photo: Sarah Moauro and Mrs. Anh Ha Ho
Over the past few weeks, my work at ECIRMAC has varied daily. Some days I come in and immediately begin translating documents while answering the phones that are ringing off the hook, while on others I sit around in an empty office, occasionally taking a quick call while doing some homework or reading up on ECIRMAC and its events. Usually my weekly two hours spent at the center are somewhere in the middle range between these two, working on a small scale project for an ECIRMAC employee or client. During these days are when I come across little experiences that make me think and, more so, smile.
Last Wednesday was one of these middle ground days. I came into the office, took a few phone calls – it seemed like it was panning out to be a pretty slow day. Then, about half way through my hour, one of the staff members came in looking to work on a flyer she was planning on using in the upcoming Fundraiser Dinner. She came up to me, saw the research I had up on the computer about my upcoming trip to Mexico and began to flood me with advice, information, and stories about her various experiences in the country. From just a few minutes of talking to her, she had given me loads of useful information that reflected just how experienced she was with world encounters and how I am still such a novice. To be up to par with these accomplished staff members of the center, I’d need years more of experience.
After a few minutes of nostalgia, the staff member quickly snapped back to her business priorities. She had an old version of a flyer but needed some help in vamping it up a bit. At first I wasn’t sure how much help I’d be. I consider myself to be decently computer savvy, but I’m by no means a pro. Photoshop, major format design and editing? Sure, I can play around with them, but do I really know what I’m doing? Absolutely not. However, my perception on computer abilities is of my generation, and I always tend to underestimate the gaps. The flyer was simple, it just needed to look a little nicer. I played around with fonts, found some photos online for her to choose amongst, and put together a brighter, updated flyer for her. Throughout the seemingly simple project, she was amazed at what I could do, the options that I was giving her, and the ease that I worked about the computer and internet. Her excitement over the final outcome made me smile, especially over her great appreciation for my help.
Little things such as this make me really feel useful at the refugee center. ECIRMAC is run by a team of intelligent, accomplished people, yet sometimes simply having some fresh, new school know-how helps things to run more smoothly. On days when I feel like my Spanish is slacking or my knowledge may not be as much help as it should be to the clients, I get reassured of the importance of my volunteering by little encounters such as this. Whether it’s a sincere “thank you” coming from a Spanish-speaking client or excitement over what Google-image can provide, any sign that my work is meaningful brightens my day.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
photo: Sarah Moauro and Mrs. Anh Ha Ho
My students work with recent immigrants who are not "selling" their community to outside tourists.
However, the article brought to mind this question:
For students who have studied abroad, what cultural differences do they note between the Spanish-speaking country where they lived and the Latino community in Champaign-Urbana?
Friday, February 27, 2009
- Mandarin Chinese
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Students wrote great, convincing letters. The most effective letters opened with anecdotes. I want to share a couple of them here. Not only are they models of how to open a fundraising letter and hook the reader. They are also examples of why Spanish community service learning is such a powerful learning experience.
Exactly one week ago we received an unexpected phone call that left us all in disbelief. A volunteer had answered the call first, and within seconds of her trying to calm down the person on the other line with “Calme, todo estará bien” (“Calm down, everything will be okay”) we instantly knew something was not right. Our Spanish co-director took the call, a look of genuine concern and determination never leaving her face. We soon learned that the woman’s daughter, whom was both deaf and mute, was experiencing a psychological breakdown and needed to be admitted to a hospital immediately. The woman knew very little English and would need a Spanish translator, while her daughter would need a Sign interpreter. They were also in need of transportation and the phone number for the nearest hospital. This is why we exist. We are the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) dedicated to serving the refugee and immigrant population in the Urbana-Champaign and surrounding areas.
Ramona Garcia sat alone in front of Booker T. Washington Grade School the other afternoon for two hours on the front steps, unnoticed. At five o’clock her father came to pick her up and rushed to her side. He apologized for not being able to get her right away, tried to explain that he has to work so that he can make money for the family, but his heart broke slowly as he witnessed her trying to hide her eyes as she fought back the tears that were welling up inside them. Most days her mother or aunt is able to pick her up but this is not the first time she was left alone waiting, hoping for someone to take her home and probably won’t be the last. Unfortunately, Ramona is not the only student in Mrs. Rodriguez’s kindergarten class that this has happened to. Booker T. Washington has petitioned for increased funding to finance an after school program for grades K through 5 to provide a safe after school environment for the children of those who are unable to take off work to pick them up. But, they have not seen any increased finances. In fact, there has even been talk of cutting teachers’ salaries in order to maintain current programs.
