Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Can We Effectively Filter Students from a Community Service Learning Course? Should We?

by Ann Abbott
image by James Baigrie

One of the TAs teaching "Spanish in the Community" this semester has approached me about a problem that all of us teaching community service learning face: a student whose work in the community may be harming more than helping.

That's serious.

Ideally, we would handle it this way:

  1. First , the TA would tell the student that his behavior is inappropriate and potentially damaging.
  2. I would contact the community partner to ask for their assessment of the situation.
  3. The student would come talk to me so I could reiterate the same message and decide whether or not to pull the student out of his community work.

I am convinced that this is an isolated case. The vast majority of our students are responsible, caring individuals who use their common sense in the community and follow the lead of their community supervisors.

But how can we prevent future cases like this?

My TA suggested that we do more filtering of students who get into the class. Below I'll list the ways in which we already do filter students. And I hope that readers will suggest new ideas.

Before the list, however, I do want to point out that we do not want to "over-filter." How can a student know for sure if he/she will perform well in a community-based learning course if they have never done it before? How can we know that? Many students who might have been filtered out end up rising to the challenge even better than students who have jumped through all the previous hoops. So, we do need to filter students, and then--as in any course--if students are not performing well, we need to discuss that with them.

Filter mechanisms in SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community"

1. Course title. The title should alert students that they will be involved IN the community. However, I realize that students are not expecting a university course to involve community-based learning. Many probably interpret the title as being ABOUT Spanish in the community. A course title like, "You Will Work Independently in the Community" would be clearer, but not possible.

2. Course description. The on-line course description explains the course requirements fairly clearly, I believe. However, I know that many students choose their courses not by the course description, but by the schedule. In other words, if they want to have Fridays with no courses, they will look and see what Tuesday/Thursday classes have seats available. Some students may enroll in the course without ever having read the course description.

3. Prerequisites. As you can see from the on-line course description (link above), students must have taken Oral Spanish before taking this course. Their spoken and written Spanish don't have to be perfect, but they do need a minimum proficiency level so they actually contribute to the work of our community partners and advance their own language learning. Otherwise, they might just give up because it's too hard to understand and produce comprehensible language. This means that students have had at least five semesters of college Spanish (or the equivalent) before taking the course. Most of them have actually had more than that and have even studied abroad.

My TA noted that many of our students come from programs like computer science, business, engineering, chemistry, etc. and report that they have never even had any class where they talk about culture, ethnicity, language, etc.

I have a few comments about that:

  • First of all, I am extremely happy that students from those backgrounds are taking Spanish! They add unique perspectives to the classroom discussions and valuable skills that they can contribute to our community partners.
  • However, even though students may say that they have never even had any class where they talk about culture, ethnicity, language, etc., that's not true. It's impossible that those issues have not come up in their previous Spanish classes and in the books they used. (Remember, they have all had at least five previous semesters of Spanish.) Or if it is true, then that is a huge failing on the part of Spanish curricula everywhere!
  • What is possible, however, is that those issues were never brought up in the context of putting that information to use in a real-world setting. They never had to actually experience it. When culture is presented "in a box" in a textbook, you don't have to use it. And when ethnicity is presented as a couple of photos in a book that show Afro-Hispanics or indigenous Latin Americans, they haven't really experienced "ethnicity." So, when they are confronted with these issues for the first time in the community, they may feel as if they have never learned about these issues.
  • It has been suggested that we add an additional pre-req of some kind of course (from anthropology, sociology, political science, or other fields). Aside from the logistical nightmare of hand-checking all those pre-reqs for every student who signs up, I'm also not sure that merely taking a course in which those topics are discussed translates into actual cultural competency.
  • This brings me back around to one of my frustrations with a one-semester Spanish community-service learning course: we're expected to teach it all! We simply can't.

4. E-mail. I have shared the e-mail I send to students when the semester starts. I hate to come off so heavy in my first contact with students, but it has proven to be an effective filter for some students. When asked to truly consider their time commitments, some students do drop the course. I can add something about responsibility to vulnerable communities in the e-mail as well.

5. Wiki. Again, I wish that didn't have to always be so stern with students as they begin this course, but a serious tone does convey that their responsibilities in the course are serious. As you can see from the information on the wiki in which they choose their community partner and self-schedule, we send the message again about the extra responsibilities this course requires.

6. Quiz and contracts. I added something new to the course this semester: an on-line quiz about the course policies. The quiz includes the following:
  • questions about what constitutes poor behavior in the course and its consequences
  • a course contract that outlines their responsibilities and their duty to respect the privacy of all the clients/students
  • a program dismissal form that stipulates that they may be dropped from the course for failure to comply with policies of the course and the university

7. First lesson. The very first lesson in the curriculum is entitled, "¿Deberías tomar este curso?" It asks the students to do the following:

  • Identify what they know or think they know about the course.
  • Analyze the kind of student they are in other classes and compare that with what is required of students in this class.
  • Make a decision: should you stay in this class or drop it.
8. TA monitoring. A TA in our department recently implied to me that it was unfair to choose TAs for this course based on whether or not they have already taught it. I do believe that each semester I need to have at least one experienced TA to serve as a "peer advisor" to the other TAs. Just as taking this course requires different and extra responsibilities, so does teaching it. In addition to teaching and grading, my TAs need to be alert to possible "problem students" all during the semester. Hopefully, it will be rare that we discover a bad situation at the end of the semester. Students' performance on the following class components should warn us early on about problems: in their reflexiones, classroom activities, tests and work log.

9. Community supervisors. We don't send students out to work alone. Our community partners have supervisors who watch over the work our students do. Those partners may indeed make a decision to let a student operate independently in a certain context, but only if in their professional opinion it is warranted. I trust their expertise and sound judgement. Whenever there have been problems with students, although rare, my community partners have certainly alerted me--(1) a student who was teaching questionable English expressions to a grade-schooler; (2) several students who arrived late or weren't fully "plugged in" with another community partner; (3) students who are scheduled on the wiki but don't show up; usually, they have dropped the course without informing anyone.

10. Research/Publications. The issues my TA raises are important ones. Ones that should be researched and reported in order to advance the practice of Spanish community service learning. Darcy Lear and I are researching and publishing on several different issues related to students' learning and attitudes in a Spanish CSL course, but much remains to be investigated!

