Thursday, February 12, 2009

Part 2: What Makes Spanish Community Service Learning Meaningful?

Again, NYLC's latest newsletter is so full of good information that I want to continue picking up on its various threads.

In the Research section, Bjorn Lyngstad writes about "Creating Meaning, Addressing Needs" and specifices that, "Though meaningful service implies service that is perceived as benefi cial to its recipients and to the larger community, this article will focus on the importance of meaningfulness as defined by the service providers." He then goes on to connect relevant research results to the standard of "Meaningful Service."

A few things stood out to me as particularly relevant to Spanish CSL:

Quote: "Furco (2002) found that the students who were most strongly influenced by their service experiences were engaged in meaningful service activities that challenged them to some degree or ones in which they had responsibility and interest."

Spanish CSL: This immediately reminded me of one of the tenets of second language instruction: providing second language learners with lots of comprehensible input (i+1). Students learn when we provide them with a base of language that they can comprehend (i) but also challenge them with new language structures (+1). The same seems to be true with Spanish CSL; we cannot take students too far out of their comfort zone, but they do need to be challenged by the service work. I feel that my students comments and reflections prove that they are challenged in this way, but it is a question that I would like to explore more with them.

Quote: "Root and Billig (2008) affirmed that students found meaning in their service when they interacted with individuals faced with personal difficulties, confronting examples of injustice, or
encountering inefficient policies. Direct contact “enabled [students] to connect to larger issues, both in the community and more generally in society.”

Spanish CSL: When my students work with Latina/o students in the elementary schools, in bilingual education classrooms, with good teachers and smart kids, I don't think we can say that they are interacting with individuals facing the problems Root and Billing describe. In any case, those students are not facing more problems than any classroom full of children from diverse ethnicities, at different developmental stages, and from differing socio-economic backgrounds. Still, my Spanish CSL students almost all report feeling very connected to those students and the work being done in their classrooms. We need to be careful that neither our students nor we define the community members with whom they interact primarily in terms of their needs.

Quote: "Catalano and colleagues (2004) showed that participation in communities helped students develop stronger connections to the community norms and values, thereby contributing to community cohesion."

Spanish CSL: This is more difficult to achieve in a campus setting like the University of Illinois, when the vast majority of students did not grow up in the Champaign-Urbana community. Moreover, comming from the Chicago-area, they often feel absolutely no connection to the community-type that Champaign-Urbana represents--a small city surrounded by fields. They are at the university for four years and then leave. I think that many of my students would also feel that it would be too presumptious for them to feel "connected" to the Latina/o community or that membership in that community is based solely on ethnicity. Perhaps we would have to define "community" in some other way for this research to hold true for university students of Spanish.

Quote: "Students should be encouraged to analyze how the need they are addressing is but one
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)."

Spanish CSL: While this is difficult to achieve because of the complexity of the issues involved in Latina/o immigration (see previous post), this is indeed fundamental. I asked students one year ago if their experiences in their Spanish CSL course would affect their votes in the 2008 elections. Many said that it would, because their CSL work gave them greater insights into immigration as well as education policies.

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