"In project-based learning environments students create a product that is realistic and meaningful or inquire about an issue or concern that is relevant. In so doing, they engage in a range of activities over an extended period of time. These activities include solving or analyzing a problem, analyzing a text, monitoring learning progress, evaluate learning and collaborating with others.
"Participating in project-based learning in other languages, places learners in situations that require authentic use of language (Van Lier) in order to communicate and to carry out tasks that are very much part of the world outside the classroom. Many educators strongly believe that project-based learning environments not only create opportunities for students to actively participate in their own learning but also allows them to become more self-directed learners of other languages. "
As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that well-designed Spanish community service learning constantly involves project work, we just don't call it that.
But in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course, I do have students work on team projects. Click here to see the list of projects for this semester. These are all projects that respond to real needs in the community or for the sustainability and marketing of the Spanish community-based learning courses.
All the teams are moving forward, and for the midterm they have to turn in their one-page business plan for the project.
One team, however, has had to do some back-tracking. Project #1 suggested students fulfill some need within the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce to work with Latino businesses or to promote them. But when I called to introduce myself, the students, and the project, the Chamber simply had no plans to actively engage the Latino community. In fact, the person I spoke with seemed to think it would be a burden to think of a project to help my students.
I told the team to think of a new project.
I was surprised and disappointed not to be able to build a partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce. They apparently are not actively thinking about how to engage the significant Latino population in our county.
To return to the quotes above, I'm not fooling myself about second-language use during the projects. On-site, continuous community-service learning, "places learners in situations that require authentic use of language;" the team projects do not. I fully expect the teams to use English to collaborate, communicate with other stakeholders and produce their documents. However, they will give presentations at the end of the semester that will require them to explain and synthesize in both written and spoken Spanish.
I always ask the grad students who teach "Spanish in the Community" to attend an orientation session at one of the community partners along with the students for a couple of reasons:
- The TAs aren't required to volunteer during the semester, so this is their chance to actually see where some of their students work.
- It helps them to relate better to their students' comments and questions during the rest of the semester.
- They can better understand why we spend time in class talking about answering phones and classroom management techniques if they have heard the supervisors talk about those issues themselves.
- It also opens their eyes to what is going on outside of campus. Many of our TAs have similar university experiences as our undergrads--living in a campus bubble.
- While Guadalupe was giving the orientation to the students and the TA, some clients entered the office. Guadalupe stopped the orientation and immediately attended to the clients' needs. My TA saw that this was a unique moment: community members were deemed more "important" than university people. The TA wrote, "nos recordó para quien era el centro y nos demostró que nosotros estábamos allí para ayudar a los que entraran. (it reminded who the Refugee Center is there for and that we were there to help those who enter."
- The TA concluded by writing this: "Es increíble como unas cuantas cuadras pueden poseer mundos diferentes (It is incredible how just a few blocks can contain different worlds)." That was my thought when I first decided to do community-based learning and my first community partner was the Refugee Center. In the proposal to receive grant money to develop the course, I described our Spanish classes, I described the Refugee Center, and I said that community-based learning could bridge the few blocks that represented two separate worlds.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Congratulations to Ann Bishop for receiving the University Scholar honor!
You can read more about her scholarship in this Inside Illinois article.
Let me list the ways that Ann's work is important for the Spanish & Illinois program:
- Her community informatics courses incorporate service learning.
- She is Head of the Civic Engagement Task Force.
- Students who were in both of our courses took what they learned about community informatics and made a website for the Refugee Center (www.ecirmac.org) when they had none.
- She founded S.O.A.R.--the afterschool tutoring program at Booker T. Washington in which many of my SPAN 232 and 332 students work.
- She has worked closely with Ben Mueller and others on the Latino Media Initiative. Ben produces Nuevos Horizontes, a Spanish-language radio program that my students utilize to improve their listening comprehension skills.
- Her summer interns in Paseo Boricua in Chicago have worked under the umbrella of the Spanish & Illinois Summer Internships.
I'm very happy that Ann's work has been recognized in this way.
- Gathering and organizing volunteers to help pull off a fund-raising dinner.
- Helping immigrants/refugees file their tax returns.
- Aiding a teacher who is trying to attend to her students' individual needs while at the same time making progress with the class as a whole. (My students often work with individual students on their reading or math while the teacher attends to other students' needs.)
