Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Research: How to Build Community Partnerships (NYLC The Generator)

by Ann Abbott

As always, the National Youth Leadership Council's newsletter, "The Generator," has very useful information about service learning in it. The Spring 2009 issue focuses on partnerships, and in this post I'd like to focus on the "Research" section written by Bjorn Lyngstad.

Lyngstad's piece begins with a question: "How can partnerships best be developed to ensure the success of service-learning projects?"

Frankly, in Spanish community service learning (CSL) I think we have it pretty easy. Our students need to develop their Spanish language skills and/or knowledge of Latino cultures. Our partners usually need our students' Spanish language skills to communicate with their stakeholders. That seems pretty easy to square up.

The problem is that our students need to use Spanish to do something: answer phones, greet clients, tutor children/adults, help resolve issues (legal, financial, bureaucratic, etc.). So our students need knowledge of other fields/issues to use their language skills effectively and carry out our partners' missions. In most Spanish classes students use Spanish to talk about literature or the language itself (linguistics), but in the real world students need to use their Spanish to communicate about topics that are probably unfamiliar to them.

But let me pull a few quotes from the piece in "The Generator" and link them to Spanish CSL.

"Obviously, community organizations have resources and technical capacity that most schools lack. Also, local organizations provide expertise on local issues." As obvious as this seems, I have found that it is not always obvious to all students. Many of our community partners are operating on shoestring budgets, in cramped quarters, with outdated technology (and sometimes technological know-how) and with a smaller-than-necessary staff. Given these conditions, students don't always see their resources because they can't see beyond the organization's "needs." Likewise, the staff of our community partners are very friendly and down-to-earth. But because they don't wear their expert status on their sleeves, students don't always recognize them as the highly-trained, powerful professionals that they are. Just as we must help students see a community's assets as well as its needs, we need to go through that same exercise with the partner organizations.

"[S]chools and agencies represent two radically different cultures." I like to think that my Spanish CSL program tries to simply be at the service of my partner organization and not impose our "culture" on theirs. Still, certain things are inevitably different:

  • Calendar. My students only work in the community for 14 weeks during each full semester. My community partners' work never ends.
  • Program growth. Many students want to take the "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" courses, and that is one indicator of a successful academic program. But can my partners grow with me? Can they accommodate more and more student CSL workers? Not all of them can.
  • Millenials. Today's students--millenials, as some call them--display characteristics that are very different from many of the adults with whom they work in the community. This is certainly a cultural and inter-generational conflict, at times. While I think it is important for our community partners to understand not just what Spanish skills our students will (or won't) bring to their work in the organizations, it's equally important for us to explain the generational perspective and habits that they will probably exhibit as well.

"[W]hile organizations define success by the accomplishment of certain tasks, schools determine success as meeting particular academic standards." Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that this can present a challenge. I would also add that organizations need to accomplish certain tasks over and over again. Some students see this as "boring." They might say, "All I ever do is answer the phone and greet clients." Instead, as a way to practice their Spanish and get to know about Latino cultures, students should say, "Every day I get to answer the phone and greet clients." Learning a second language requires a lot of repetition. If we can help students recognize the role of repetition for success in language learning as well as accomplishing the mission of the organization for which they work, perhaps we can reduce the "bore factor."

"Schools and organizations do not necessarily need to share goals, but they need to communicate them clearly." Yes, yes, yes! Clear communication is the key to making sure that partnerships are mutually beneficial. I would only add, "...clearly, often and in different formats." Try giving your partner a brochure about your course/program. Send them to your website with it's programmatic information. Dash off an e-mail every once in a while to make sure things are on track. Pick up the phone and call. Get in your car and drive to their office. I find that university-related people communicate via websites and e-mails most often. I rarely pick up my phone to talk to anyone on campus. But that might not be the case with your community partners. Dropping by might be the only way to have a conversation. And bring something along with you to work on. These are busy people who have "office hours" all day long with people lined up to see them.

"The best partnerships go beyond individual projects.... Ideally, they are based on a "program" model with individual projects carried out within the program." This is the model that I have built at the University of Illinois:

  • Students work with community partner two hours each week, and do the every-day work of the organization. They may assist a teacher in the classroom, tutor a student on whatever that day's homework is, answer whatever questions that day's clients present, translate a document that is next on the priority list, etc. They contribute to the day-to-day work.
  • Students work on projects for honors credit or a course-based team project. Although I always ask partners what their project needs are, many times I can match students' abilities with my partners' needs. Some recent projects: researching/writing a short grant proposal; putting PayPal on a community partner's website; raising funds to buy Spanish-language books for a school's library.

