Friday, May 16, 2008

Spanish Community Service Learning Can Be Laced with Sadness

Normally on this blog and elsewhere I talk enthusiastically about the postive benefits of Spanish community service learning. The learning IS positive, but the realities can be very sad sometimes.

Amy Lewensky was a wonderful student in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" class, and she did her community service learning at Booker T. Washington school in Champaign. That summer she had a summer internship through the Spanish & Illinois program, and she worked at Central States SER, located in la Villita in Chicago. She did such a wonderful job that they hired her themselves the following summer. (And I have always been so impressed by Amy's energy, organization, smarts and style, that I asked her to work with me on the internship program this year. She has been absolutely wonderful.)

Central States SER provides very important education and job training for the local community. Amy jumped right in, teaching an ESL class the very first day of her internship there, and then moving on to work with other programs that they offer. In doing so, Amy formed strong relationships with her youth and adult students, all of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who were preparing for success on the job.

This morning Amy wrote to tell me the sad news that one of her students (a young man who was powerfully impacted by Amy's teaching and Central States SER's programs) was shot and killed yesterday. She is obviously very upset.

Tragedy, of course, can befall anyone. But this type of violence and other types of harsh realities seem more pronounced in many of the communities we serve with Spanish community service learning. And our students who form deep ties with the community in which they do their community service learning are the most positively impacted in terms of learning and the most negatively impacted by the emotional toll of sad events as well.

This is a tragic example, of course, but in general I think that our curriculum also needs to focus on how students understand and process sad events with the community members that they come to know so well during Spanish community service learning.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Liz: Interlangua Is Useful and Fun for Spanish Community Service Learning Students

I just finished my lesson with Interlangua! It was very fun! I actually ended up talking through the program for about 2 hours! It was very interesting, you can see your tutor on the screen, but there is also an area where you can type back and forth, if they want to teach you a new word or sometimes it helps to see the word if you are having trouble with the pronunciation. It was similar to an instant messenger, which is nice because then you can scroll back up to see a new vocabulary word if you need to remember it later on in the conversation. Plus they have a blank screen where you can put pictures. My tutor put up some pictures of festivals in Guatemala. The nice thing is the tutors can also use a highlighter to point out something interesting in the photo. I thought the program was very well put together and I really liked all of the interactive tools. I felt like it really used all of the different aspects of learning a language. I practiced my speaking and listening skills, but I also did some reading. The pictures were also helpful because I know I am a visual learner.

To answer some of your questions Ann, I do think Interlangua is a great tool to help students with phone skills. It defiantly feels like a phone conversation at time, although it is a little different since you can see the other person on your computer. It’s good because the students can practice asking questions if they didn’t hear or understand something the tutor said, and also since you are able to take the conversation where ever you like, I’m sure we could ask the tutors to do practice scenarios that are similar to the types of phone conversations the students would have with their community partners. The tutor could also give them tips along the way as to how they can improve their phone skills.

Interlangua would definitely help students become more comfortable using different dialects, especially from Guatemala since the tutors are all from Guatemala. Latin America definitely has a wide variety of dialects and it would be beneficial to the students if they new different varieties so that they can fine tune their listening skills.

As far as technology set up goes, I did have a few problems but they were easily fixed. I used the computer that is set up in FLB for the Spanish 232 students to record their Diarios Digitales. At first the microphone worked but the ear phones didn’t. So I switched the headphones with a different computer. That one was broken too, so I just kept switching the headset until I got one where everything worked. The Tec support at Interlangua was very patient and understanding with me and talked me through the setup. Once we got the headset to work, everything worked smoothly.

I really liked the program and I think it is a very helpful tool for people who want to learn more Spanish and to practice it with native speakers. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and I hope that we might be able to incorporate Interlangua into our Spanish program here at the University of Illinois!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Can Interlangua Help Spanish Community Service Learning Students?

Liz Girten did such a good job trying out and reviewing that now I'm asking her to do the same with If another student is interested in doing the same, just let me know.
My SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students analyzed InterLangua on their midterm exam. The first question: Is Interlangua an example of social entrepreneurship as defined in Greg Dees' book "Enterprising Nonprofits." Last question: should Spanish & Illinois require students to use Interlangua. Students thought it was a great company with a lot of value, but when asked to vote with their wallets, the majority said no. Well, now Liz can try it and tell us what kind of value it would truly bring to our Spanish community service learning courses.
Depending on what Liz finds, I'd like to explore a "customized" service with Interlangua. They work with students and business people on medical Spanish, business Spanish, etc. Since Spanish community service learning students have specific needs, I think we could design some lessons specifically for them. The people at Interlangua are very enthusiastic and helpful, so we'll see.
Here are the questions that I would like Liz to answer in her review. If anyone else wants to use Interlangua (or already has) and wants to post a review here, that would be great!
1. Many students who do Spanish community-based learning have to talk on the phone and report having great difficulties with that. Would Interlangua help students develop telephone skills in Spanish?
2. Students report that Spanish community-based learning helps them develop "real-world" Spanish, not text-book Spanish. Many of the Latinos that they encounter in Champaign-Urbana come from Mexico and Guatemala. Would Interlangua help students become comfortable with a useful regional dialect?
3. Would the technology set-up be a problem for students?
4. Anything else you'd like to say would be welcome!
Liz is busy with final exams right now, so whenever she has a chance to actually use the services at, I'll post her review here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Claire Tinley: Former Spanish Community Service Learning Student and Video Producer

Claire Tinley was a wonderful student in my SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" course. She then studied abroad in Argentina, a wonderful choice for students who want to take classes with local college students and break away from the big "packs" of UIUC students who go on other programs. I loved getting her colorful e-mails while she was abroad.

This semester she enrolled in a very popular course on our campus, "Writing with Video." Prof. Joseph Squier (a Faculty Fellow and the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership and friend of mine) and his colleague began the course in order to use visual media to teach what is usually taught in written form in a college rhetoric course (read more about it). Clair contacted me a few weeks ago to say that she wanted to do her final video on bilingualism--a wonderful topic. But as is often the case, ideas and assignments morph and she ended up doing a fascinating video on environmental racism. Watch it here.

I learned a lot about Champaign and the topic of environmental racism from her video. I think you will too. I want to incorporate this video into the SPAN 232 curriculum in some way so that my students can start thinking about this topic from the viewpoint of what they observe in the local Latino community.

Thank you, Claire, for staying in touch with me, sharing your work, and being concerned about community issues (both here and abroad).