- Addressing the community's need for safe, educational after-school care (SOAR).
- Providing Boy Scouts with uniforms.
- And many more.
However, students dash in and out of the community for two hours a week and may not fully realize "the whole story" or see that their task is just one aspect of treating "the whole problem."
That's where I see the advantages of project-based learning for our Spanish community service learning students.
February's issue of "The Language Educator" mentioned the Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research (CALPER)'s Project Work Webspace, "created for teachers who are interested in exploring ways of working with projects in intermediate and advanced language courses" (8).
By following the links on that page (I was particularly intrigued by the information at GlobalSchoolNet.org), I found several interesting projects. They led me to think about potential capstone projects for Spanish community service learning students:
- "A Day without Immigrants." As a tie-in to the well-known "A Day without a Mexican" movie, have students document a day in their life, noticing all the products and services that they use that have been touched by Latino immigrants in some way.
- "Foreign-born Influences." The national discourse on immigration seems to concentrate solely on undocumented workers and Latino immigrants. Students could document the presence of foreign-born individuals on their campus--professors, administrators, staff, students--and their contributions towards the students' own university experiences.
- "ID: Identity and Access." Ask students to document all the times within a week that they are asked to provide some type of id in order to access a service. Analyze that data to see what services or experiences are unavailable to undocumented immigrants. Ask students to ascertain what impact it would have on their own lives if they did not have the necessary ID.
I never thought I'd be the mom who...
- ...doesn't cook when her husband goes out of town.
- ...doesn't brush her children's hair every single day.
It made me think, what if you substituted the word "Spanish teacher" for "mom"? Here's some of mine.
I never thought I'd be the teacher who...
- ...doesn't brush her own hair before teaching. Look at my hair in this picture--ack!
- ...gets e-mails from her students wondering when they're going to get their homework graded.
- ...makes up the lesson plan in her head while walking from my office to the classroom.
- ...writes on the chalkboard even when I teach in the College of Business building that has all the fancy technology.
- ...momentarily forgets what the capital of Paraguay is.
- ...hasn't read a book in Spanish in longer that she will actually admit!
- ...doesn't have the Spanish equivalent of every English word on the tip of her tongue when a student asks in class. (My favorite? Many years ago a student asked me in class, "¿Cómo se dice walrus en español?" Could you answer that?)
But here's another category.
I'm glad I'm the Spanish teacher who...
- ...knows all my students' names by week 3 of the semester.
- ...uses community service learning so both my students and my community partners benefit.
- ...truly loves to go to class and be with my students.
- ...incorporates Spanish into my every-day life, even though I'm not a native-speaker.
Leave a comment and tell me what kind of teacher you're glad you are or never thought you'd be! If you're a student, tailor the question to fit. :)
Monday, February 23, 2009
by Megan Knight
When I started tutoring at Leal, I was worried the kids would not take me seriously and they would not listen to anything I said. However, every time I have had to take my fifth graders out into the hall to do work, they always do everything I say and never complain. While I do enjoy knowing that the kids respect me, I also want them to feel comfortable with me and see me as their friend. And I think this is starting to happen.
Two weeks ago, I was working in the hallway with a girl from my fifth grade class, and she started to talk about her friends and family. It was nice to take a break from the work and actually get to know a student. Now when I go to class, she always makes eye contact with me and smiles and waves, and it makes me feel more at ease. I think it’s good to find a balance between work and play, and I’ve decided that it’s my goal to learn all of the students’ names and at least one fact about them.
Last week when I was working with one of my fifth graders in the hallway, the first grade class that I also work with was passing by on their way to the cafeteria, and one of the girls that I work with came up behind me and gave me a hug. The kids are starting to warm up to me and connect with me, which makes my job a lot more fun and rewarding. When they get more familiar with me and think of me as their friend, I think they will be more willing to do the work and we can have more fun in the process.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I think it's also really important for students to see examples of other successful students. So I like to use this blog to highlight the successes of former Spanish community-based learning students.
Talk about successful: Sara Gibbs was an absolute stand-out student. She took both "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" with me; she aced both courses. She was a real leader in her team project, bringing the Girl Scouts on as a community partner and building a sustainability plan for that partnership. She worked in the Office of Volunteer Programs and helped put on their annual conference. She studied abroad in Ecuador and volunteered there. She had an internship her senior year with the Chancellor's office. She saw opportunities everywhere and jumped on them.
