course. The articles we're currently publishing and submitting are based on that data--student journals, exams, homework, poster projects, and correspondence with the community partners.

This semester we are collecting data from her students at the University of North Carolina and the SPAN 232 & 332 students from UIUC. Student reflections, exams and projects are a treasure trove of insight! I really enjoy reading (and watching--los diarios digitales) to see what students have to say, what patterns emerge from their reflections and assignments, and then thinking about what that implies for our teaching strategies.

Working with Darcy is wonderful in many ways, but one very important thing that she brings to our collaborations is her background in qualitative research. In my own experience, that research method isn't emphasized/practiced in most Spanish departments. But because Darcy's PhD is in Education, she received that training. That allows us to gather information and interpret it in very exciting ways.

My PhD is in Spanish literature, so I was trained in literary criticism. Obviously, that did not directly prepare me for the work that I currently do, but many elements of my graduate program did indirectly prepare me for it.
  • Literary studies made me an insightful reader of student work. I use the same skills when I read between the lines of what students write/say, read the "absences" as well as what is written, and to place the texts within a cultural framework.
  • Learning about second language acquisition gave me insights into teaching. All TAs in our graduate program in Spanish, Italian & Portuguese must take a pro-seminar in foreign language teaching the very first semester, just like I did. I had the great fortune to take the course with Prof. Bill VanPatten who taught us in exactly the same way he told us to teach others. He modeled the methodology (communicative language teaching) perfectly. And I had such fun teaching that way in the classroom because I could see that it really worked. I strive to bring that same approach to the Spanish community service learning exercises I create for the classroom today.
  • Supervising a course gave me experience in organizing people, information and events. I supervised SPAN 101 & 102 for three years in graduate school. I learned the importance of giving (and following!) precise and concise instructions, working ahead of time, delegating, follow-up, and showing appreciation for the talents of the wonderful TAs and students I worked with.

Darcy and I are very excited about sharing with others what we are learning about Spanish community service learning through our experiences and our research. I'll keep you posted on our progress!

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