11. New curriculum materials. As we learn more and more about our students' and our community partners' needs, we need to develop corresponding teaching materials. From my TA's comments and concerns, I see the necessity to build a lesson plan around the issue of vulnerable communities and students' responsibility to avoid potential negative--even though unintended--impact.

Conclusion. I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve the administration and teaching of Spanish community service learning. Effective student-filtering is certainly a big part of that. However, my biggest take-away from this is a reminder of the need to be explicit with our students. Explicitly tell them why we're filtering them. Explicitly remind them to connect the issues they face in this course to concepts they were taught in other courses. Do activities with them that have them face--explicitly--the harm they can do to individuals and the entire community.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Student Reflection: Doing it for the little guys

by Sarah Moauro

Today was an interesting day at the Refugee Center. The last few weeks, the office has seemed, at least during my hours, to have a decent amount of traffic coming through. I’ve been occupied with answering phones and doing odd jobs while Guadalupe, the main Spanish-speaking staff member, helps out the current clients. Today, I walked into the usual situation but my odd job was quite different than any of my previous tasks. When I came to the door, I was greeted by a small girl named Valentina around age 2 or 3. Startled by the sight of a stranger, she scuttled off to her mother whom was working with Guadalupe at the moment. With the center’s main desk covered in paperwork, I could tell the two were busy and figured I would spend my day finding files and taking messages. However, within a few minutes Guadalupe assigned me to a different task. As Valentina was bumbling about the office and about to get into a stack of books, Guadalupe looks at me and says, “Cuida la niña” (take care of the baby).

At first, not knowing what exactly to do, I followed her around and made sure she didn’t get her get her hands on anything important, taking away little tags she took off the filing drawer or a document she pulled apart. This, of course, made me not the friendliest figure to a little kid in a strange office, and she gave up and plopped herself under the desk next to her mom. I sat down in a chair next to her, and saw her picking up pens that had fallen through the cracks onto to the floor, and figured that this was not the best of toys for a toddler. Remembering that there were some art supplies around, I found a box of crayons, pulled out a notebook, and began to color in front of her. Quickly, she caught onto the idea and took a big interest in exploring the different colors that the Roseart box had to offer. Over the next half an hour, in between answering phone calls, I feel like I can say Valentina was pretty well entertained and the strange office became a much more comfortable and friendly place. As I gathered up my things at the end of the hour, Valentina followed me a little bit toward the door before going back to her mother as she was a little startled by the incoming volunteer, a new stranger. However small the gesture of a little kid treating me somewhat like a friend after an hour, it made me smile for the rest of my afternoon.

My experience made me think on my way home from the Refugee Center, two things in particular. First, even small gestures of friendliness and understanding can go a long way, whether it be finding something for a kid to relate to and use to make a scary office seem more like home or being patient and genuine to a client who is trying to adjust to life in new and intimidating setting. Whatever means you use to build trust, simple or not, they can make a difference in a client’s day, week, or much longer. Second, I more so than before realized that the work we were doing not only affects the people who immigrate into our community, but also the little ones that come along with them. Behind each client that is helped, there are many little Valentinas who are depending on the services that the Refugee Center provides.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8)

by Ann Abbott

Although I will obviously continue to post about culture in the Spanish community service learning curriculum, let me conclude this series with an example from my own experience. It isn't about Spanish and it isn't about community service learning, but the point is that this process is valid in any cultural context. Even when we examine our own culture.

About two and a half years ago I was in Italy and visiting my mother-in-law in the hospital. The doctor came in the room, greeted me, and then told me, “Si accomodi, Signora.”

From my previous experiences, I understood that to mean, “Take a seat; make yourself comfortable.” But when the doctor kept looking at me, I realized it must mean something else—in fact, it meant the exact opposite! I think he gestured toward the door, and I left the room, feeling embarrassed.

I started paying attention to that phrase and noticed that all the hospital employees used it in the same way. It still meant, "Make yourself comfortable." But there was an added layer to it: “Make yourself comfortable--somewhere else! We don’t examine patients/check vitals/mop the floors in front of visitors.”

Here was my process: I noticed a cultural difference, it made me feel embarrassed, I continued observing this cultural difference and looked for patterns. Finally, I expanded my understanding of that phrase and incorporated it into my practices.

What are some examples that you have experienced? And what are some examples that your students have experienced while working in the community? Please post them here or send me an e-mail at I'd love to feature them on this blog.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7)

by Ann Abbott

Develop skills of observation.

So what are we and our students to do? In a class about culture or cultural analysis, our students can simply talk about the issues. In our Spanish community service learning courses, students must put it all into action. We must certainly design lesson plans about the process of cultural analysis in general and specific issues that come up frequently in the contexts in which our students work. But we must also encourage our students to become “culture detectives”—to actively look for instances in which their cultural expectations don’t match with those of the community members. And instead of “prescribing” solutions, encourage them to observe how others from the culture behave in the same circumstances.

Darcy Lear left this very insightful comment on my first post on teaching culture:

"I love this post! I have much in common with you--language & culture teaching as well as young children. My child's last check up had the item 'can your child stack 5 blocks?' I said 'I'm sure he can, but I've never sat him down and tested him on it.' I was stunned when the nurse brought me 5 blocks--so I could test him! With both my children I have had this problem at the doctor's office: they are telling me things from charts and questionnaires and I want to scream 'can you look at the human specimen I brought in?!' They're doing fine. They're motoring all over your office with their fine motor skills!

"But it really ties back to culture and how we teach it. As well as all our beliefs about cultures. We all tend to think like the doctors do--our written documentation indicates that X cultures handle Y activity in a certain way. And we stick to that belief even when we receive visual evidence to the contrary. And to me this is what we are teaching when we teach culture: open your eyes and ears (and heart--is that too cheesy?) and observe the world around you. Learn that way. As well as from books and charts and questionnaires. There are a lot of pieces to these puzzles and we need them all to get a complete pictures."

But what would a careful observer learn about funeral processions and US culture based on the experience I described above? They would have observed contradictory practices. Actually, there are laws about what to do when a funeral procession passes by. But based on drivers’ behaviors that I observed, some people don’t know the unwritten or the written rules, or they choose to ignore them.

When our students observe culture carefully, they will see lots of contradictory information. There are just as many differences within cultures than among them. In my experience, some students (certainly not all) are uncomfortable with contradictory information. (Here, I am interested in contradictory information about cultures, but there is research on cultural attitudes towards contradictory information.) Some students also express surprise, even a tinge of anger, when they work in the community and discover that people say or do things differently than they had been taught in a classroom.