All in all, I agree that "partnerships can be time-consuming to form, and they take knowledge, interpersonal skills and resources to sustain (Bailis and Melchior, 2004)." However, I have had the privilege to work with very easy-going, positive community partners. I'm sure there is room for improvement in our partnerships, but I know that they have been mutually beneficial so far.

Student Spotlight: Megan Knight's Spanish & Illinios Summer Internship

by Ann Abbott

Megan Knight was one of the student bloggers from my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course last semester. She always wrote compelling and smart posts about her work in the course, in the community and her time studying abroad in Chile.

This summer Megan has one of the Spanish & Illinois Summer Internships, and she is working at Childcare Resource Services, the same place she did her community service-learning for "Spanish in the Community." I asked her what kinds of things she was doing during her internship, and you can read her answer below. What I love about her answer is that she is busy. She's using and developing many different skills--translation, document creation, writing/editing copy, client interaction, teamwork, and many more. Great job, Megan! :)

Jeeze, what am I NOT doing at CCRS? There's always so much to do! Right now I'm in the process of creating/translating resource guides for the six counties that CCRS offers services for: Iroquois, Champaign, Macom, Vermilion, Douglas, and Piatt. This way when clients come in and are new to the area, we can give them these packets that have all sorts of information about child care, educational services in the area, food and clothing providers, etc.

I also accompany Milagros whenever we have Latino clients come in who only speak Spanish. Sometimes I'll have to interview them if they are looking for a list of child care providers to see what their needs are, or sometimes I'll have to go find their files and see what's going on if they haven't been approved for child care.

I'm also translating forms. You wouldn't believe how many different types of applications and questionnaires and packets there are that people have to fill out in order to get child care. Most of the forms are on the DHS website in Spanish and English but there still are quite a few that aren't, so I translate them whenever we come across a form that we don't have available in Spanish.

I also help out the other child care specialists when they have Latino clients who are lacking some sort of documentation in their file so they can't be approved for child care. When this happens, the specialists come to me and tell me what the client still needs to provide, and then I write them a request for additional information in Spanish and mail it off to them.

As I said, there's always a lot to do! Yesterday I went and delivered toys with a co-worker to some Latino providers' houses, which was a nice change from sitting in the office all day. I really liked being able to talk in Spanish with the providers in a more relaxed atmosphere (and seeing the cute little kids was fun too!!)

So, that's the majority of the things that I'm doing at CCRS. I really like working side by side with Milagros and seeing the impact that her bilingualism has in her job. It makes me want to be bilingual even more, and I know that this experience will bring me closer to my goal!!!

Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to work in the community like this. I know that I'm really making a difference!

Student Spotlight: Héctor Barajas

by Ann Abbott

I realize that there is still some debate about whether or not professors should be Facebook friends with students. There is even a Facebook Group called "Faculty Ethics on Facebook."

I enjoy being friends with my former students (and some current students--why not?) on Facebook. I get to see a more complete picture of who they are, what they do, what they like, and I like that. I don't pretend to use Facebook for any pedagogical reasons; I just like getting to know people. Even before Facebook, I knew that my students were "whole people" with whom I had the privilege to interact just a few hours a week.

And it is through Facebook that I have been able to stay in contact with Héctor Barajas. Héctor was in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course during the spring of 2008, and he worked as a tutor for the ESL students at Central High School. I remember very well the team project he worked on and the great presentation they gave at the end of the semester.

So, I was happy to learn about Héctor's success after graduation. He works with Walgreens, and continues to use his Spanish. I also love that he displays a sense of service and personal engagement with the Latino community, something that most of my students in "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" feel very strongly.

Here are Héctor's own words:

"I got transferred to a different Walgreens with a much, much larger Hispanic population, which I love. It's really gratifying to help these people that have the language as a barrier. I think the thing that I remember is that my parents had to go through the same stuff and they've told me numerous times how hard it was for them. And it's still hard for them because their English isn't that great at all. So in my mind, I see it as paying homage to the struggles that my parents had. Maybe I should look into some sort of social services for this Hispanic community? ...We'll have to see, lol."