So I was excited to get this update from Sara last week:
Normally, the route that students take to SPAN 332 is by enrolling first in SPAN 232: Spanish in the Community. This class, as many of you know, involves learning how to work within our community while volunteering in the same organizations for SPAN 332. However, I chose a slightly different route. I had signed up for SPAN 232 and a volunteer position, but for a number of reasons, I realized early on that the actual classroom setting was not going to cooperate with the rest of my schedule. I had to drop the class, but luckily I was able to keep my volunteering position.
Although SPAN 232 is a prerequisite for SPAN 332, my volunteer experiences were able to let me bypass the classroom requirement. Roughly twice a week (sometimes more or less, depending on the crazy schedules that so nicely come along with being a student), I spent an hour at Champaign Central High School helping English as a Second Language (ESL) students with their homework. About 4 or 5 of us, all college students-turned tutors, would come in and based upon the needs of students, decided what subject we wanted to work on that day. Although my college studies seem to dwarf my high school workload in terms of difficulty, let me tell you – relearning some of those 9th through 12th grade subjects were not a cake walk. International politics I can handle; advanced foreign language phonetics I can handle; calculus I can handle. But triangle proofs? Proper food safety? Basic biology? These were subjects that I know I had once had a grip on, but faced with a kid depending on me, I felt like an amateur.
The first few days threw me off a bit. There was a lot of me asking for a book or notes and a lot of “Pienso que es correcto, pero no estoy segura…” From talking to my fellow tutors, I wasn't the only one in this boat. However unsure I was in the help I was giving, each day kids kept eagerly coming to us for help. Our help, even when not completely solid at times, was huge to the kids. Even when I had to relearn the material off of their notes, I was helping the kids. As we went step by step through problems, they were able to get a better understanding, and I was able to point out where they were going wrong in their initial comprehension. A lot of the times, these kids didn’t need to be taught at all – they really just needed someone to reassure them that they were doing things right.
In the end, my work as a tutor at Champaign Central was a great experience. I was able to help the kids while learning about teaching and more so about the community that I’ve been a part of for the last four years. Before then, I had no idea just how international the C-U was outside of the University population. Within that one high school classroom, there were kids from Mexico, Guatemala, the Congo, Vietnam, and Korea among various others – before then, I had no idea that there was such diversity in central Illinois! My experiences gave me a taste of the impact and connections made through our Spanish and Illinois programs, and led me to signing up for SPAN 332 in hopes to get more deeply involved.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
After a minute, the woman behind the desk asked the woman if she needed someone who spoke Spanish, and the woman nodded yes. The lady behind the desk told her that the secretary would be back soon, and that she thought she spoke a little Spanish, but they would have to wait.
I stood there for a second not knowing what to do. I was afraid to offer to help the woman because what if my Spanish wasn’t as good as I thought it was and I couldn’t understand anything she was saying? But, on the other hand, what if the secretary comes back and doesn’t really speak any Spanish and the Hispanic woman would be helpless? I quickly weighed the two and understood what I had to do.
I turned to the Hispanic woman and said, “Hablo español.” She looked at me with relief and said, “De verdad?” And then she told me that she was there to pick up her son because he had a dentist appointment. I translated for the secretary and found out the boy’s name and helped them figure out which class he was in. Once everything was set, I started to leave and the woman turned to me with this look of pure graciousness and said, “Thank you.” I replied, “De nada.”
Situations like THAT are why I want to be bilingual.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Once again, I am responding to the great information in the latest issue of "The Generator," the National Youth Leadership Council's newsletter.
The "Teacher Tools" section focuses on the reflection stages: What?, So what? and Now what? Specifically, this issue invites us to consider how students can assess community needs in the "What?" stage and "go deeper" with meaningful service in the "Now what?" stage.
They provide very useful suggestions as to how students might begin to assess community needs:
- Conduct a neighborhood assessment, or “walkabout,” listing observable assets and needs in a defi ned area (the school yard, a single block or multiple-block area).
- Interview school board members or community council members.
- Survey classmates and teachers.
- Invite community agencies to a “service fair” held at the school; students can then hear a variety of agency perspectives.
- Convene a “Gathering of Elders” to assess persistent needs observed over longer lifespans.
- Map social assets such as different cultures, ethnicities, and age groups.
- Review headlines in the local paper.
