Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning at Dickinson College

More and more Spanish departments are using community service learning in their curriculum. This video describes a course in medical Spanish at Dickinson College that incorporated service learning, and both the professor, Prof. Wendell Smith, and a student talk about its impact on learning, career goals and their community partner. You can read more about the course here.

One of the teams in my Spanish & Entrepreneurship course this semester is working on finding other community service learning programs and courses across the country. We can learn a lot from each other.

Congratulations to Prof. Wendell on the success with this course that has obviously had such good results.

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 2

by Ann Abbott

This student has beautifully narrated an important moment. It shows the child's learning. And hers.

José and I had been working on a reading assignment for a solid twenty minutes. The objective was to find vocabulary words the student did not understand, write them down, and define what they meant. José struggled the most with the spelling—it was hard for him to get the letters in the right order. José however was determined to make a strong finish. Finally he selected his last vocabulary word: magical. Hurriedly he told me to cover up the word in the book to see if he could spell it on the first try. With a dramatic sweep of the hands, I concealed the word on the page. José looked thoughtful as he formed the letters, keeping the results hidden from me until he completed the task. Then, he tentatively put his pencil down and revealed the “magical” word. Success! With bright eyes and a happy heart, he gave me one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen. Nothing can compare to seeing the look on a child’s face after he’s overcome a personal challenge.

This semester I have had the wonderful opportunity to tutor a student at Booker T. Washington Elementary School’s after school program, S.O.A.R. S.O.A.R. stands for “Student Opportunities for After-school Resources.” This program pairs a tutor with a specific student who is currently struggling with their school work and needs extra attention. Every Tuesday through Thursday, the students, many of whom are from Spanish-speaking families, stay after school until 5:00 pm to work with a tutor on everything from math to reading. Often, these children do not have the opportunity to speak English with their parents at home and need extra help to understand their homework. Therefore, it is critical that this program has enough volunteers to give these students a chance at success. The children in the S.O.A.R. program work very hard and benefit greatly from the help of university students, like you, who selflessly donate their time to give guidance to Booker T Washington students.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning and Campus Race Relations: A Talk To Shed LIght on Racial Representations

by Ann Abbott

The Tacos & Tequila controversy at the University of Illinois may no longer be fresh in students' minds, and the freshmen and sophomores now have no memory of that debacle. But it highlighted the deep divisions between campus and community that our Spanish community service learning courses attempt to bridge. When our students step into the community, they are representing our university, and SPAN 232 is designed to help students represent us well and continue the ties that we have formed. Even if none of our Spanish CSL students attended the party, their work is tarnished because the entire university has lost credibility in the community.

So, I'd like to draw your attention to tomorrow's talk sponsored by the Center for Advanced Studies:

From Looney Coons to Tacos & Tequila: The Aesthetics of Race in Middle Class America

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
7:30 pm
Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum
600 South Gregory Street
Urbana (View Map)

James D. Anderson
Gutgsell Professor of Educational Policy Studies

Jim Anderson explores the ways in which evolving forms of race and ethnic performance entered into and shaped the culture of middle class America from the late nineteenth century to the present. He begins with an analysis of the art and lyrics of minstrel sheet music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then traces its legacy through television, “playful” racialized antics in educated environments and into the theme parties of contemporary campus life. Then and now, race performances have supplied America’s middle class with fun and entertainment while offering up ethnic and race caricatures that have reinforced entrenched dynamics of race superiority, national identity and citizenship status.

Another Opportunity to Volunteer in Latin America This Summer

by Ann Abbott

After seeing the wonderful posts about our students who traveled to Latin America during Spring Break and volunteered or at least engaged with the culture more fully than a typical tourist, I hope that perhaps some of you are thinking about what you can do this summer. Here are some ideas:

"Here is an opportunity to support the intellectual curiosity of your students at University of Illinois. The Guatemala Summer 2009 program offers a healthy balance between meaningful volunteer work, cultural immersion, the option to study Spanish one-on-one, and the chance to explore the heart of the ancient Mayan world—all this while living with a Guatemalan family. Your students will gain an enriched understanding and appreciation of Latin American society, history, and culture through this cross-cultural exchange.

"We hope you will forward this email to your students to make them aware of this valuable opportunity.Sincerely,

"The Encountour Staff"

Spring Break: For Some Students It's a Chance to Continue with Spanish in the Community

Ann Abbott

Sevgi Sipahi is a current student in "Spanish in the Community." During spring break she traveled to Latin America to do some good work. Here are her words:

Over spring break I did a medical mission with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) in El Salvador. We worked in a clinic in a small community, Las Delicias, just outside of San Salvador. Our time was split up between doing work in the clinic, making house calls with the nurse, and checking the conditions of the homes with a program director. The nurse did not speak english and I was the only one in my small group who could speak spanish, so I had to translate for the other volunteers, and I also had the opportunity to interact with the community members. There is a school in Las Delicias that has about 400 students. We gave presentations on the causes of parasites as well as ways to prevent parasites. At the end of our presentation we administered anti-parasitic medication. The presentations were all in Spanish, and we had the chance to interact with the students during recess.

I applaud Sevgi's interactions with the community and her choice to use spring break as a way to travel and engage with important issues at the same time. Her experience brings some questions to mind:
  1. Does SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" help prepare students for international service work?
  2. How can students who go abroad to do this kind of work contribute to the curriculum of SPAN 232 so that all students can learn what they learned?
  3. What cultural insights to students gain on trips like this that they can then apply to their work here at home?
  4. Do students see any problems with the international "mission" work that they are involved in? For example, do they think the programs ever impose their own cultural assumptions on to the culture they are helping?
Leave a comment if you have any answers to these questions. Or if you have more questions! And take a look at the pictures that Sevgi has posted here and here.

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 1

As part of their midterm exam, my Spanish & Entrepreneurship students had to revise a fundraising letter they wrote for a previous reflective essay. The letters included anecdotes and descriptions of the work that their community partners do, and I want to share some of them here. I'll post one a day for several days.

Anecdote 1

I work at Leal School, an elementary school in Urbana. Leal has classrooms for kids who are native English speakers and for those who come from Spanish-speaking families with little ability to speak English. When the students are better able to speak English, they are then integrated into classrooms where English and Spanish are spoken together. I work in a 2nd grade classroom, with students who speak little English, and the instruction is mainly in Spanish.

Leal School really needs help in its Spanish-speaking classes. There are many kids in each class, and the individual attention they receive from the tutors helps them immensely. Working with these kids is very rewarding. Every day that I help out, it is clear that the students are learning more and more. When I first started volunteering, one student asked me for help all the time. When the teacher would assign a project in class, his hand shot up instantly every time because he wanted help and didn’t want to try it himself. However, as time goes on, I’ve helped him realize that if he thinks it through and puts his mind to it, he can come up with his own ideas for each project. Seeing him and the other students progress is rewarding and makes me feel like I made a difference in these kids’ lives.