It's great to see one more example of how our students continue to use Spanish after they graduate. I also think that it is a great example of how you can integrate Spanish and service into what you're already doing; you don't necessarily have to "make time" to volunteer two hours each week.
Good luck, Héctor, with all you do! You're a great role model for other students.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Look at the Cover of "Comunidades: más allá del aula"

This is my first look at the cover for the textbook. It looks so simple, yet striking. Of course, that's just my opinion! :)

You can see details about the book here, and it will be available by August 15.

I know that there are a lot of people who develop innovative courses and great teaching materials. Here are some things that I have learned along the way that might be helpful to others who are writing a textbook or want to.

1. Inform yourself. Talk to other people who have written textbooks, if possible. See if you can do some work-for-hire for a publishing company, just so that you see the kind of work it takes--and if you're cut out for it.

2. Know your market. In order to get a contract you have to write a proposal. Even if your idea is great, if there aren't enough instructors who will buy it, then it won't get published. Remember, that doesn't mean that you don't have a great idea. It just means that not enough Spanish programs can adopt it in their course offerings.

3. Don't confuse the intro market with the intermediate/advanced market. Intro textbooks have a lot of resources poured into them because thousands and thousands of students will buy them. That's not the case for a book like Comunidades. That's not a problem, unless you are expecting something that you're not going to find.

4. Don't do it for the money. Whenever I tell someone that I have written a textbook, the very first thing they say is, "Oh, that's where the money is." First of all, I would like to tell them, "having a tenure-line position; advancing from Assistant to Associate and Full Professor; applying for jobs elsewhere and getting retention packages; that's where the money is." But then that wouldn't be very polite, would it? Secondly, this is related to #3--maybe, in the intro market, but probably not in the advanced market where fewer sections are offered.

5. Do it for the love of writing activities. I truly love writing activities and whole lesson plans. It is one of my creative outlets. When I was developing this course, in the first few years I wrote down all my lesson plans. That gave me the material to build upon to create a complete coursepack for TAs to use. I listened to the TAs and the students and tweaked the materials they complained about and created new lesson plans based on the needs they expressed. That may sound like a lot of work, but it's the work I love. And if you don't have that kind of love for creating activities AND revising them, you might reconsider your desire to publish a textbook.

Student Blogger: Update on Sarah Moauro

by Ann Abbott

All during the spring semester of 2009, I looked forward to reading Sarah (and Megan's) blog posts about their time doing community service learning (CSL). It was truly disappointing for me to stop receiving their reflections when the semester ended.

But Sarah didn't stop blogging! She took a wonderful trip to South America (Peru, Argentina and Uruguay) after school was out. She blogged about her experiences and took amazing photos along the way. I followed her blog while she was gone, and then when I saw her pictures it was truly like going along for the ride in a way.

Congratulations, Sarah, on your spirit of adventure and ability to communicate so well through your words and images.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

University of Illinois Alum Takes Students on Service Trip to Honduras

by Ann Abbott

Not only do the undergrads who take "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish for Entrepreneurship" go on to do great things that I like to highlight here; so do our department's former grad students.

Brenci Patiño is a perfect example. She is now at Texas Lutheran University and recently took students to Nicaragua. You can read about it here.

Brenci and I are friends on Facebook, so I was thrilled to follow her updates about the trip and then see the pictures and videos she posted. It gave me an glimpse into the local culture and the reach of their service project.

Congratulations, Brenci!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Classroom Activity: Write an Episode of Your Favorite TV Show with Spanish CSL in the Plot

by Ann Abbott

Once I started to use Twitter, I found a wealth of information about community service learning (CSL) from all over the country. Truthfully, sometimes all the great information can be overwhelming. But building relationships and finding real gems makes it worthwhile.

Here's one gem: a blog post about how CSL stories can become the basis of plots for Hollywood productions.

What a great idea!

And although we missed the deadline to submit stories, I think the concept would be a great basis for a fun in-class activity. (Remember, my examples are all based on Spanish CSL, but I'm sure you could think of examples in English and in any subject matter.)

Learning Objectives
1. Students recognize and recreate the human drama of Spanish CSL and the situations they encounter in the community.
2. Students use their communication and presentation skills to enact (or summarize) a Spanish CSL-based plot.
3. Students to consider the power of stories to create change.
4. Students analyze the influence of celebrities and how it might be leveraged for good.

Before Class

1. Ask students to watch the above video.
2. Ask students to read this press release.
3. Ask students to read the examples of stories at this post.
4. Ask students to go to this website and look up some stars that interest them at this website, including at least one Latina/o star, e.g., Shakira.