Just yesterday I read a student comment about the difference between the words pequeño and chico. They had always been taught the word pequeño and now they were observing that people used chico instead. The student wanted to know which to use, wanted a rule.

My rule? Once you have observed a contradiction, observe some more. Is this true for this individual? For others as well? Do they never use the word pequeño? Only in certain cases? Do they understand you if you use pequeño instead of chico? Is this an instance in which you need to change your behavior/vocabulary? Or is it okay if you just understand this new (to you) meaning of chico?

This process is not quick, neat or easy. It is a process, not an answer. And in one semester working in the community, our students will only be able to get so far with this process. But the great thing about Spanish community service learning is that they can actually experiment and process language and culture at the same time. That is the beauty of it. And the challenge.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kiva: Students Supporting Entrepreneurship and Microcredit in Latin America

by Ann Abbott

When I teach "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities" I concentrate on social entrepreneurship. One of the things I try to emphasize is that social entrepreneurship should not be about "us" finding solutions for "them." In other words, people within communities that have needs (and all communities have needs) have ideas and resources for creating solutions. Many times, they just need some money or additional resources to get their own program off the ground.

To that end, I use examples of Latin American Ashoka Fellows, social entrepreneurs who have implemented their own programs--many that are completely autochthonous and could not have been imagined from someone outside of that community.

And when I teach the chapter on "Resources," I always include a lesson on Latin American small-scale entrepreneurs looking for microloans through in order to build their own enterprises--not ones that someone from another continent has deemed appropriate for them. This is how I organize the lesson:
  1. Before class, students have to go to and choose one entrepreneur from a Spanish-speaking country to whom they want to give $100. (Go to this page, click on the "Region" menu, and select North America, Central America and South America)
  2. In class, I put students in pairs. They have ten minutes to present the case of each entrepreneur they picked. At the end of the ten minutes, the pair has to choose which one entrepreneur they think should get $100.
  3. Two pairs now present their entrepreneur to each other. After ten minutes, the group of four must now support only one entrepreneur.
  4. Finally, the remaining entrepreneurs are presented to the whole class, and the whole class must decide on one entrepreneur that will receive the $100. They have to defend their reasons for choosing one over the other, and ideally they should challenge each other before they finally settle on one.
  5. When the decision is made, I loan $100 of my own money to the chosen entrepreneur.
This semester, my SPAN 332 students chose Mujeres luchando por el progreso group. This group of women quickly received the full value of the loan they wanted, and they have already paid back $15.19 of the original $100 I loaned them. I think my students made an excellent choice!

Eat a Bagle, Help the Refugee Center

by Ann Abbott

All Spanish 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students have to work on a team project for the course. The team of Ashley Chamberlain, Andrew Larson and Kunjal Raichura are working on a fundraising event to benefit one of our community partners: the Refugee Center.

Please come out and support the team, the Refugee Center and a campus business. Click here to see the menu, click here to find out more about the place, and click here to see the flyer for the fundraising event.

I'll be there with my kids. Hope to see you there!

Location: Howbowda Bagel! (Between Wright and 6th on Green St.)

Date: Wednesday, April 22

Time: 4-8 pm

A portion of the money you spend will help the Refugee Center better serve the local international community.

For questions or more information please contact:

More on Prof. Chip Bruce's Work on Youth and Digital Literacy

by Ann Abbott

In addition to Prof. Chip Bruce's CITES Research and Learning Technologies Brown Bag talk on Wednesday, April 22, 12-1 PM at 23 Illini Hall, Prof. Bruce will also soon talk to the Scholarship of Engagement group about his work with community informatics (see announcement below). Here are a few things I'd like to highlight:

1. If you haven't joined the Engaged Illinois Ning group, I encourage you to do so. You don't have to be from Illinois to find value in it. You can network with others working on the scholarship of engagement and community service learning. Plus, the real bonus in my view is Val Werpetinski's blog. She always forwards such useful information.

2. I want to call out a link from the message below: Not only does it include readings for the upcoming talk as well as other valuable resources. I think it also serves as a model of how researchers and practictioners can communicate about their work on the web and share their insights. Think about it, what does your digital profile show about your work? Do you have a cv posted on your department's website and nothing else? Did you ignore the department's requests for a picture to put on your page, and so now you have a "blank" picture, or no image at all. What message does that send? Is it the message you want to send? Take a look at Chip's site to see how you can communicate with the world about your work. If you think your work is valuable, shouldn't you treat it that way?

3. Okay, here's the announcement for the talk:

Scholarship of Engagement Seminar: Monday, April 27, 12:00-1:30
428 Armory Bldg
Chip Bruce, Graduate School of Library and Information Science "Youth Community Informatics"

This presentation will focus on Youth Community Informatics This is a new project in which young people in disadvantaged areas learn how to use GPS/GIS, digital video, computer technology centers, and other new tools to help their communities, through activities such as community journalism, oral history, internet radio, community asset mapping. University students serve as mentors, but are also learners in the process. The project links public libraries, 4-H clubs, schools and after-school programs, and other groups.

Some recent papers relevant to Youth Community Informatics can be found at

Here's a forwarded message from Chip Bruce about the readings:

'Digital literacy: New approaches to participation and inquiry learning to foster literacy skills among primary school children'
addresses the problem that teachers, parents, researchers, etc. see value in active, creative, collaborative new media engagement, or Digital Literacy. But reports are anecdotal and effects are not reflected in standard formal teaching practice and assessments. We need better ways to define, study, and evaluate Digital Literacy, which can document the advantages and disadvantages. Drawing from theory (esp. Dewey), models (inquiry cycle), and detailed classroom study, we developed and validated two new tools: the Digital Literacy Component Checklist and the Inquiry Cycle Activity Summary. The end result is a new definition of Digital Literacy, based neither on a narrow skills/knowledge model, nor on technical features alone, but instead on a view of the user or participant as an active, inquiring agent.

'How media ecologies can address diverse student needs' provides empirical support for going beyond simplistic claims I've seen, such as 'new tool X causes specific learning or behavioral change Y,' to considering the ways that people draw from multiple media in a constructive way.

The first two papers on that site delve more into the theory, and others report on case studies. *For April 27, the most relevant is probably the first one, the "frogs" paper.*

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6)

by Ann Abbott

Wrestle with shadows.