- Compare local headlines to national and international headlines in papers of record such as the New York Times or Washington Post to find issues of local and global importance.
- Explore the feasibility of using Google Earth, GPS, a web solution or other technology-based approaches to discover, address, or communicate needs.
These are all wonderful suggestions, and I understand that the students should have a voice in choosing and designing the service work. However, when our university students only have 15 weeks to get into the community, contribute to the community and successfuly exit the community, I firmly believe that the service projects have to be already set up for them.
As an alternative, I think that these suggestions could be enacted in order for students to understand how the projects that they are working on were chosen, even if they didn't have a role in choosing them themselves.
Finally, the first suggestion is an important one but must be approached carefully. We do not want to set this up as a "field trip" to visit "the other."
We should also consider the opposite: inviting community members to visit our campus to tell us about our needs.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
We have a need for 2 translators this coming Sunday, Feb. 15th from about 5pm - 8pm at our clinic.
We will also need 2-3 translators on Thursday, Feb 19th from 1:30- about 6pm. If you could come for some of that time that would be great.
I appreciate your help,
Cristina N. Medrano, MD
CEO, Hope Community Health Center
507 South 2nd Street,Unit 1-A
Champaign, IL 61820
Office Phone: 217-352-0600
encountering inefficient policies. Direct contact “enabled [students] to connect to larger issues, both in the community and more generally in society.”
step toward a broader vision of tackling the problem on the local, national, and global levels. Thus service-learning projects that adhere to the standards help develop civic awareness and democratic citizenship (Root and Billig 2008)."
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The latest newsletter from the National Youth Leadership Council is chock-full of great information. (Thanks, Val, for posting it in the Ning group. Your links are so useful and always lead me to reflect--and act!--on my practice.)
If you're interested in community service learning, then I'd suggest reading through the whole newsletter. Here, I'd like to make some connections specifically to Spanish community-based learning.
Of the eight K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice, one article in this newsletter focuses on the first standard, "Meaningful Service" and lists the indicators for meaningful service. Although these standards are for K-12, they certainly hold truths for university educators doing community service learning as well.
I will focus on these indicators in this post and then explore the rest of the article in another post.
Meaningful Service Indicator #1: Service-learning experiences are appropriate to participant ages and developmental abilities.
Specific Issues of Concern for Spanish Community Service Learning (CSL): Spanish CSL instructors must determine two specific areas of students' developmental abilities: their linguistic abilities and cultural knowledge. Simply put: if students' Spanish fluency and accuracy is not high enough to successfully communicate with the Spanish-speaking community members, the service will not be meaningful for anyone involved. Students will be frustrated. Community partners' credibility may suffer. For example, if students produce written materials in Spanish that are full of mistakes and literal translations, their Spanish-speaking clients may view that organization as a place that does not meet their needs. Worse, bad Spanish could actually cause costly mistakes, accidents and mishaps. A lack of cultural understanding can lead students to work at cross-purposes with the clients. It can also cause them to simply confirm their pre-existing cultural stereotypes. (Darcy Lear and I have an article forthcoming in Hispania that addresses these potential problems.)
Meaningful Service Indicator #2: Service-learning addresses issues that are personally relevant to the participants.
Specific Issues of Concern for Spanish CSL: In theory, any student who has chosen to study Spanish beyond a language requirement would have a personal interest in a service project that involves speaking Spanish and learning more about Hispanic cultures. Beyond that, data I collected in 2008 shows that many students choose service projects that allow them to combine their love of Spanish with work that connects in some way to their professional goals and/or personal interests. So I think the take-away here for Spanish CSL instructors is this: community partner/project choice. Each semester I have about 10 community partners that students can choose among. This, of course, increases the administrative load--more community partners equals more communication, trouble-shooting and coordination.
Meaningful Service Indicator #3: Service-learning provides participants with interesting and engaging service activities.
Specific Issues of Concern for Spanish CSL: Each student has a different opinion about what is interesting and engaging. But in general, I find that students respond best when their actual duties in the community allow them to speak with native-speakers of Spanish, often. Although we know that students need to develop all four skills of their second language--speaking, listening, reading and writing--my hunch is that students prioritize speaking and listening. (Students, leave a comment to let me know if I am right or wrong!)
Meaningful Service Indicator #4: Service-learning encourages participants to understand their service experiences in the context of the underlying societal issues being addressed.