In Class
1. Ask students to mention examples of celebrities who promote service and/or charity. (Examples: Oprah's Angel Network, Angelina Jolie's work with UNICEF, Brad Pitt's work with green architecture and the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. What about Latina/o celebrities?) What are the pros and cons of celebrity-endorsements?

2. Draw a concept map on the board with "service or community engagement" encircled in the middle. Ask students to mention movies, tv shows, music videos, songs, etc. that use that as a plot element or a characterization tool. (Examples: Pay It Forward, the nun in Dead Man Walking who fights for social justice.) What image of service do these entertainment vehicles project? Charity, maintaining the status quo, "look how lucky we are," social justice, engagement, radicalism, something else?

3. Divide students into teams. Give students a genre of television show, and ask each team to come up with a plot that incorporates service in some way. Each team presents their plot, either by enacting it or summarizing it. Students can vote for the best one. Then move on to a different genre and ask students to do the same thing. Genres:
  • Children's shows. Example: A refugee family from the Congo arrives to Sesame Street. Bert and Ernie try to talk to the children, but they speak a different language. They decide to play games with the children in the park to show that you can welcome new community members and share with them even when you don't share a common language.
  • Crime shows. Law & Order, CSI.
  • Medical dramas. Grey's Anatomy, ER.
  • Sitcoms.
  • Reality tv.

Alternatively, you could assign each team a different genre and then vote on the best plot in any drama.

4. Conclusion: Ask students to connect the importance of story-telling to the communities where they work. What stories about Spanish CSL can they tell their friends and family to encourage them to engage in service? Can they write a story about their CSL work to include in the community partner's newsletter or website? Could their story encourage others to donate their time and/or money to the community partner? Finally, has their Spanish CSL work changed "the plot" of their own lives in any way? (Sometimes students decide to change majors, careers

What Do Spanish Community Service Learning and College Admissions Have in Common?

by Ann Abbott

My audience for this blog isn't high school students who are trying to get into college, but I still think this video on college admissions is relevant to those of us doing Spanish community service learning (CSL).

How? The things that the speaker says about getting into college--being vested in your activities, showing you authentic self in your admissions essay, what is the value of grades versus challenge--are all true about how students can highlight their Spanish CSL work when they look for a job or a graduate program.

I truly believe that a Spanish CSL experience is a great way to set yourself apart, but only if you really take advantage of the experience. Adding it as one more item on your resume doesn't help if you can't then speak passionately about what you learned, how you learned it, and how you can transfer that to the work you will need to do in the job or grad program you're applying for.

I'll continue to write more spceific posts about the value of Spanish CSL for job preparation, but I wanted to share this video because it states things that I think are very important for our students.

  • When it comes to your extracurricular activities in college (although the video is talking about high school), quality and depth of engagement is more important than quantity.
  • Your high GPA doesn't mean as much if you never took risks and stretched yourself in hard/unique courses, like a CSL course.
  • Your job interviewer or the admissions committee won't know the depth of your learning and commitment to Spanish CSL if you don't articulate that with an authentic, passionate voice in your cover letter or personal statement.

I know that we're not teaching at vocational schools, but I believe it is unethical on our part to consciously ignore the fact that our students must go out and look for jobs when they graduate. I want my students to learn a lot academically from my Spanish CSL courses, but I also want them to leave the class feeling that I have given them something that they can take with them to their after-college lives.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Add Variety to Spanish Community Service Learning Reflection

by Ann Abbott

A quick reminder of the three pillars of successful Spanish community service learning (CSL):
  1. A mutually beneficial community partnership.

  2. Service learning activities that are tied to the academic content of the course.

  3. Structured reflection.
In this post I'd like to concentrate on #3, structured reflection. There is so much to say, and so much has already been said. Furthermore, reflection in a second language adds another layer of complexity for the students and instructors.

Still, the 4 C's (Eyler, Giles and Schmiede) are a good place to start (quoted in Service-Learning course Design Workbook from Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning Summer 2001):
  1. Continuous: reflection activities are undertaken throughout the service-learning course, rather than intermittently, episodically, or irregularly.
  2. Connected: reflection efforts are structured and directly related to the learning objectives.
  3. Challenging: reflection efforts set high expectations, demand high quality student effort, and facilitate instructor feedback that stimulates further student learning.
  4. Contextualized: reflection activities are appropriate to the particular course, and commensurate with and complementary to the level and type of other course learning activities.
I would add another item to this list: Variety. (Unfortunately, that doesn't start with a "c." Darn.