“Hidden” cultural differences can be our biggest problem. When differences in viewpoints and practices remain unexamined they can leave students with mistaken impressions or reinforced stereotypes. For community members, they can create a lack of confidence in our students and our partnerships. Students may understand the words a person speaks, but misunderstand the culture within those words.

On the one hand, there are words and phrases that we think we understand, but they are really false cognates. Darcy recently reminded me about the words “ordinary” versus “ordinario.” In Spanish, it’s an insult. I remember a friend who was surprised that en absoluto meant “absolutely not” or “no way”; he had always thought it meant the opposite, “absolutely!” Yes, textbooks often provide lists of false cognates, but these two examples don’t always appear on those lists.

On the other hand, there are times when we get all the individual words right, but their combined effect reveals divergent cultural expectations. When I looked at all the ironing that my mother-in-law did, I viewed it as a burden she bore. Watching her iron socks, towels and even underwear made me feel bad. She did all the laundry even when we visited (long story!), so I once told her, in Italian, “Thank you, but you don’t need to iron our towels and socks.” She never said anything to me, but much later my father-in-law told me that I hadn’t respected her work. (As you can see, direct communication versus indirect communication was another cultural difference between us.) I thought I was respecting her as a person because I wanted her to work less. If he would have never told me that, I would have never even imagined that I had insulted her.

Furthermore, this issue made me think more deeply about ironing in general. In the US, we throw our clean clothes into the dryer, and a dryer sheet makes the towels come out fluffy and soft. In Italy and other countries, people don’t use dryers. Air-dried towels are indeed stiff and sometimes creased. Pressing them with a steam iron does make them nicer. Yes, there is a cultural difference (in broad terms) between how people in other cultures take care of and preserve their clothing, tablecloths, towels, sheets, etc. and how Americans have a tendency to wash, wear, throw out, get something new. But underneath that broad generalization are some really practical issues—local circumstances and realities often form the basis of cultural practices. Sometimes local circumstances evolve but the cultural practices remain, making it more difficult for one to understand the “why” behind a cultural practice.

We cannot always take our students back to the “origin” of every cultural difference they encounter when they work in the community, but it is good for them to consider the question itself. We also can’t always be with them in the community in order to point out cultural misunderstandings that remained invisible to them. But we can provide them some concrete examples and raise their awareness in general about how to wrestle with shadows, or even see the shadow in the first place.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Student Reflection: Latino Youth Conference at UIUC

by Megan Knight

This past Friday I volunteered at the Latino Youth Conference. I thought that it was a really good cause to try to motivate Latino high school students to go to college. A lot of the students there were first generation prospective college students and I feel like they really got a feel for college. In one of the workshops that I helped out in, the students learned about the application process and what universities look for when determining whom they’re going to accept. I could tell the kids were really interested because they were asking a lot of questions about how important ACT scores are versus how important grades are, etc. I thought it was a really good activity for the kids and I know they took a lot away from it.

It was also interesting in the fact that EVERYONE there was Latino except for maybe 3 or 4 volunteers. I have never really felt like an outsider or felt uncomfortable for being a minority before, but I can honestly say I felt a little out of place there. It was really a big eye opener to how other races feel when they are severely outnumbered. I never really understood that because I had never experienced it, but now I can relate when someone says he/she felt like an outsider for being the minority. I also thought it was a tricky situation to be in because we volunteers were there to try to keep the kids focused and make sure they were paying attention during the lectures and workshops, but I did not really feel like I had the authority to tell them to be quiet and stop messing around. I forgot how immature high school students could be, so it really made me appreciate the teachers and chaperones that accompanied them. All in all I thought the conference went really well, and I got to see a performance by the hip hop group, Rebel Diaz, that was really inspirational and entertaining. To make it even better, two of the three group members are Chilean and...well, very good looking, so needless to say I really enjoyed the performance!

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5)

by Ann Abbott

Analyze your emotions.

When we present culture as a sidebar, we can remain emotionally neutral towards it. But when we interact with other cultures, it’s more difficult not to become emotionally entangled. In fact, I think that when we have an emotional reaction it means that we’re more deeply engaged, which is good—as long as we work through the process far enough to get to analysis. We don’t want our students to remain within the raw emotional state. Here are some emotions that might signal that you’ve just rubbed up against “culture.”

Delight. Do you remember the first time you drank a margarita in Mexico? The taste of fresh lime juice? I do, and it was delightful, a pleasure. Sometimes we experience a culture in that way—it’s new to us, and we like it. Some of us (probably all of us who are language learners and instructors) find real joy in the process of immersing ourselves in another culture, experiencing it and reflecting on it. OJO: Obviously, this becomes problematic if we view cultures as “pretty, shiny objects” that exist for our own edification or delight.

Surprise. I remember when I went to Spain my junior year of college. It was my first plane ride. My first trip outside of the US (except for one trip to Canada). My first trip outside of the Midwest. I was surprised by many things. Sometimes pleasantly surprised. Sometimes not. I thought people would smile and be friendly—the way I conceived of “friendly”—on the streets. They weren’t. I thought that women who wore high heels, short skirts, lots of jewelry and full make-up were…uh, well, let’s just say I hadn’t seen a lot of that in my previous experiences. I saw a lot of it in Madrid, and it said nothing about the woman’s profession. I also saw surprise in the eyes of others who were observing me.

Discomfort. This is the trickiest for us to deal with. I think of these as roces, when two cultures rub up against each other in ways that make us uncomfortable, in ways that sting. Discomfort often presents as something else: judgment, anger, disappointment, hurt, embarrassment, etc. In all of these cases we need to walk our students through the entire process of cultural analysis. If we let a student (or ourselves) remain with the raw emotion, we can end up doing a lot of damage in the community and to our partnerships.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4)

by Ann Abbott

Culture is everything, everything is culture.

We don’t want our students to get tired of being told that every observation they make, problem they put forth, question they ask is “culture.” But it really is. And they really do get tired of whatever it is that we repeat over and over.

That’s why culture should be part of what you’re teaching about, not always the isolated subject of study. Just like content-based instruction shows that we can teach language through an academic content, we can teach culture through the content we focus on in Spanish community service learning course.

In other words, we should strive to move toward teaching culture as thought process, an analytical framework. Darcy Lear has a great strategy for teaching culture to her students: start with anything you take for granted, and then start to peel back the layers of culture. So, something that seems neutral—swimming—suddenly becomes clearly a culturally-imbued practice (or non-practice in my case).