Student Reflection: The Glory of Hostels

by Sarah Moauro

As you can see from my previous post, I did a bit of traveling in Mexico over this past Spring Break. Being a college student, especially a senior, means that I am on an extremely limited budget, making my most logical choice of sleeping accommodations the ever so brilliant hostel. Beyond meeting the needs of a penny pincher, hostels are much more than a cheap bed and shower (and much safer than certain gore flicks make them out to be). More than anything, they are a great place to meet a variety of people traversing from all parts of the world on all sorts of adventures.
The Hostel Amigo of Mexico City lived up to both sides of the deal, giving me a fantastically affordable place to call it a night while introducing me to some interesting and inspiring travelers. Over the course of a few nights, I was able to meet three people in particular who fit right into the core values of Spanish and Illinois.

I came across the first two of these three upon my first night at the hostel. After a long day of traveling and wandering around the capital city, I decided to sit down at the hostel bar to grab a Coke and wind down. Next to me were two blonde girls with great tans and unfamiliar accents. Within a short time, conversation had sparked up and I was introduced to Nina and Minna from Sweden. These two friends were on their last day of a three month trip across the Caribbean and Mexico. Intrigued, I asked them what had been their favorite leg of the journey, and without the slightest hesitation, Nina answered with the Dominican Republic. While the rest of their stops had been the usual tourist bit, their time at the DR was spent volunteering for community development and education programs within Santo Domingo. Although the conversation was interrupted and I lack some of the details, I do know that the few weeks of work in the DR were simply not enough for the two.

As the night went on and the hostel atmosphere became more sociable, I eventually met a trekker on the opposite travel timeline of Nina and Minna yet with similar goals in mind. Just in the first few weeks of his travels, Sasha was a recent high school grad and soon-to-be college student from London. While most of his friends were roaming around Europe or finishing off school, Sasha decided to travel to a bit of the U.S. and into Mexico for a couple of months. Having just arrived in Mexico City, he was getting his last bit of traveling in before heading to Mérida to volunteer as a teacher for the bulk of his weeks abroad. Listening to him speak over the next couple of days, excited with the anticipation of his work, I felt like we definitely had ambitions in common, ambitions shared by all of us involved in community based learning. And so here is one or the hostels, providing a place for people to encounter others with similar goals and inspiring stories.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Latin American Businesswoman to Guest Speak in "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" Course

On Thursday, April 9th, Ms. Ruth Malcom will visit my Spanish & Entrepreneurship course. (Click here for time and place.) Ms. Malcom is originally from Guatemala. There are at least 20 extra seats in our room, so I invite others to join us if they would like.

Ms. Malcom currently works at ISS, Inc. in Champaign, and she describes her previous work experience as follows:

"I worked in different countries as a strategic planning and management consultant, research and development and quality control manager for the food industry, sales representative and Spanish interpreter. Some of the organizations that I have worked for are: PCA, S.A. (consulting firm), Nestle, Pollo Campero, Univeler, Molinos Modernos, Unipharm, PUMA Energy, Georgetown University, and Alimentos Ideal among others."

Our topic for that week is "Entender y atraer a los clientes"/"Understand and Attract Clients," but I have asked Ms. Macom to touch on the following:
  • Share some projects that she worked on while working in Latin American companies and countries.
  • Describe the Latin American business culture as she experienced it.
  • Recount any problems she encountered due to cross-cultural practices and expectations or language issues.

SPAN 332 students, please do two things:

  1. Leave a comment here with a question or comment for Ms. Malcom. Let her know what you're interested in, what you'd like to know about working in Latin America or with Latin Americans, etc.
  2. Check your schedule. I would like to invite two of you to have lunch with Ms. Malcom and me at Timpone's at 11:30 on April 9. I'll collect the names of those who are available on Thursday, and randomly pick two. (If you have another suggestion about how I should choose, let me know!)

Student Reflection: Spring Break South of the Border

by Sarah Moauro

Although for the past week classes have been out and I have been far away from the C-U, Spring Break has not caused a hiatus in my Spanish studies. Going against the wishes of both my parents and the U.S. government, I ventured across the border into Mexico for this year’s Spring Break. Having set our minds on our southern neighbor long before the travel warnings were issued, two close friends and I did indeed take note of the travel warnings as they arose but deemed our destinations fit for travel. Rather than have the typical college-break experience in Cancún or Cabo San Lucas (although I’m not knocking those who did), we decided upon our sites in hopes for a cultural experience as well as warm getaway, visiting first the town of Zihuatanejo on the Pacific and then the metropolis, Mexico City.

Spending time in these two locations allowed for my friends (one a fellow Spanish 332 student) and me to experience the culture of the homeland of many of the people whom we work with in our community. In Zihuatanejo, an old fisherman’s town and beach-goers destination, we walked through the main mercado filled with fresh food and vendors, toured the town, talked with locals and, of course, worked on our tans at some of the beaches. In Mexico City, we walked down major avenues, visited parks and museums, explored some neighborhoods, and made friends with our hostel-mates.

Although we didn’t get any direct contact with social enterprise during our trip, although I’m sure it’s active within the two cities, certainly D.F., I feel that I exponentially expanded my understanding of Mexican culture and the background of many of the people who I work with and for. The two cities offered me a glimpse into two vastly different lifestyles yet general similarities that seem to exist throughout the culture. The people I encounter at ECIRMAC come from the same variety of places – of the many from Mexico, some come from major urban areas and others from much smaller towns. Through my trip, I was able to gain many useful experiences, ranging from an improvement on my Mexican Spanish to simply a general reference point from which I can feel more connected with many of the people I encounter here in the C-U. Reflecting upon my past week, this trip was one risk well worth taking.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)

by Ann Abbott

Have you ever experienced a moment of culture shock in your own country, in your own language and in a context you've experienced many times?

That happened to me recently, and it really made me think more deeply about what we mean by culture in foreign language teaching in general and in Spanish community service learning specifically.

I took my six-month-old baby, Francesco, for his well-baby appointment with our family practitioner. Since Francesco is our third child and we have had the same doctor from the very beginning, I know exactly what to expect: questions about typical milestones, admonitions about safety, a physical exam by the doctor and shots by the nurse. I'm also very aware that culture plays a heavy hand in both the content and style of these visits, but when you're going through it for the third time you do it on auto-pilot.

But there was one small change in procedure this time: they asked me to fill out a questionnaire about the baby's progress. A questionnaire touted as "simply worded and appropriate for parents from diverse backgrounds."

The instructions said, "Be sure to try each activity with your child before checking a box." I began to quickly check off the boxes. Francesco is developing just fine. But then I came to these two questions about fine motor skills:
  1. Does your baby successfully pick up a crumb or Cheerio by using her thumb and all her fingers in a raking motion? (If she already picks up a crumb or Cheerio, check "yes" for this item.")