Vary the format. The Spanish CSL students at the University of Illinois used to do both written reflections and video reflections. This allowed them to develop their written and oral Spanish. (We dropped the video reflections last year, but that's the subject of another post...)

Vary the prompts. Ask students to reflect on a variety of topics. Give them good, varied prompts, but also give them a chance to have the freedom to reflect on whatever strikes them as important. However, avoid the wording that I once used: "Escribe sobre lo que quieras."/"Write about whatever you want." My students did not catch the subjunctive in the question and interpreted it as "Write about what you want." As in, what you want to get out of this experience. The second time that prompt appeared, some students wrote angry reflections, telling me that they had already answered this question! Ha. Now I write, "Decide tú el tema de este ensayo"/"You decide the topic of this essay." Yet another warning: you must tell them that they have to write about their Spanish CSL. When I allow students to choose their own topics, some inevitably write about their study-abroad plans, their love of soccer, and the courses they are going to take next semester--with no connection whatsoever to what they are learning in the community.

Vary the place. Students don't always have to write reflections at home. Make sure that your in-class activities include opportunities for reflection. Students can write in class, conduct interviews, etc.

Vary the content. Students don't always have to write reflective essays. How about a page full of questions that have come to their mind while working in the community. Why not have them draw a community assets map? Could they draw a picture of a representative object from their CSL?

Vary the audience. Are you, the instructor, the sole audience for your students' reflections? Why? Could someone else learn something from their reflections and help them learn? Here are some possible alternative audiences for students' reflections:
  • Each other. Our Spanish CSL students at the University do "peer reflection" at least twice during a semester. To do this, they must read a previous reflection by another student and compare/contrast their own experiences. Students who work in different places in the community learn about how that other place functions. Students who work in the same place can see how two people can have very different experiences. Or very different reactions to the same experience.
  • The world. If students post to a public forum (website, blog, etc.), their readers can be anyone from anywhere. And if they get comments from those readers, that can be especially exciting.
  • Community members/partners. As I have posted before, I ask students to reflect on what they have learned in the community and write thank you notes to community partners/members. When they know that the notes will be hand delivered and read, they choose their words carefully and try to truly show what they have learned. I'm sure there are other reasons for writing real letters to their supervisors in the community or community members--get well letters if someone is sick, a note of encouragement for someone who is going to take a test, a congratulations note to someone who is able to bring their family here to live with them. Any other ideas?
  • The editor of a local newspaper. If there is a Spanish-language newspaper in the community, students could send in a letter to the editor or volunteer to write a feature about their class/project and what they have learned. The same could be done in English. Or they could research and write about a particular problem or issue that they encounter in their work in the community.
  • Alumni. Does your department or university have an alumni newsletter? Students could write essays in which they compare what and how they learn in a traditional Spanish course (probably what the alumni are familiar with) with what and how they learn in a Spanish CSL course. That could also have the added bonus of alumni feeling motivated to contribute to the CSL program in some way. Maybe. Maybe I'm dreaming.
If you have suggestions for other ways to add variety to students' Spanish CSL reflection, please leave it in a comment here!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Classroom Activity about Entrepreneurship Featuring Latin American Ashoka Fellows

by Ann Abbott

This morning I received another issue of the Entrepreneurship Educator Newsletter. It has good content about using Twitter in your teaching and generating income by offering workshops to the public. The last point led me to brainstorm some potential workshop topics that I could offer. I'll post more about that later.

One of the things that I enjoy about the Entrepreneurship Educator Newsletter is that it often offers some grab-and-go classroom exercises that you can implement right away in your own classroom. So I thought I'd offer one of those here today. (I offered another one using in a previous post.)

Remember, I am teaching my students Spanish at the same time that I am teaching them about entrepreneurship. You may want to tweak the activity if you teach in English. If you teach Spanish, like I do, tell your students that they will read the information in English, but they need to speak in Spanish.

Learning Objectives:
  1. Recognize that local communities often have the best solutions for local problems.
  2. Identify elements of local solutions that make them culturally-appropriate.