At the University of Illinois we now have a course that is called Introduction to Cultural Analysis. Click to see the course description. This is the first year that it has been taught and is a required course for the revamped Spanish major.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chip Bruce's Work on Youth, Media, Community Action & Personal Growth

If you've read this blog before, you know that I am very interested in connecting social media, community-based learning and social entrepreneurship. That's why Prof. Chip Bruce's talk (below) sounds so interesting to me.

I'll be there. If you're here in Champaign-Urbana, I hope to see you there. If not, look at Chip's work, his blog and the fascinating things going on in community informatics here at the University of Illinois.
Brown Bag: How Young People Use New Media for Community Action and Personal Growth

CITES Research and Learning Technologies would like to invite you to a Brown Bag talk scheduled for next Wednesday, April 22, 12-1 PM at 23 Illini Hall.
Professor Bertram (Chip) Bruce of Library & Information Science will be talking about "Learning at the Border: How Young People Use New Media for Community Action and Personal Growth".

"Learning at the border" refers to learning that occurs in the border settings between the highly-structured realm of schools and life in neighborhoods, including after-school programs, boys and girls clubs, libraries, museums, and community centers. A second meaning relates to participants who've been placed on the border because of their language, cultural background, race, or social class, hence denied full participation in the public sphere.

In the Youth Community Informatics project, university students and faculty work with community members to help young people learn about new technologies and develop academic potential through self expression and community building. Young people learn through modules such as community journalism, oral history, multimedia and podcasting, GIS/GPS, protest songs, and setting up a community technology center. A common thread is that the young people learn how to use ICTs for community building, thus becoming active sustainers of their own communities.

Bertram (Chip) Bruce is a Professor in Library & Information Science, Curriculum & Instruction, Bioengineering, the Center for Writing Studies, and the Center for East Asian & Pacific Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During 2007-08, he held a Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the National College of Ireland.

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3)

by Ann Abbott

Re-brand culture.

How is “culture” packaged in the Spanish curriculum at your institution? From what I have seen, culture is typically “branded” in these ways:

  • Intro textbooks show folkloric, full-color photos and short descriptions about some “unique” cultural practice or product. Activities often ask students to use Spanish vocabulary and grammar to talk about their own—usually very “gringo”—experiences and activities. Sidebars say, “Oh, yeah, these are the people who actually speak Spanish and here are some neat facts about them. Now go back to talking about how many college classes you have on Tuesdays versus Fridays.”

  • There is usually a course on the books called “Hispanic Culture,” “Hispanic Civilization” or some variation on that. The course and the textbook are usually chronological presentations of “important” historical moments, political figures and artistic products. Students think they’re signing up for a course on Mexican/Spanish/Argentinean/etc. festivals, foods and fun. What do they get? A history class.

  • Literature classes ask students to analyze cultural products, but usually within the rather hermetically-sealed world of texts and textual analysis. Yes, texts (literary and visual, from high and popular culture), reflect cultural practices. But analysis of the text itself is usually the primary learning objective.

In a Spanish community service learning course we need to integrate language and culture more smoothly. Their linguistic exchanges in the community are also inter-cultural exchanges, with real weight and consequences. Sometimes that means that we need to circle back to language constructs they have already learned, but they learned them divorced from their cultural context.

For example, every intro textbook presents “” versus “Usted.” But in the classroom, do they ever have to make a split-second choice about what form to use with whom? Do they ever feel that dread in the pit of their stomach—Oops, I think I just said when I should have said Usted. Have they ever had someone in a class say, “Joven, no me trates de tú.” Probably not. What happens to them in the classroom if they choose badly? Probably nothing. That’s different in the community, and it gives them a context in which to develop a grounded cultural understanding of a language choice.

Likewise, every intro textbook teaches students to form commands. Even if students have mastered the grammatical structures (many have not), when our students are in the community, do they know how to tell someone to do something without being pesado/a, sin caer mal?

We need to literally re-package culture. Instead of separating language and culture, we need to merge them.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

Parody of Spanish Community Service Learning?

by Ann Abbott

Spanish instructors and students alike can relate to this video--the simple vocabulary, repetition, exaggerated enunciation and gestures, realia and use of pictures. It made me laugh a lot.

It also made me wonder, what would a parody of our Spanish community-based learning courses look like?

  • Instead of asking "Where is the bomb?" the police would ask, "Where is your partner? You can't do this activity without a partner!"
  • They find the partner and bring him into the interrogation room. The jefe comes in and instead of asking "¿Qué hora es?" he says, "¿Qué hiciste en la comunidad esta semana? Interview your partner to find out what he did in the community this week. You have three minutes!" Then, "Now, tell your partner one way in which your work was the same as his, and one way in which it was different. Two minutes!"
  • Then, instead of asking if they want agua, una hamburguesa or una piña, the police say, "You need to do a reflective essay now. Do you want paper and pencil? A computer and Compass? A webcam and YouTube?"

On a more serious note, my favorite moment in the video is when el jefe asks, "¿Qué hora es?" It's a hilarious moment that shows the absurdity of many things we do in language teaching. There is a clock on the wall; the question is asked just to make the students practice the forms he has taught, he already knows the answer.

That may seem like something that only happens in introductory courses, but it's not. Do we ask questions that we already know the answer to? Or do we ask questions that we already know what we want students to answer?

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook recently: "Great quote from Gerald Graff's "Our Undemocratic Curriculum" (Profession 2007 128) from_Clueless in Academe_. A student is asked after graduating in English if she ended up with a clearer understanding of the major issues; her response: 'The assumption seemed to be that if I was any good I 'already' knew what those issues were and why they mattered. I couldn't ask, since I didn't want to look dumb.'"

I'm sure we've all been guilty of making our students feel like that at times. But it's a real danger in Spanish community-based learning classes because our students have so much information that we don't have--they're the ones who are in the community every week, on the ground. We really have to open up and open our ears to them.

(Thanks for sharing this link, Marisa.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Champs-Elysées Says That "Learning a second language can improve your job and career prospects"

by Ann Abbott

I received Champs-Elysées electronic newsletter yesterday, and they have added this page to their website: Learning a second language can improve your job and career prospects. They say that in the US, "The influential Committee for Economic Development continues to push for improved foreign language education in the United States" and link to the official report. Furthermore, they summarize a problem contained in the report: "That report warns that the U.S. will become less competitive in the global economy because of declining quality foreign language education at the college and high school level."

