Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What are the Connections between Project-based Learning and Community Service Learning?

Spanish community-service learning puts students into the middle of complex, real-world problems. Some problems my students have faced and helped chip away at include:
  • 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, 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.

Other ideas?


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