  2. Does your baby pick up a crumb or Cheerio with the tips of his thumb and a finger? He may rest his arm or hand on the table while doing it.
I was stunned. I don't give my baby Cheerios, and I don't give him crumbs. And this questionnaire was telling me that I had to do it before I could mark it off. The pressure!

I did what any experienced mom would do: I marked the yes box, left the questionnaire on the doctor's desk, and left the clinic so Francesco wouldn't miss his nap.

What does this have to do with culture?

Diet and culture. These questions were not appropriate for "parents from diverse backgrounds." I have been on four continents and visited many countries. In my experience, only Anglos eat packaged, processed cereal for breakfast. I'm sure that most parents who have managed to preserve the diet from their country of origin do not have Cheerios at home. And are those the only two choices: Cheerios or crumbs? People are judgemental enough about how parents raise their kids. Imagine telling people that you feed your kid crumbs.

Parenting and culture. All cultures manage to raise healthy, intelligent children. But they all do it in different ways. When my other two children were little, we spent a lot of time in Italy at my in-laws' home. I quickly learned that parenting has very different "rules" from one culture to the next. While this is of course a gross generalization, my conclusion based on my experiences with babies in Italy came down to this: Italians want to have clean, beautiful babies. Thus, they spoon-feed their babies for a much longer time than most parents from the US. Letting your kid pick up food and feed herself is messy.

I also learned that soups are considered "healthy" foods for babies and toddlers. Italians (and many other cultures) don't have Cheerios in the house in the first place. And if they did, their babies wouldn't be picking them up off the highchair tray during mealtime.

Finally, there are very few finger foods in the typical Italian diet. Table etiquette, even at home, is more formal than in the US. To eat an apple, you pick it up in your hands, but you peel it with a knife and then cut it into slices before you eat it. Opening wide and biting a hunk out of an unpeeled apple seems barbarian to them.

All to say, letting your child feed himself Cheerios or crumbs is a very culturally specific concept.

Meals and culture. The US is a snack culture. I have known some families that seem to never sit down for a meal--and certainly not all together--because they snack all day long. They snack and watch tv. They snack and walk. They snack and talk. And a lot of parenting advice you read in the US is about doling out snacks to kids so that they won't get hungry and grouchy. Many parents pick up their kids from preschool with snacks in the car; God forbid your kid dies of hunger during the ten-minute ride home.

In other cultures, people eat meals. Together. With whole foods. With more than one course. Taking their time. Then they're finished. Kitchen closed. Floor swept. And the family car's backseat isn't littered with broken Cheerios and rancid milk spills because they eat at the table, not on the go. Why give your baby Cheerios or crumbs when a filling meal is just around the corner?

Consumer culture. Culture doesn't just consist of the nation you come from. We all live in a consumer culture, but I try to distance myself from it as much as possible. The world of baby products is a total racket. Think about the things they sell to us that we don't need. Shoes for newborns. Jars of baby food. (You really can't boil a carrot and mash it with a fork? If you buy jars of pre-smashed bananas you should just open your wallet and say, "Go ahead and take all my money since I'm too busy to peel a banana myself.") Themed nurseries. Cheerios. Buy, buy, buy, buy! The instructions told me that I had to give my kid Cheerios (or crumbs) before I could turn in the questionnaire. I was not going to go shopping for this test. But the consumer culture was implicit in those two items.

What does this all mean? Yes, I know, these were just two simple questions, and I have blown them out of proportion. But just like a photographer blows up a photograph to observe the details, that's also how we can begin to really "see" culture in action.

When our foreign language students are sitting in a classroom, culture consists of photographs in a textbook, a slide show, a trip to a museum, a click on the web or a classroom visit by a "native informant." But when our students interact with native speakers in the community on a regular basis, we have a chance to let students be "culture detectives." To ask them to bring out the magnifying glass and "blow up" the traces of culture--including their own--that all too often remain unexamined.

I certainly don't believe that any culture is better or worse than US culture. I don't think it's better to give Cheerios or to not give them. But we cannot assume that everyone does what we do. Or assume that the "rules" for raising kids and measuring their progress are universal.

I'll cover more on this topic in future posts.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Student Reflection: Risky Business

by Megan Knight

Last week for Span 332 we had to write our “Reflexión” about how risks are related to learning a foreign language. It took me a minute to think how risks are involved because I had never really considered learning Spanish as something that was risky. However, when I sat there and thought about it, I realized you really do have to take a lot of risks when trying to learn a foreign language.

Learning another language forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and interact in situations where you normally might not. Studying abroad is a perfect example of the risks you have to take to learn a foreign language. When you study a language in college, everyone assumes that you will study abroad because that is how most people become fluent. Going to a completely new country where everyone speaks a different language forces you to speak that language and be completely immersed in it. And a lot of times you might not know how to say something in this language, but reverting to your native language usually will not help, so you have to figure out other ways of explaining something or act out whatever it is you are trying to say.

I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile last spring and during orientation the study abroad coordinators there made us all take risks. It was the second day that we were there and we were staying in a really nice hotel. The coordinators divided us into groups of three and gave us a map and a piece of paper with something written on it. We then had 4 hours to go wander around the city and try to find whatever was on our paper. My group had to find three different stores that were selling men’s underwear and compare the prices. Needless to say, this day was full of risks. No one knew anyone in their group because we all had just met the day before, no one knew where anything was located in the city or how to use the public transportation to get to any of these places, and few people were capable of understanding the Chilenos whom they asked for help (if they were brave enough).

While during the exercise I was on the verge of a panic attack, afterward I realized that it was a great way to break the ice with the people in my group, practice my Spanish, and get to know the city. It was a really risky thing to do, but in the end everybody benefited from it, because risks are necessary for learning a language.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writing Theme at Language Symposium

by Ann Abbott

I received an e-mail today about the Language Symposium 2009 at Northwestern University. This year's them is "From The Quill to the Wiki: Writing Toward Fluency" and the keynote address is "Writing for Acquisition in Context-Based Foreign Language Classes" by Charlene Polio from Michigan State University.

I presented at this symposium several years ago and really got a lot out of it. It was a small forum, and people presented very innovative work.

Given the fact that reflection is such an integral part of community service learning, more work needs to be done to understand the ties between writing, language acquisition and experiential learning. How can we approach students' reflective writing in ways that integrate the best practices of second language acquisition combined with the best practices of community service learning? Here are some basic ideas, but I would love to hear other people's suggestions:
  • Make the reflective writing have an audience beyond the instructor. Perhaps through a public blog?
  • Make the reflective writing have a purpose. Could students write about their learning experiences as a way to promote the nonprofit they work in? Could the organization use those reflections in their marketing materials?
  • Provide sufficient vocabulary and grammatical scaffolding. Students really need a lot of support to know how to write basic things like "to volunteer" in Spanish. And they need that help over and over again.
  • Provide feedback that is useful for language acquisition as well as learning through reflection. That doesn't mean that we need to correct every grammar mistake!
What else would you put on the list?