I strongly believe that Spanish community service learning can do double duty for our students: enhance their language skills and cultural knowledge in ways that a classroom-based course can't, and we can teach them to talk about their experiences in the community in ways that employers, based on this report and others, obviously want.

If you go to their site, be sure to check out their audio magazine, Puerta del Sol. It is difficult to find good materials for advanced language learners. It's not cheap, but think their magazine is a good learning resource for students.

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)

by Ann Abbott

I was on Windsor Avenue, in the fast lane, driving to work one recent morning when the car in front of me suddenly slowed down. I thought that was odd, but simply steered into the right lane. From there, I saw the cause of the slow-down: a hearse with a long line of cars behind it. The cars had their headlights on and small flags had been affixed to show that they were part of the procession. I slowed down to keep a respectable distance.

What made me put my foot on the brake? Culture.

Some cars in the opposite lanes slowed down, some pulled to the shoulder, and some came speeding past. Even though I was in a hurry to get to work, as soon as I saw the funeral procession my emotions switched from “rushed” to “respect.” When I saw that other drivers didn’t even slow down, that upset me. I’m not prone to road-rage at all, but I wanted to tell them—“Hey, slow it down; show some respect to the family.”

What pulled that emotional trigger? Cultural conflict.

Since I was slowed down anyway, I took a minute to think about what I was observing. Why did some people stop, some slowed down, and others did nothing? How did I know what I was supposed to do? I live in a university town with people from all different countries; were the speeders simply unaware of US cultural practices regarding funeral processions? Were the people who slowed down but didn’t stop caught between old-fashioned cultural norms (stop) and contemporary ones (rush, rush, rush)? I’m originally from a very rural area; are things done differently in a town the size of Champaign-Urbana versus my town whose only traffic signal was a flashing red light?

What fueled my questions? Cultural analysis.

Up ahead, the hearse turned left through a red light and the other cars followed.

What prevented accidents from happening? Luck.

This story may seem disconnected from this blog’s topic of Spanish community service learning. But what I want to emphasize is the process of recognizing and analyzing culture—our own and others. It happens to us all. And it happens to our students when they work in the community. Our job is to help them go through that process more deeply and completely. In the posts that follow I will share some ideas for how we can address cultural analysis in our Spanish service learning curricula. I’d also love to hear your ideas! Please leave a comment.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Re-brand Culture
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation. How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great Song and Video for Spanish Community Service Learning

Warning: The lyrics include the word "f***ing."

A TA just sent me this link. (Thank you, Clara Veronica.) Later I will take the time to tease out some of the ways in which we could use it in our Spanish CSL classrooms, but for now I just want to share. Tell me what you think of it and its potential in our courses!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 13

Everyday, the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) is teeming with the needs of people from all across the world. In a typical day you can encounter a family from the Congo attempting a fresh start, a single mother from Mexico resettling in hopes at better chance at life for her and her child, or simply a couple from Nicaragua readjusting to the American way of life as they seek assistance in filing their taxes. Since 1980, ECIRMAC has been working to better the lives of refugees and immigrants, helping them adjust to a new life, find employment, and assisting in finding them a new sense of home and identity within the Champaign region. Without ECIRMAC, the sole organization within the Champaign Urbana region dedicated to serving our growing international population, many people fleeing the hardships of another life would be left alone to face a new set of obstacles to overcome.

In order to continue providing these essential services to a wide and continuously increasing clientele, ECIRMAC needs your help, Golden Key! For nearly 30 years, the Refugee Center has been operating largely upon the funds donated by our sponsors, churches, the United Way, and the refugee community. However, in these hard economic times, extra funding is needed to serve the growing community. As a society who has core values in community service and social honor, we ask you to be a part of our mission! We ask you to please send a donation of any amount possible in the form of check or money order addressed to ECIRMAC at 302 S. Birch Urbana, IL 61801 and spread the word of our cause! We need strong community partners as you to ensure to survival and growth of our organization. Please visit our website to learn more about us and the people we serve. If possible, explore our volunteering options – we always need more helping hands, and your organization is known for having some of the best. Feel free to contact me for more information at We thank you for any help that you can send our way!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 12

At this moment a woman is fighting to get her daughter back to the US after a trip to Mexico and an expired passport keeps them miles apart. A man is fighting to stay in the US with his wife and children after his visa expires. Families are broken apart and relocated everyday and it is happening in our own community. ECIRMAC helps these refugees serving as translators, filing paperwork or even just as support for someone who has just moved in from another country. This can be a great opportunity for students who what to contribute to Champaign Urbana’s community.

ECIRMAC gives so much to the community and the opportunity to give them some of your time is worth the opportunity to learn more about the people, the organization, and even yourself. Most people are unaware of the role that refugees are with in the Champaign Urbana community and this could be an opportunity for them to take the initiative to become acquainted with that specific community. Not only do you get to improve your knowledge of different cultures but you get a better understanding of the people who make up the CU community outside the college campus. Also, you get to work for an organization and get to understand how they function.

ECIRMAC is a non profit organization that does so much for Champaign Urbana’s refugee community. There needs to be more awareness for an organization that gives so much. The union of Volunteer Illini Projects and East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center would be a strong one since both organizations are rooted in community. ECIRMAC needs volunteers. Sign up now by simply visiting the website at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Student Reflection: Struggles with Subtraction

by Natalie Bodmer

This week presented one of the biggest challenges yet. My student, just like many children, goes through many ups and downs in a very short amount of time. At first he was really excited about finishing his homework because it was a packet of math questions that he was confident he could finish in a few minutes.

He was doing great and working through all the problems without any mistakes. All of a sudden we got to the page that had the subtraction problems on it and his mood drastically changed. He said that he didn’t want to do that page and that he hates subtraction. He finished the whole packet and only had the 2 pages of subtraction left.

He tried to get out of doing them at all, and when I told him that he was going to have to finish those 2 pages he got very upset and put his head down. He started to do the problems and was constantly saying how much he hated school and this math packet and how he didn’t want to do it. I tried to make compromises with him and explain another way of doing the problems, but nothing worked or was getting through to him. I did not give up, finally, I got him to listen long enough that I could explain another way of doing subtraction by thinking of it in a similar way to addition that he was really good at.