Specific Issues of Concern for Spanish CSL: While I certainly agree with this indicator, it sometimes feels like a huge burden to me. Latino immigration is at the axis of so many "underlying societal issues" that it can seem overwhelming. What policy issues should I teach? What must I leave out? How do I combine the teaching of these societal issues with the lesson plans that are necessary to simply gear students up to successfully serve in the Latino community, in Spanish and in culturally-appropriate ways? If students need instruction in how to take accurate telephone messages in Spanish, how do we go from that level of learning to the meta-analysis level of why so many Latina/o clients are leaving messages about court issues, translation needs, housing problems, etc.? Finally, I have often seen some students' eyes glaze over or become defensive when I ask them to link their work to deeper societal issues. Some students (not all!) seem to have completely divorced their interest in "Spanish" with the political issues that are tied to the language in our country, our state, our community.
Meaningful Service Indicator #5: Service-learning leads to attainable and visible outcomes that are valued by those being served.
Specific Issues of Concern for Spanish CSL:
I plan to devote some real thinking to this indicator and develop some activities around it. Too often, I find, "visible and attainable outcomes" are thought of as big outcomes or as the end point of a project. Instead, my students are engaged in on-going, day-to-day operations of the organizations where they work. So do they think their service has visible and attainable outcomes? Frankly, I don't know. How small can a unit of service be for students to still feel that it is a "visible outcome?" Greeting a client in Spanish? Filing a document correctly? Helping a student read one book? One page? And how is the outcome made visible to them? By the client's smile? Being told, "Gracias"? By seeing the test scores improve for an ESL student that they are tutoring?
This semester I’m enrolled in SPAN 332: Spanish and Entrepreneurship. The class focuses on social enterprise, businesses that exist in order to improve social conditions. By taking this class, I’ll get a first hand experience of working with a social business in our community.
Through this semester, I’ll be sharing my experiences as a volunteer at the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC). This is a non-profit organization in Urbana that dedicates itself to helping refugees and immigrants resettle in the area.
I’m excited to have this as a final send-off before I graduate. I feel like through taking this class, I’ll be able to get some incredibly useful experience while helping out what has been my community for the past four years (while practicing my Spanish and getting a great resume builder on top of it all!).
I’m still settling into my position at ECIRMAC, but after only working a handful of days, I feel like I’m starting to get a hang of things. So far, I’m really liking the work and the people, co-workers and clients alike. Although I have little experience in this line of work, everyone is quick to show that any help is greatly appreciated help!
As a final note, to anyone who is interested, ECIRMAC is going to be hosting their second annual fundraising dinner on February 28 (a Saturday), and they can use all the volunteers that they can get!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
2-step outside of your own experience and try to imagine you have not experienced this practice
3-what are possible reactions to that practice as seen from the outside?
The first assignment asks students to select something mundane from their own lives, but that others might not have experienced (being a member of a specific campus organization, a particular skill or talent, having lived abroad, a sibling with special needs--anything that they take for granted) and apply this three-step analysis.
In my next post I’ll talk about the follow-up activity I have students do.
When I was a new graduate student at the University of Illinois, I took his proseminar for foreign language teaching. I loved the way that he really practiced what he preached: he taught the seminar with exactly the same techniques that he told us to use in our own classes. I was enthusiastic but very green at the time. Seventeen years later, I think I have been able to practice many of the concepts he has researched and articulated as best practices in foreign language teaching.
In the January 2009 issue of The Language Educator, VanPatten outlines four fundamentals of language teaching (p. 5):
- The exchange of real information among participants is at the core of learning.
- There ought to be no focus on grammar or other formal properities of language unless meaning is simultaneously in focus.
- Language is bigger and more abstract than what we could ever teach, so all we are doing is providing a means for learners to bootstrap themselves into acquisition; the rest is up to them.
- Learners need lots and lots of input, and lots of interaction with speakers of the language.
However, how do we use our time in the classroom? Do we send our students out to the community to have real communicative exchanges and then revert to grammar drills in the classroom? Do we empower them to be in charge of their own learning in the community and then over-determine their learning in the classroom? Do we allow them to immerse themselves in Spanish in the community and then slip into English in the classroom if the topic is "too difficult?"
I have always had the most difficulty with #2. It seems that students ought to learn grammar the more we explain it to them. But of course that isn't how it works.
My goal: design a few grammar activities for my Spanish CSL courses that keep meaning in focus.
After reviewing Bill VanPatten's four cornerstones of effective language teaching, what's your goal?