Students: Volunteer Abroad Opportunity

I know that a lot of Spanish students double major with premed and want to have the opportunity to develop their Spanish skills for a clinical setting. There are some obvious risks involved with using students with developing language skills in a medical setting. But there are benefits, too.

A former University of Illinois student has created a nonprofit organization to organize volunteer trips to Ecuador. Volunteering in a medical context is just one of the opportunities. I don't have any personal, first-hand knowledge of these programs, but you can read more about them here.

Student Reflection: Unforeseen obstacles and new solutions

by Natalie Bodman

I really enjoy and look forward to going to tutor every week. Its fun for me and I can really see improvements with my student each week, which is encouraging! Once a schedule is set, it is easy for the student to get a rhythm down. For example, during the after school program we have set times for everything. After I have gotten to know my student better, I realize what works for him and what doesn’t. I have learned a lot through trying different methods that the advisors of the program suggested. I also realized how important it is to think outside of the box, especially when working with a student after they have been in school all day. This week the students in the fourth grade are taking ISATs, the standardized tests for the state of Illinois. After having tests all day long was struggling to do his homework and did not want to focus. I decided to use his strengths to come up with a strategy for getting his work done.

  1. I gave him the power of the decision making, I let me decide what we would do first, reading, playing a game, or working on multiplication.
  2. I let him use his extra energy towards educational games and as energy to get excited to do the activities.
  3. I used the ideas of his interests to motivate him to complete his work.

By letting him guide the afternoon, it was easier for him to focus because he was the one deciding what he wanted to do.

I also was really proud of him because, for his reading homework, which is normally a struggle because he does not like to read, he brought out a book about superheroes, and while he still asked a few times how much longer and how many more pages, he seemed really interested and would ask questions about what was happening and different words, that I helped him answer for himself. He was overall really interested in the story and was having fun.

These types of moments are my favorite because I see what really works for him and then use that to come up with ideas on how I can use that to come up with other strategies and ways to keep him interested and having fun with schoolwork.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How to Talk about Depression and Therapy in Spanish

by Ann Abbott

Lissette Piedra, my colleague in the School of Social Work, sent me a manual that describes a therapy model for depression--in Spanish.

Obviously, Spanish community service learning students are not capable of doing therapy. But depression shows up anywhere and everywhere, so it is good to have the vocabulary to be able to talk about it. School children can be depressed. Adults might come into the Refugee Center to talk about something else but exhibit signs of depression.

There are some typos in the manual, but the information and the vocabulary are a good resource.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

by Natalie Bodmer

By now the student is less shy and more comfortable with me. I have also learned that it is helpful to read the notes from the teacher and the other tutors to get a good idea of the work the student did in the past week. I have also gotten used to predicting what the student needs to work on and what concepts he has trouble with sometimes. In the fourth grade they are putting emphasis on learning the multiplication tables. After learning about the English as a second language programs verses bilingual classrooms I went into teaching this week with all those concepts in mind.


  • After a whole school day, spending even more time doing homework is difficult
  • Multiplication tables are difficult to explain, or teach without the direct memorization
  • Division is also difficult to understand the first time students learn it


  • Make compromises about doing one homework problem and then play a game so that it is not all work
    Explain the relationship between addition and multiplication
    Use concrete examples to show the concept of division

My student is also bilingual but more comfortable with his Spanish and speaks Spanish with all of his friends. Since he is more comfortable with his Spanish I use Spanish to explain the concepts of fractions and practice the multiplication tables. As a group they then review the multiplication tables in English. My student is able to transfer all of what he learned in Spanish to English because he understands the concepts; it is just a matter of realizing the synonyms.

I really enjoy working in a school and especially having the chance to work one on one with a student to really see the progress he is making. I also enjoy working in the community and learning how students learn in different environments. This experience has been eye-opening since throughout all of my grade school education there was not any bilingual or ESL programs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Student Reflection: The challenge of teaching

by Natalie Bodmer

The second week, I went to the school, looking forward to working with my student again. This week he greeted me with a big smile and told me right away, in Spanish, that he needed help with his math homework. This corresponded closely with the work we were doing in class. We had just reviewed all the vocabulary for the different math operations. So I felt confident that I would be able to help him with his math.

His math worksheet had one side in English and the opposite side with the exact same problems in Spanish. At first he flipped to the English side, and I told him that we could do the homework in the language he wanted, so he flipped it over to the Spanish side. I ultimately worked through his homework with him in Spanish.

The challenge was different than I was expecting. I was worried that I would not be able to teach a concept in Spanish, however, the challenge was that I had to come up with a way to teach a concept that I no longer even thought about the process of. I had to think of a way to explain multiplication, and come up with different ways of explaining it when he didn’t see it the first time. Speaking Spanish was not the issue.

The approach I took was to take his strengths and use them to explain a new concept he was having trouble with. He is really good at addition and so I decided to explain multiplication in terms of addition. It was really encouraging to see his progress and how he was improving so quickly.

I really enjoy this particular program that the course offered as an option to become involved in the community, because it allows for the independence to come up with creative ways to help the student on my own. This program also allows me to follow up with the same student each week and see the progress he makes.

Natalia Crespo: Former Spanish in the Community Instructor Finds Success at Michigan Tech

by Ann Abbott

Just as I like to feature the successes of our Spanish community service learning students on this blog, I also like to share good news about our talented instructors.

Natalia Crespo was a graduate student in our department when she taught SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community." As always, Natalia was a thoughtful and engaged instructor, challenging her students at the same time that she supported their work in the classroom and in the community.

Natalia graduated and moved on to a job at Michigan Tech. You can click here to read about her work in their Humanities Department. Just the other day, Natalia wrote to me with some good news:

"I'm glad to let you know that I have been offered a tenure track position here at Michigan Tech University! Fernando and I like very much this place and I am very excited with the idea of settling down here and start planning long-term projects after so many moves we had in the past."

She also told me some things that she is doing in her teaching at Michigan Tech:

"Since I arrived here, I have been teaching classes that meet three times a week and I have implemented the use of the computer lab every Friday. What we do is basically the kind of activities I used to teach in the Composition class at UIUC (Span 214). We work a lot with the web, we use YouTube videos for practicing listening activities and I have students record "informes", an activity that consists in making a dialogue in front of the web cam (something similar to the "diarios digitales" in "Spanish for the Community")."

We were lucky to have Natalia as a student and TA in our program, and I was especially fortunate to have someone with her maturity and talents teaching "Spanish in the Community." I'm glad to see that some of the things we do at the University of Illinois have transferred to MTU with her.

Natalia is also a very talented writer. You can read some of her published work here.