I noticed that he used his fingers to do his addition problems, and so again I wanted to use the methods he liked and was good at in other areas so he could improve with his subtraction skills. I explained to him how he could think of subtraction in a similar way of addition and that he could use his fingers and think of the problems as a puzzle. This worked really well and once I showed him how he could use this method he was excited about doing the problems and really confident again. Seeing this change has one of the greatest impacts on me. I was so happy that the method I showed him of how he could count on his fingers to do subtraction problems worked and really made a difference.

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 11

This student does a wonderful job of asking the potential donor to connect his/her own experiences to the cause she is promoting. She taps into their feelings of frustration at the challenge of learning a foreign language, and then asks them to multiply that by the hours of a whole school day. She really has them from the very beginning and then carries the readers through to the moment of exactly how they can help.

I am a volunteer at ECIRMAC (the Refugee Center) here in Urbana. We need your help! Do you remember how hard it was to remember every vocabulary word when you were taking foreign language classes in high school? Now imagine that you had to be in that situation all day instead of just during your one hour foreign language class. You would be very frustrated! That is what it would be like if you were an immigrant here in the United States learning English for the first time. Most students do not realize that we have a large immigrant population right here in Champaign Urbana. I know that there are many Greek houses on this campus and all of you do an amazing job fundraising for all sorts of different causes. At this time I would like to challenge you to extend your service beyond monetary donations and have you consider becoming more active in your community involvement. The Refugee Center is looking for bright young college students like you to volunteer for the Saturday Morning Tutorial Program to help teach English to immigrant families in our community. The lessons can be informal; you do not need to have a strict background in education. Simply come in to help them with normal conversation to improve their vocabulary and accent. Because it is more of a relaxed setting you could think of your own activities to engage with the families! It can be fun because you can make up word games and stories with them! This will show the families your interest and dedication to the program, and it will be easy to make connections with community members. Please contact me by March 13th to sign up as a volunteer for the Refugee Center Saturday Morning Tutorial Program.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Student Reflection: Quality Down Time

by Sarah Moauro

Walking up to the Refugee Center doors each Monday and Wednesday, I’m never sure of what to expect for my upcoming hour. On many occasions, I walk into a bustling office, the phones ringing off the hook and multiple clients waiting for their turn to talk to receive assistance from one of the ECIRMAC staff. However, being the ‘lunch shift’ volunteer, as I think of it, it’s not strange for my noon to one shift to involve little action. While some days can be busy, on others the center can be close to vacant with next to no tasks needing immediate attention. Every now and then, I get a shift where I have little more to do than answer the one or two phone calls that come though. However, this is certainly not to say that during this time I do nothing or that my hour is wasted.

Instead, when I have down time at the Refugee Center, I try to make it a quality hour in some manner that benefits my volunteering experience or abilities. Of course, Deborah, a co-director of ECIRMAC, lets all of the volunteers know that we are more than welcome to do homework, surf the internet, or whatever makes us happy when things are slow, and when academic times have gotten tough, I certainly have accepted this offer on occasion. However, I try my best to spend most of my spare time improving my abilities that relate to the Center. One easy way that I do this is to browse the ECIRMAC website ( Getting to know as many details as possible about the people I work with, the Center’s history, and simple tips and words of advice all help me feel better prepared to help the clients. I also try to buff up my vocabulary, which not only could use a little help conversationally but especially so with legal terms. At ECIRMAC there are quite a few dictionary and phrase books around for me to flip through and look up words that I came across in earlier days. There’s even a dictionary dedicated to legal terms, which have come in handy! Although I’m not necessarily able to regurgitate everything that I look up or come across at a later time, making the terms more familiar to myself helps me to better understand that problems of clients that come through or call the office. Days may not always be packed at the refugee center, but there are always plenty of things to keep me busy and make my time there well spent.

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 10

by Ann Abbott

Finding quality childcare in this country can be very problematic. Cost, distance, quality-control are parents' (lack of) flexibility at work are just some of the issues that make it so difficult.

As difficult as it is, it's also very important.

One of our community partners, Child Care Resource Services, helps parents find childcare. They also guide parents through the process of getting financial assistance for childcare. This student works with an actual child-care provider, and her experience is an interesting complement to our students who work with elementary and high school students.

I volunteer 2 hours a week at the Champaign Pre-K Early Childhood Center, which is a state-funded school that provides children who are determined to be "at-risk" with an opportunity to attend preschool free of charge. I work personally with a 3-year old named Michael, who speaks very little English, but yet is in an all English classroom with no readily available translator to help him bridge the existing language barrier. I have learned that there are other children that attend the school who are in similar situations such as Kevin's. I have also learned that since it is a state-funded program, there is not enough money to pay for extra Spanish speaking teachers to assist the Spanish speaking children.

Student Reflection: Compromising is Key

by Natalie Bodmer

photo: BT Washington Elementary School

Being almost halfway through the semester, I’ve seen how much of a difference it makes working with the same children each week and how much of a difference it makes in the community. The S.O.A.R. program uses rewards to encourage the students to read more than is required. Since my student, being in 4th grade, isn’t the biggest fan of reading especially since the weather is nice enough to play outside. Last week, I thought I had figured out and that if he picked out a book he was really interested in he would be more likely to want to read. However, he had already finished the book we started last week, so we had to try and find another book similar to it. When we went to the library I encouraged him to pick a book that had the same theme as before.

We started reading and immediately he wanted to stop and do something else. I suggested getting another book that he would maybe like more, but he insisted he just wanted to get the reading over with.

If I have not learned anything else from this experience, I have learned that teaching always keeps you on your toes and requires creativity. Once I thought I had it figured out, I had to come up with something else. I saw that he really liked teamwork and working together for a goal, when we do his other homework. Therefore I tried to compromise and work with him for a goal of reading a set number of pages or for a set amount of time. This worked for a while, but again he was getting tried of reading, so again I tried to come up with another compromise. This time I told him that I would read a page and then he would read a page. This worked great!

By using the combination of setting goals and taking turns reading he read for an hour, and did not ask to stop. I was so proud of him and he was really proud of himself. It helped that he also got a prize because the S.O.A.R. program gives students prizes once they read for a set amount of time.