Monday, February 9, 2009
For their first reflection assignment, students in SPAN 232 who hadn't started their work in the community yet had to visit this blog and write a reaction to one of the posts.
More students commented on "Are Spanish-Speakers from Venus and English-Speakers from Mars" than any other post. Students who have studied abroad have experienced these cultural "misunderstandings" themselves and have their own stories to tell. And students who haven't studied abroad yet understand that culture and language will be tied together when they begin their work in the community.
So I thought I'd mention the resources in this area that the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) offers:
- This page offers an array of information and tools for teaching pragmatics / speech acts.
- This summer they will offer a 5-day workshop on "Language and Culture in Sync: Teaching the Pragmatics of a Second Language." (Click here to see the full schedule of summer institutes.)
It's a great site to just take some time to explore. I especially liked the videos.
Now I haven't looked at every single video from every single speaker, but nothing emerged from my browsing that talked about language and culture. Nothing.
On the one hand you could say that means that they aren't important to entrepreneurship.
On the other hand you could say these entrepreneurs are missing out on some really great opportunities because language and cultural differences blind them.
by Megan Knight
This past week I started my volunteer work at Leal Elementary School. I work with two different classes: a first grade class and a fifth grade class. In the first grade class I worked one on one with the cutest little first grader named Maria. She read a story about bears and then I had to test her comprehension. We also used flash cards to test her vocabulary. It was very laid back and fun.
Now, the fifth grade class was a whole different ballgame. I was introduced to about 20 Hispanic fifth graders from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru. I was actually really nervous having to work with these kids because they understand so much more and they will notice if I conjugate a verb incorrectly or if I use the wrong word. They all seemed like really nice kids and we just worked on reading comprehension in their class as well, but I feel like they will keep me on my toes this semester! I’m hoping they’ll see me as more of a friend than a teacher’s assistant and hopefully we’ll be able to have some fun and THEY can help ME with my Spanish.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
La Casa Cultural Latina is looking for a student to facilitate its Convo Table.
- SPAN 232 students: This would allow you to learn more about the Latina/o community on campus at the same time you are working with Latinos off campus.
- SPAN 332 students: Want to change your team project? If you want to switch, just update your information on the wiki.
- Spanish Honors Students: This would make a terrific James Scholar Project for one student.
Act fast on this! Dean Lozano sent this message:
We would really like to find a student to facilitate the program so that we can start it up again this month.
Here is the specific information about being the Convo Table and being the Facilitator:
Please contact La Casa directly. This is a great opportunity that I'm sure will interest many, so contact them soon.
Guest blogger: Darcy Lear
One thing I tell my students is "one word is never enough." If you are using a single word to identify a person or group of people, you have vastly over-simplified. None of us are just brown or black or white; teachers or students; parents or employees.
Only by doing this at the individual level will our language students be able to open their minds to the kinds of diversity we are talking about across nations when we use the word "cultures."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm Levis Faculty Center
Professionals and distinguished alumni will talk about preparations for international careers in government and the non-profit sector.
Lynnea Johnson, Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER)
Brian Flora, Diplomat in Residence, University of Illinois in Chicago
Shari Stout, International Trade Specialist, US Department of Commerce
Meg Thilmony, Global Village, Habitat for Humanity
Carl Burkyble, Caring for Kenya
Ashlee McLaughlin, Peace Corps
Question and Answer Session with Panelists
I recently received this information from Julia Bravo Bello:
I am working with Alejandra S-Seufferheld, the outreach person in CLACS, in some projects for Hispanic/Latinos families and children in the BT. Washington school. This specific project “Spanish Story Time,” is an after school program for children from first grade to third grade. In this program we interact a bilingual story with music and art and craft. The program will start in the Douglas Branch Library on February 12 at 3:30 and will finish at 5:00 pm for first to third grades children. After 5:00 pm we will be working with children who are in fourth and fifth grade at Shadowood Community Center while another group at the same time “Hope and Community Health Center” will be working with families. We would like to ask you if you have any students from your program that will be interested in participating in this program. This program will occurs once a month starting in February 12th until May 5th.
Ann, If you have any students that could be interested in this project could you please ask them to contact us and we can go from there. Thank you very much.
Students: please contact Dr. Bravo Bello at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opportunity to really use your Spanish to interact with youth.
I also love to see how CLACS and Extension are working together with Hope Clinic to provide solutions that address "the whole family." Providing high quality educational child-care while at the same time providing health care is such a smart idea.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Some of the stories would make a good starting point for a lesson plan on cultural analysis in general or on specific cultural points.