Congratulations on your success, Natalia. And thank you for your contributions to the Spanish & Illinois program while you were here.

Natalia Crespo

Can Rick Steves Teach Us Anything about Spanish Community Service Learning?

Today is the last day of classes before our Spring Break. Many of our Spanish community service learning students will be traveling within the US and abroad during their vacation. ¡Buen viaje! I wish everyone a safe trip and fun experience.

My question today, then, is this: What is the relationship between travel and Spanish community service learning?
  • Do CSL students who have traveled and/or studied abroad, make better Spanish CSL students?
  • Do Spanish CSL students then make better travelers?
Of course I suspect the answer is yes to both questions. If you have ever been "the other" yourself, you probably have a keener insight into how to treat marginalized "others" in your community with respect and diginity. If you have ever been a non-native speaker of the dominant language, you probably go the extra mile to help non-native speakers in your own community. If you've ever worked through the tangle of cross-cultural misunderstandings, you probably transfer that experience and knowledge to your work in a multicultural setting in your home country. And vice versa.

Travel is such a rich, complex and fraught topic, and I love how this interview with Rick Steves tackles it so intelligently. We can learn so much when we travel. And we can also learn so much when we engage deeply with the many cultures that exist within our own communities.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sin nombre: A Movie of Interest to Spanish Community Service Learning Students

While our goals for students who do community service learning is for them to learn language and culture, we also want them to be better informed about immigration issues so that they can better critical thinkers about the immigration debate in our country.

When our students form relationships with Latina/o immigrants, they can think about immigration issues with a real person in mind, not some phantasm created from fear and racism. In our program at the University of Illinois, students who work at the Refugee Center in particular hear immigration stories (sometimes horrific ones). And because the Refugee Center works with immigrants, refugees and asylees from around the world, our students who work there also can see that immigration is a global phenomenon--not the "US versus Mexico" image that so many want to project.

Sin nombre is a film about one type of immigration story. It was very successful at Sundance, and I saw this interview with the director on While the immigrants my students work with are very different than those portrayed in this film, I still think Spanish community servie learning students will be interested in this movie. The more we know about the realities that immigrants come from, the better we can understand their motivations--for me, that is what lies at the heart of immigration reform as well.

One last note about the video clip above: I noticed immediately that the actors use vos. That's one of those verb forms that we tell students in typical Spanish classes that they can ignore, along with vosotros. We teach them "standard Spanish" (as if that actually existed), and then when they work in the community they encounter people from Central America who use vos. Do students need an introduction to vos when they do Spanish community service learning? If you know that many of the immigrants in your community come from regions where vos is used, then yes, students will need to be instructed in its use. At least to be able to recognize it and understand it when others use it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning and "Gestos": How to Speak the Language of Gestures

by Ann Abbott

I concentrate a lot on creating teaching materials that help my students improve their spoken Spanish and listening comprehension in order to work effectively in the community.

However, just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend, and at a certain point I didn't understand what she was saying. Actually, I didn't understand because she wasn't saying anything--she was waving her fingers in opposite directions. I missed the meaning of our conversation because I didn't understand her gesture! Turns out, the gesture "said" this: to be coming and going, going out a lot, going in different directions, having two things going on at the same time, etc.

If it happens to me, it must happen to our students in the community as well.

What gestos have stumped you? Or if you're a Spanish-speaker, have you ever been confused by any gestures that Americans use?

Some useful resources: here and here.

Claudia Quintero Ulloa: Telling Her Own Stories and the Community's

by Ann Abbott
Although my "Spanish in the Community" students have probably never met Claudia Quintero Ulloa (pictured, left), she has played an important role in the course. She worked at Nuevos Horizontes and created the on-line quizzes to accompany the radio programs students listen to for homework.

This year Claudia has taught in our department. I visited her "Spanish Composition" course and was delighted by her energy, organization and rapport with the students.

And just the other day Claudia stopped by my office to talk to me about a writing workshop program she will begin with Latinas in our community. She has bold plans! In her workshop, women can build their writing skills, tell their immigration stories (and others, of course), and learn computer skills at the same time.

So I am not surprised to see now that Claudia herself is a writer. She has an essay in the new book A Narrative Compass. Congratulations, Claudia! Be sure to visit the companion website and read the first page of her essay--it left me curious to read more, and to buy the book.

Here is the note I received from Claudia:

Dear friends and colleagues,

The new book “A Narrative Compass,” in which I’m a contributor, has just been published.

This fine volume is edited by Betsy Hearne and Roberta S. Trites. The University of Illinois Press and the book's editors think that this title would be an excellent text for upper division and graduate classes.

Here is a link to the book's web page:

Also, there is an interactive website. You can access it at where you'll find an intro page, essay samples, scholar photos and bios, an interactive forum called "Your Narrative Compass," an FAQ, and related links.

Your cooperation and support to promote the book among your friends, family, and colleagues are much appreciated.

ll the best,

Claudia Quintero

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Happens to Immigrants Who Are Detained?

by Ann Abbott
Not only is Spanish community service learning a wonderful tool for teaching Spanish and culture to our students, it also forces them to analyze many of the socio-political beliefs that they and others they know hold about immigration and criminality.

Even though our local community has not experienced a large-scale redada (raid), our students have seen some of the people they meet in the community "disappear."

A report out today shows that most of the detained undocumented immigrants in our nation's jails are not criminals.

It's important that our students learn the facts about immigration and the challenges immigrants face, not the hype. Reports like this one can be the basis of how we help our students to think about immigration policies in this country.

Domestic Violence and Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott
The unsettling news about Rihanna and Chris Brown have brought domestic abuse to the attention of all, especially young people. It's upsetting to see the news items that show that some young people blame Rihanna. And it's upsetting to see that even today, there are many misunderstandings about domestic abuse and its victims.

On the other hand, this celebrity case has pushed this issue to the forefront, and it is, as they say, a teachable moment. I've seen several very informative article about abouse among teen couples, and about the long-term effects on women who survive domestic abuse.

A Woman's Place (the woman's shelter program within the umbrella organization of A Woman's Fund) is one of our community partners. When we first met, the counselors there told me that when Latinas came to the shelter, many of them would just turn around and leave because no one spoke Spanish. Language, culture, access, legal status, these are all issues that Latinas have to consider on top of all the other things all domestic abuse victims must face.

Although just a few of our students work at A Woman's Place, I plan to create a lesson plan about domestic violence for our Spanish in the Community course. Students need the language and cultural knowledge to be able to work effectively at A Woman's Place. And those who don't work there can learn about how to spot the warning signs in whatever organization they work in.

The Rihanna case shatters many of the old stereotypes of domestic violence that still exist around race, class and age. It provides (unfortunatley) a teachable moment for our Spanish community service learning students as well.

