Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spanish Community-based Projects

The Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research's information on Project Work states the following:

"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.

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