And while these stories seem to concentrate on people experiencing culture shock when they are in a different country, I think it would be a great assignment or reflection prompt to ask students to read some of the entries on this blog first, and then relate any "culture shock" moments they have experienced in during their work in the community.
Culture of course could be defined more broadly than on the blog. It could be two national cultures in conflict. But in Spanish community service learning it could also be defined as:
- university culture versus professional culture
- youth culture versus "senior" culture (and I don't mean seniors in college)
- working class culture versus middle class or upper class cultures
- able-bodied culture versus people with disabilities culture
This semester I am teaching the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" First Year Seminar again and the theme is "Latino Youth."
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
- I didn't stand in front of the class and say, "Y para el martes tienen que tomar la primera prueba in Compass." "For Tuesday you have to take the first Compass quiz."
- I didn't stand in front of them and say, "Y las reglas para las reflexiones son un poco diferentes para esta clase que para SPAN 232." "The rules for this class's reflective essays are a little different than SPAN 232's rules."
- But I did say this to them in our first class meetings: "No les voy a decir qué hacer para esta clase; está todo escrito." "I'm not going to tell you what to do for this class; it's all written down."
- You tell people who arrive late not to do it again. In front of everybody.
- Your very first e-mail to us had a lot of information that we were supposed to read and instructions for us to follow.
- I added: the very first line of the very first message I wrote said, "If you don't have the prereqs for this course, you might as well stop reading right now and drop the course."
If a student was "reading me" she/he should get that I am serious, direct, and expect students to read and follow instructions on their own. I am other things as well (at least I think I am encouraging, engaged, interested in my students as people, etc.), but I was giving very clear messages about my expectations and my teaching style even before I met my students.
My students may not have appreciated being put through these passes. (Students: leave a comment--anonymously--if you want to say whether you hated or appreciated the activity!) But I think it just may have been one of the most important "lessons" about entrepreneurship that I will give them this whole semester. Not because I am important. Because being a good "people-reader" can get you far.
Because I live in Champaign and decided to volunteer at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, and because I do not own a car (a tragedy I know! Try explaining that to my parents!), I will be relying on the CUMTD to get me to the school. I’ve always been a stickler for being on time, and I’ve never enjoyed having to rely on others to take me places, so it’s a bit of a challenge for me to be at the mercy of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. It is nice to finally have an excuse to venture over into Urbana since I don’t usually spend much time there aside from when I’m in class. I really like the neighborhoods and the houses with all the trees and bushes surrounding them. I also really like that Leal appears to be in a pretty nice part of town and I feel safe walking around by myself there. Although it is somewhat of a hassle to have to wait for the bus and then walk about five blocks from the bus stop to the school, I think it’s good to take advantage of the free public transportation and have an opportunity to step out of my normal every day boundaries for once.
Hi! I am Megan Knight and I am taking Spanish 332, Spanish and Entrepreneurship.
- Do you leave your cell phone on when you work in the community?
- Do you have Facebook on in the background when you're working on a computer in the community?
- Do you look at your "gadget" every time you have an incoming message?
- Do you try to text while you think no one is looking?
Do not do these things. Period. Your participation grade will be lowered if you do this.
The message below is from Ms. Noyes at BTW, but the information applies to students working everywhere.
As volunteers begin working in classrooms at Booker T. Washington, please remind them of the importance of leaving their cell phones off while they are at our school. Apparently one of the volunteers was texting during interaction with students. I covered this during our orientation; however, sometimes this guideline needs to be reinforced. I assured the classroom teacher that we’d handle this.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The January 2009 issue of The Language Educator has an interesting section about social networking and language learning. (See my previous post about social networking and Spanish community service learning.)
In the articles, two language instructors detail their experiences using Facebook and Ning. But those two sites do not specifically target language learners. These sites compiled by The Language Educator, do:
Here's what students who want to do a James Scholar Learning Agreement for SPAN 208 or 228 can do:
- Choose one of the sites from the bulleted list above.
- Join and use the site for at least one hour a week for a total of at least ten hours.
- Go to this wiki, log your time on the site and briefly comment on what you did and what you thought about it.
- OJO: if you are unhappy with the site you chose, switch! Just note that on your log.
- By the last day of classes for the semester, write a tw0-page analysis of your experiences on the site(s) and upload it to the wiki.