Here are some resources that I'll be pulling from to write the lesson plan:

Student Reflection: How I decided where to volunteer in the community

by Natalie Bodmer

I wish I would have learned about this course earlier during my college experience because I would have loved to volunteer at all the places offered. The webpage gives a wide variety of different options for choices of where to do the community work part of the class. The webpage also gave a description of what the work would be like for each choice. I found things I liked about each one.

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to work in a school because of my interest in the education system and learning about the different types of programs that are offered to bilingual students. I decided to participate in the S.O.A.R. program at Booker T. Washington School.

What really grabbed my attention was that this tutoring program offered students one on one help with school work and allowed the tutors to act as mentors. I really liked the idea of forming a bond with a student and hopefully making a difference in their life.

Volunteers Needed at Latino Youth Conference at the University of Illinois

photo: Jessica Ayala and Mike Hedge

Jessica Ayala has been a wonderful student in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course this semester. She's engaged, prepared and always has something to add to the conversation. So when she told me that she was involved in organizing the Latino Youth Conference on campus, I wasn't surprised to see that she's also engaged in the community and creating value for Latino youth.

SPAN 232 and 332 students: You can volunteer at this event and use the hours towards your total of 28 for the semester.

Here are more details from Jessica:

I am pleased to announce that the LYC committee has been working hard to plan the conference. We now need your help to truly make the difference.

The Latino Youth Conference (LYC) will take place April 17, 2009 from 8:00AM-2:30PM at the Union. I want to invite your RSO to volunteer! The conference this year will be bigger than last years. We expect about 125 high school students from across East Central Illinois. Since we anticipate so many students we will need all the help we can get.

We will hold mandatory volunteer trainings on April 6, 2009 at 6:00PM or April 14, 2009 at 5:00PM at La Casa. Please pick one time to attend.

If you or your RSO is interested in volunteering please contact me or Jessica Ayala at as soon as possible before the orientations!

Please feel free to forward this information to anyone that might be interested.

Thanks and hope to hear from you soon.

Jessica Ayala

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Student Reflection: Why I decided to take SPAN 232

by Natalie Bodmer

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Natalie and I am a senior, graduating in May with a double major in Spanish and Chemistry. Spanish has always been a passion of mine, so I decided to double major in Spanish when I was a freshman. My Spanish classes always came as a welcome change to the huge lecture halls my Chemistry classes were in. In my Spanish classes I was able to practice my speaking and work with other students in a smaller classroom. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain the fall semester of my junior year, which was one of the best experiences of my life! Living with a local family who did not know any English really immersed me in the culture and I could see how rapidly my Spanish was improving by using it all day, every day. When I came back, I missed speaking Spanish outside of class. I also missed using my Spanish in the community, and felt like I was losing all the progress that I had made while I lived in Spain. I had heard about the Spanish in the community course and everyone I talked to said they it was a wonderful experience.

Reasons why I signed up for Span 232:

  • To use my Spanish outside of the classroom, and more specifically practice speaking Spanish more

  • To become more involved in the community in which I had been attending school for over 3 years

Friday, March 13, 2009

How to Bring up Your Spanish Community Service Learning in a Job Interview

by Ann Abbott

I have always sustained that Spanish community service learning provides students with really important pre-professional experiences.

But what good are those experiences if students' potential employers don't know about them? I have activites and test items that ask students to "translate" their Spanish CSL experiences into resume items, cover letter content and interview answer material.

So this item on "How to Answer 10 Tough Interview Questions" caught my eye. Spanish community service learning won't give you the magic answer for all ten of those questions, but for students who are going out into a very tight job market with perhaps very little experience under their belts, they should certainly draw from their Spanish CSL experiences as much as possible. The key is translate those experiences in key ways:

  1. Detail what you accomplished, not just your duties.
  2. Tell what you learned from the experience.
  3. Explain how what you learned is applicable to the job you're interviewing for.

With that in mind, here are some of the article's "10 Tough Questions" and how a Spanish CSL student might answer. (For some, I have left the original wording and added information about Spanish CSL in italics.)

Tough question: "Tell me about yourself."
Suggested answer: "I graduated from University X and while I was there I studied X and Y. In particular, I took a course that required that I work in a professional setting with local Spanish-speakers. Among other accomplishments, I helped ten clients fill out their tax forms, all in Spanish, and for my team project we made a step-by-step video explaining in Spanish how to fill out the simplest tax form; we posted it to YouTube, and it has had 2,000 views so far. While I have enjoyed the challenge of working in a local not-for profit, I'm looking to put my communication and technology skills to use in [your sector]."

Tough question: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Suggested answer:
"I want to secure a civil engineering position with a national firm that concentrates on retail development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing firm has to offer. I also know your company reaches an international market, and I'd like to grow into work in which I travel and utilize the language and culture skills I developed during my Spanish service learning work. The Latino market will be even bigger in five years, and I'd like to help your company build those relationships."

Tough question : "What are your weaknesses?"
Suggested answer:
"When I worked at X organization, I felt butterflies in my stomach when I spoke Spanish on the phone. By the end of the semester I was pretty confident, but I'd like to continue honing my spoken Spanish. I enjoy speaking with people and building a good rapport, but there's always a lot to learn about other cultures. I know your company has many international clients so..."

Tough question : "Tell me about the worst boss you ever had."
Suggested answer:
"The Volunteer Director at the organization where I worked was great. But because I was a volunteer, not a full-time employee, she wasn't able to utilize all my skills to help the organization as much as I would have liked."

Tough question: "How would others describe you?"
Suggested answer:
"My teacher-supervisor for my service learning work asked me to work one-on-one with a student who was behind in reading, in Spanish. She had confidence in my Spanish abilities, my patience with the student, and my creativity--I constantly had to think of new ways to keep the child engaged with the books."

Tough question: "What can you offer me that another person can't?"
Suggested answer:
"I'm the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my language skills, ability to work in a multicultural setting and my drive set me apart from the pack. For example, I could have taken all "regular" courses, but I loved the extra responsibilities that my Spanish service learning course required, and here are some examples of what I accomplished..."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

UI: Brittany Koteles, SPAN 332 Student, on the Front of the Daily Illini

I walked up to the elevators in the Foreign Languages Building after teaching today, glanced at my left, and saw Brittany Koteles looking up at me. Her picture was on the front page of the Daily Illini, stacked in a case by the elevators.

Here's the article. (Sorry, Brittany's picture isn't in the on-line article.)

Brittany has posted here about creating her own major. Service learning is a big component of the major she designed, and "Spanish in the Community" and (hopefully, next spring) "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" are a great fit for her.

At the Public Engagement Symposium on Monday, Brittany presented a poster about her major and was part of a panel about service learning.

Brittany, you're doing a great job of designing a meaningful experience for yourself here at the University of Illinois--and marketing it to others!