Through the involvement in the community I have learned much more than I could have learned sitting in a class. I really believe that this course offers great opportunities for college students to learn in different environments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Summer Tutoring Opportunity

Students: will you be in Champaign-Urbana this summer? If so, please consider this tutoring opportunity. You can continue to use your Spanish, work in the community and provide important support for this individual child's learning. See the information below:

"Are you aware of anyone with Spanish-speaking skills who might be interested in tutoring a Kindergarten child this summer in a local summer school program?

"There is a young Spanish-speaking child in Kindergarten who attends Booker T. Washington Elementary School. He recently came to the school with very little language development. The child has made significant progress this semester with the help of the classroom teacher, literacy specialist, speech language support, a classroom tutor, and the SOAR after-school program. The principal and teachers at BT Washington want to make sure that the student’s Spanish language development is not lost over the summer. They are in the process of possibly developing a specialized summer school program for the student. Summer school will take place from 8 a.m. – 12 a.m., June 15-July 10, at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign. Since the summer school classes are taught in English, they are looking for a Spanish-speaking tutor or tutors to work one-on-one with the Kindergarten student in a pull-out program. Instructional materials will be provided for the tutor/s.

"Please contact me if you are aware of anyone with Spanish-speaking skills who might be interested in this rewarding volunteer opportunity in our community.

Thank you,
Lila Moore

Lila Moore, M.S.Ed.
Volunteer Program Coordinator
Center for Education in Small Urban Communities
32 Education Building, MC-708
University of Illinois
Champaign, IL 61820
phone: (217) 333-4687
fax: (217) 244-7065

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 9

by Ann Abbott

This is another anecdote that simply captures an important moment for both students. Being able to yell out "Bingo!" is exciting. So is winning a book.

Every Monday and Wednesday, I volunteer at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. This particular Wednesday the class was playing math bingo, which is special treat and the prize was a brand new book! A student I had been working with on math, Carlos, was obviously not keeping up with the pace of the game. He was beginning to become frustrated and removing himself from the game. I took a seat next to Carlos and told him to try the best that he could and to concentrate on what we had worked on together. Carlos began to place more and more chips on his sheet until the word “BINGO!” filled the entire classroom. Carlos with a huge grin on his face had won the game and the brand new book. Afterwards, while the other kids were getting ready for lunch, Carlos and I looked at his new book and talked about how cool it was. The satisfaction in knowing that I had taught Carlos something and that it had helped him accomplish a goal! Although it was just math bingo, Carlos gained confidence in his skills and knowledge by winning that game!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning Anecdote 8

by Ann Abbott

They say that accomodations we make for people with disabilities actually improve the quality of all people's lives. I think the same thing can be said about community service learning--the service we do for others enriches our own lives and our own learning. After all, community service learning is predicated on creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

But the benefits can sometimes surprise us.

Most people, I think, would imagine that our students who work at a domestic violence shelter are helping others with that specific problem while they gain something more "abstract" in return.

Not necessarily. I have had more than one female student who has had her studies interrupted, her concentration on academics disrupted, and her confidence shaken by a violent episode with a boyfriend. And there are many more cases, I'm sure, of students suffering some form of domestic violence but who never say anything about it.

This student's appeal to a university service fraternity asks them to imagine what domestic violence would be like. I bet some of them don't have to imagine it; they've lived it.

Imagine if every time you stepped into your apartment, you feared for your life. You never knew if your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend would be there waiting to hurt you or even kill you. Although this is a frightening, unthinkable thought for many of you, to some members of the Champaign County domestic violence is a terrible reality. Your home is meant to be a safe haven, and A Woman’s Place in Urbana strives to create a secure and welcoming environment for displaced victims.

As a volunteer through the class Spanish and Entrepreneurship, and a fellow brother in this service fraternity, I would like to take the time address all active members regarding this organization that serves the needs of victims of domestic abuse. Despite the name A Woman’s Place, both men and women, and their children seek refuge in this home that provides counseling and other support until they are able to find a safe place to live free from abuse. A Woman’s Place is also part of a larger organization, A Woman’s Fund, which includes Rape Crisis Services to provide support for victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Eight Reflection Topics That Apply to Any Service Activity

by Ann Abbott

This afternoon I will be speaking at the Service and Leadership Conference sponsored by the Office of Volunteer Programs. I have spoken at this same conference in the past, and I have always been very impressed by the students, their work and they way that they put this on themselves.

One thing I will do is a reflection activity, based on Debbie Sim's suggestions.

How is service different from service learning? In two ways: service learning is tied to an academic course and it includes structured reflection. Many of these students are very active in a Registered Student Organizations (RSO), and some of them may log more hours of actual service to the community than those in an academic service learning course. (My students are required to complete 28 hours in the community during the semester.)

But what do students in a community service learning course do more of? Structured reflection. I'm certainly not saying that people who are not in a course do not reflect on their experiences and their learning! But it is not usually built in to their service activities.

I will provide a list of categories and questions that I think anyone doing any type of service project can reflect upon. I will suggest that students jot down their ideas about one of the questions, but then I want them to share their ideas with someone else in the room. When we think of reflection our default seems to be "journaling." However, we can also reflect when we listen and speak.

Here's the list:

1. Academics. Compare/Contrast what you have observed in the community with information you have learned in at least one of your classes.

2. Media. Connect your experiences in the community with at least one recent news item.

3. Public Policy. Analyze why the situation you are working to alleviate in the community exists. Why is your service needed? Are their public policies that have negative (unintended) consequences for the community?

4. Yourself. Consider the ways in which you have grown and changed because of your service in the community. What beliefs that you previously held have been changed? Confirmed? Think deeply about whether or not you have reinforced any stereotypes in your mind.

5. Your own community. Identify needs that exist within your own community and/or campus. (All communities have needs!) How could the people you serve turn the tables and serve in your community. What resources do they have that could benefit your community. (Money is not the only resource communities posses: knowledge, experience, volunteers and their availability, etc.)

6. Inclusivity. Evaluate how inclusive your service organization or project is. Do people with special needs serve with you? If not, how could they? How could an older person serve in your project? A young person? A person who has limited English ability?

7. Community Impact. Establish ways of knowing the impact your service has in the community. How can you sustain positive impact? What happens when students from your project leave? How can you enter and exit the community in appropriate ways? Will the community always need your service? Can the tenets of social entrepreneurship help sustain your service project or the community itself?

8. National Service. Go to and explore the site. How can their resources aid your service project?

I'll let you know how the conference goes!

***Update*** I had to cancel at the last minute because I had a family emergency. I was very sorry to miss the conference.