Showing posts from April, 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:First , the TA would tell the student that his behavior is inappropriate and potentially damaging. I would contact the community partner to ask for their assessment of the situation.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&…

Student Reflection: Doing it for the little guys

by Sarah MoauroToday 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”…

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 comfort…

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 '…

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 tha…

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 th…

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 combin…

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…

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 problema…

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).


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-s…

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, fo…

Parody of Spanish Community Service Learning?

by Ann AbbottSpanish 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 d…

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 t…

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 a…

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!

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 continuou…

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 k…

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 expl…

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 Urban…

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,…

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 ChampaignPre-KEarlyChildhoodCenter, 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 transl…

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 re…

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 spec…

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…

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 universit…

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 reflec…