Guest Blogger: Benefits of Being Bilingual

While this blog's focus is on Spanish community service learning and social entrpreneurship, the following post from guest blogger, Courtney Phillips, reminds us of our starting place--the importance of learning a second language in the first place.

Bilingualism is a norm for many people outside of the United States. In most non-English speaking European nations, English is a mandatory class along with other core requirements. While many who have relocated to the United States learn a second language by default, they are actually going to reap more long-term benefits as a result. What follows is a brief list of the benefits of knowing more than one language.

Less Distraction = Mental Longevity
In a recent article in the Washington Post, a study showed that people who spoke two languages were less likely to be distracted. This lack of distraction helps to keep mental faculties sharp as individuals age and reduces risks for age-related mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

More Opportunities
Knowing two languages opens the door for many opportunities down the road. Whether you are interested in teaching, translation, international business, or community outreach, you are far more qualified when you are able to communicate in more than one language. The ability to effectively speak more than one language will be very helpful in many educational and employment endeavors.

Earning Power
Studies around the world show that bilingual people typically earn 8-10% more than people who speak only one language. Particularly in teaching fields and job training and supervision, bilingualism can reap great financial rewards and bonuses. Though this shouldn’t be the only motivation for becoming bilingual, it’s nice to know that the hard work will pay off—literally.

Exercises Mental Faculties Regularly
Bilingualism requires that you actively and rigorously use your mind and engage it thoroughly in order to effectively communicate. This mental “exercise” helps bilingual individuals to perform well in other academic endeavors with great success. As a result, the opportunities for success are many for bilingual individuals.

Bridges Cultural Gaps
People who are bilingual generally have strong cultural connections, both to their native culture, and the culture of their second language. They serve as liaisons between the two cultures and as a result tend to have higher self-esteem and a good sense of character. This allows them to bridge gaps between the two cultures and helps to foster understanding and unity as well.

This post was contributed by Courtney Phillips, who writes about online college degrees at She welcomes your feedback at CourtneyPhillips80 at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Organizers of Student Conference Want to Focus on Service Learning

photo: Prof. Ann Bishop and Debbie Sim

At Monday's Public Engagement Symposium I was very lucky to sit at a table with such smart and passionate faculty and students to talk about service learning.
Debbie Sim was one of those students. She talked to me about her passion for national service, what she has learned at national conferences, the excitement of hearing Obama and McCain speak about the importance of service, and her desire for more service learning courses on our campus.

So I was very pleased to get a follow-up e-mail from her about an event she is organizing. Here are Debbie's words:

"I am organizing a service conference for the office of volunteer programs on Sunday, April 5. I would like to invite you to be a workshop presenter. The theme for this year's conference is 'A New Administration, A Renewed Call to Service: College Students Serving Champaign-Urbana & Beyond.' It would be great if you could speak about service-learning, and maybe even do some sort of service learning exercise with the conference attendees."

I'm looking forward to the conference! I'll be sure to put a link up here when one is available.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Student Reflection: What Do Looks Have to Do with It? A lot.

Over the past couple of years I’ve begun to realize that being a blonde, very “European-American” looking girl makes it very difficult for Spanish speakers to take me seriously. The first day of tutoring I remember the looks on the students’ faces when I walked in. They all seemed almost shocked that someone like me could know Spanish. I got the same reactions from the Chileans when I studied abroad last spring in Santiago, Chile. People always assume that I do not understand any Spanish.

My boyfriend’s dad is from Chile and he runs a restaurant in Boston with an Argentine friend. It is an Argentine restaurant with a Chilean flare, so many Chileans eat there. One night when I was visiting, a group of Chileans and my boyfriend and I were sitting at a table together. My boyfriend’s dad’s friend would speak in Spanish to everyone at the table except when he spoke to me he would speak in English. Even after repeatedly telling him IN SPANISH that I understand Spanish, he still could not seem to bring himself to speak to me in his native tongue.

Another example is when I went to pick my boyfriend up at O’Hare a few weeks ago. When I found him, a Hispanic man was talking to him in Spanish asking if my boyfriend would help him find someone in the airport. I stood to the side waiting for them to finish and the man turns to me and tries to say, “So Sorry” in English. Immediately I assure him in Spanish that it is ok and I speak the language too. He almost looked confused when I spoke to him in Spanish, and that about did me in.

Because people find it hard to believe that I can speak Spanish, I think it makes me more timid to try to speak the language because of all the added pressure. It makes me want to speak flawless Spanish, which I know is not a realistic wish at this point in my life. However, aside from the frustration it can bring, it makes my desire to be fluent that much greater, which makes me work harder at learning the language.

I want the students at Leal to take me seriously as a Spanish-speaker despite my appearance. Hopefully as my Spanish skills improve, they and everyone in the Spanish-speaking world will accept me as a fellow member.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spanish & Entrepreneurship Students Present Poster

Melissa Schaaf, Alyssa Forsyth and Lisa Medearis are one of the student teams in SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship." Their project: create a poster, handouts and present at the Public Engagement Symposium.

They showcased the Spanish community service learning courses (SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" and SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship") and engaged all the attendees that stopped by the poster. Their project was a real success, and that in turn helped get the word out about Spanish & Illinois.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alternative Spring Break and the University of Illinois on

What a surprise to read this article, quoting U of I students, about Alternative Spring Break, just hours after posting about it here. Neat.

Central High School Needs Translators for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Here is a great opportunity to help in the community, practice your Spanish even more and make up any CBL hours that you need. You don't have to be working at Central High School or even in a school to be able to translate for these parents--anyone can do it!

"We are once again in need of volunteers to help with Spanish translating during parent teacher conferences. Last semester your efforts were extremely valuable.

"I’m hoping you can help me again? Our conferences are Thursday, March 19 from 5 pm till 8 pm and Friday, March 20 between 8 and noon. If you know of any one that might be interested, can you have them email me at

"I sure appreciate any help you can give me.

"Michelle Shmikler
Assistant Principal's Secretary
Central High School

Click here and read through all the information from last semester's post, including the comments. You will see specific instructions, and you will see what a great experience other students had doing this.

Alternative Spring Break: Drivers Needed

In the past, some of my students have been involved with Alternative Spring Break. One trip in particular seems to be popular among Spanish students: going to a particular spot in Texas and informing Spanish-speaking immigrants of their rights.

I just got this e-mail, so I thought I would share it with all my University of Illinois readers:

Alternative Spring is in desperate need of drivers for this spring break. There are currently 6 (yes 6) trips that do not have enough drivers.
  • Southern Applachian Labor School (SALS) Kincaid, WV
  • Lake Metroparks Willoughby, OH
  • Horses and the Handicapped & Victory Living Coconut Creek & Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee Nashville, TN
  • People TV Atlanta, GA
That means there are 82 students hoping to go volunteer in needy communities around the U.S. but might not be able to because there aren't enough drivers. ASB is looking for 8 students/faculty/staff who are 21 or over (or will be by March 21st) and would be willing to drive a rental mini-van to one of the 6 trips with driver openings.

To learn more and to apply to be a driver, visit If you have any questions, or if financing the trip is an issue, contact us at

If you are not interested, but know someone who might be, please pass this along. There are 82 young people looking to make a difference with their spring break, and we need 8 more people to help them do that.

Thanks a million.


Student Reflection: Getting to know ECIRMAC over dinner

by Sarah Moauro
“Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” Using this proverb to reflect upon ECIRMAC, I can come to an easy conclusion: it must be one remarkable organization. Last Saturday, I attended and volunteered the refugee center’s Second Annual Fundraiser Dinner, and it was a fantastic experience. The dinner brought together supporters, staff members, past and current clients, and other friends of the organization. I spent most of the evening doing work wherever I and the other volunteers were needed. I sliced bread, filled water glasses, practiced rolling my r’s as I served Peruvian arroz con pollo, and helped to clean up as the night wound down. For these few hours of enjoyable work, I was able to meet great people from all over the world, eat delicious, homemade food, and watch live performances from various cultures. .At the end of the night, I felt that ECIRMAC had in fact done me a favor, letting me attend this wonderful event for free that cost everyone else $60 a plate.

Getting back to the proverbs, this event showed me much more than a good, multicultural time. Moreover, I was able to see firsthand the lasting social impact that the refugee center has had upon the community. The support that the center received from the dozens upon dozens of attendees was overwhelming – I had no idea that the tiny office that I worked in extended out to the hearts of so many people. Perhaps the most moving example came from a past client who had ECIRMAC to help him make some of his first steps as an American citizen. Now, many years later, he is happily enjoying life with his family and PhD. The people at ECIRMAC are truly changing the lives of many, helping people such as this man to have as good of start as possible at a new life within our community. Seeing the gratitude that he and others feel toward ECIRMAC made me proud to be giving some of my time to such as great place. To fully understand just how important this center is to the community, I simply needed to spend one evening with their friends.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Workshop: International Careers in Business

I'm sure my students will be interested in this workshop presented by Illinois CIBER.

International Careers in Business
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm
Levis Faculty Center

Want to work internationally? Professionals and distinguished alumni will talk about preparations for international careers in business. This workshop will give you practical advice on opportunities, expectations and preparations for international careers in a variety of business settings. Students from all majors are welcome!


6:30-6:45 pm

Lynnea Johnson, Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER)

6:45 - 7:00 pm

Monica Francois Marcel, President, Language & Culture Worldwide, LLC

7:00-7:15 pm

Mickey Steffeny, Communication and Training Coordinator ADM

7:15-7:30 pm

Parry Dixon, Director of Economic Research, ADM

7:30-7:45 pm

Roshani Sheth President, AIESEC Illinois

7:45-8:00 pm

Garrett Whitsitt, UI Student Leader, Global Business Brigades

8:00-8:15 pm

Question and Answer Session with Panelists

Monday, March 2, 2009

Student Reflection: Ah, The Power of Cheese

by Megan Knight

This past week at Leal, my fifth graders were learning how to compare and contrast in Spanish. Every day of the week, the teacher brought in different foods for the kids to touch/eat/smell/etc., which I thought was a really neat thing to do. On Wednesday when I was there, the food was cheese and the teacher ended up making all the kids (including me J) quesadillas. There were shredded cheeses, string cheese, and slices of cheese, and the kids had to look at the cheeses, smell them, touch them, and then they could eat them.

It was really neat because I didn’t know how to say half of the descriptive words they were using, like “shredded,” “bitter,” and “string,” and some of the kids didn’t know how to say them either, so it was a learning experience for all of us. That is one of the many perks that come from volunteering for this class: that we get to learn while we help the students learn also. I think the idea of community based learning is so great because everyone gains something from the experience. Every week I look forward to going to Leal more and more.
I asked Megan what words she learned during the lesson. Here's her response:
"Si me acuerdo bien, "bitter" se dice "agrio." Había como cuatro palabras en la pizarra para decir "shredded" como "rayado," "deshebrado," y otras. Y para decir "string cheese" creo que fue "queso para deshebrar" o algo semejante."

Spanish Community Service Learning and Portfolio Assessment

picture: SPAN 332 students, Liz and Alex.
My "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students had to write their first reflective essay before many of them had actually begun to work in the community. So I asked them to reflect on the information in this post and the report it linked to. Specifically, I asked them to answer these two questions:

  1. ¿Qué opinas del informe? ¿Crees que tu preparación coincide con lo que buscan los empresarios y gerentes?

  2. ¿Cómo (no) coincide esta clase con los temas presentados en el informe?

Student responses were very interesting. They were happy to see that employers value experiential learning (including community service learning) more than other types of rote learning. Some students, however, were surprised by finding #3: "Most employers indicate that college transcripts are not particularly useful in helping evaluate job applicants’ potential to succeed at their company." Those students felt that within their university environment, GPA was emphasized as very important; to find out that employers value that less than demonstrations of integrative learning led some students to express what I would describe as almost feeling "tricked." (Of course, I'm not saying that GPA isn't important!)

I was most struck by one student's reaction to finding #4 "Few employers believe that multiple-choice tests of general content knowledge are very effective in ensuring student achievement. Instead, employers have the most confidence in assessments that demonstrate graduates’ ability to apply their college learning to complex, real-world challenges, as well as projects or tests that integrate problem-solving, writing, and analytical reasoning skills."

Almost all students saw that the content of SPAN 332 and the community service learning component included the abilities that employers want to see--applying their learning to complex, real-world challenges and projects and test that integrate problem-solving, writing and analytical reasoning skills. However, one student said (I'm paraphrasing):

Yes, we do these things in SPAN 332, but how will employers know about it?

Towards the end of the course I do ask students to write parts of their resume and cover letter to reflect their accomplishments in the course. I have also blogged here about how other students have talked about their SPAN 332 team project in job interviews. So in a way, it's students' responsibility to convey their experiences to their potential employers.

But in a way, it's also my responsibility. Finding #5 states that "[Employers] anticipate that faculty-assessed internships, community-based projects, and senior projects would be the most useful in gauging graduates’ readiness for the workplace." Faculty-assessed. I give my students grades on all their work for my course, but how helpful is a final grade on a transcript to those potential employers? Not very, as the report itself states.

So what kind of assessment can I do that will communicate students' learning in ways that employers appreciate and that at the same time does not over-burden me?


I haven't thought this through yet. I have many questions. What should go in the portfolio? Should it be digital, material or both? How can I find the time to provide a thorough assessment? How can non-Spanish-speaking employers evaluate my students' work in Spanish?

I have more questions than answers, but I'll be relying on these resources to help me think this through:

The NCLRC's Portfolio Asessment website

Information on Digital Portfolios

The Carnegie Foundation