Instructor Preparation Before Class:

  1. Go to, click on "Regions of Work," click on a region, click on a country and then click on "Search for Fellows here." (I click on North America and then the countries of Mexico and Central America. Then I click on South America and click on individual countries there.)
  2. Click on the Fellows' names to learn about their projects. Choose one Fellow for every two students you have in your class. If you have 30 students, you need to choose 15 Fellows. (Here is an example of an Ashoka Fellow from Ecuador who has found solutions to problems with incarceration.)
  3. For each Fellow, on one page type "The Problem," and another page type "The Strategy." Copy the appropriate information on each page. Make sure you have a list of all the Fellows and their projects so that you can reference it in class.

In class:

  1. Mix all the pieces of paper. Give half the students a "Problem" and the other half a "Strategy."
  2. Tell the students with "The Problem" that their goal is find the student with "The Strategy" that matches their problem. They have to describe the problem or strategy in their own words, and they cannot use the name of the Ashoka Fellow to figure out the match. When they find their match, they should sit down together. (This isn't always easy. If people end up not finding their match, refer to your list to match them yourself.)
  3. Ask the pairs to analyze their case. Is the problem specific to the culture of that country? If not, what are examples of the same problem in other cultures? Is the solution culturally-specific? Could it be implemented in other cultures? How could you change it to make it a culturally-appropriate solution in a different context? What other strategy can you identify for the problem? How does your strategy reflect your own culture?
  4. Two pairs then present to each other and compare their cases and analyses.


I really like the example of Cristina Bubba Zamora from Bolivia for the following reasons:

  • It presents a problem that many of our students are probably not aware of.
  • It presents a solution that draws upon specific characteristics of the local indigenous community, especially their own governing body.
  • It shows students the importance of the United Nations and international law, things that the US media and politicians often criticize or present as irrelevant.
  • Students can make connections to similar situations in different cultures--Ancient Greek art "stolen" by Englishmen and displayed in English museums; Native American artifacts that one culture may view as "museum pieces" while the indigenous culture views them as "sacred"; the looting of museums and archaeological sites in Iraq during the US-led invasion; etc.
This activity provides a nice break in the class because students have to stand up, move around, talk to each other and then re-group to sit down and analyze the case. If you use it in your class, leave me a comment and let me know how it works for you!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning Bibliography

by Ann Abbott

As a service to all who are doing research in Spanish community service learning (CSL) and to those who would like to read the bibliography in order to start a course or program, I thought it would be a nice idea to keep an updated bibliography on this blog. Whenever you see a new article, book or textbook on Spanish CSL or foreign-language CSL in general, please leave me a comment or e-mail me at, and I will update this bibliography.

Abbott, Annie. "Putting Students to Work: Spanish Community Service Learning as a Countervailing Force." Building Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health.  Eds., Lissette Piedra and Lydia Buki. Springer. 2011.

Abbott, Annie. "Social Entrepreneurship and Community Service Learning: Building Sustainable Non-profits and Language Programs." Specialised Languages in the Global Village. Eds., Carmen Perez-Llantada and Maida Watson. Cambridge Scholars. 2011.

Abbott, Annie and Darcy Lear. "The Connections Goal Area in Spanish Community Service-Learning: Possibilities and Limitations." Foreign Language Annals 43 (2010): 231-45.

Abbott, Annie and Darcy Lear. “Matching Student Presentations to the Nature of Service Learning Work.” Quick Hits for Service-Learning:  Successful Strategies from Award Winning Educators. Indiana UP, 2010. 80-81.

Abbott, Annie and Darcy Lear. "Marketing Business Languages: Teaching Students to Value and Promote their Coursework." Global Business Languages 15 (2010).

Barreneche, G. I. & Ramos-Flores, H. (2013). Integrated or isolated experiences? Considering the role of service-learning in the Spanish language curriculum. Hispania, 96(2), 215-228.

Beebe, Rose Marie and Elena M. DeCosta. “Teaching Beyond the University: The Santa Clara University Eastside Project: Community Service and the Spanish Classroom.” Hispania 76 (1993): 884-91.

Bloom, M. (2008). From the classroom to the community: Building cultural awareness in first semester Spanish. Language, Culture & Curriculum, 21(2), 103-119.Barreneche, Gabriel Ignacio. "Language Learners as Teachers: Integrating Service-learning and the Advanced Language Course." Hispania 94.1 (2011): 103-120.

Caldwell, Wendy. “Taking Spanish Outside the Box: A Model for Integrating Service Learning Into Foreign Language Study.” Foreign Language Annals 40 (2007): 463-69.Carney, T. M. (2013). How service-learning in Spanish speaks to the crisis in the humanities. Hispania, 96(2), 229-237.

Carracelas-Juncal, C. (2013). When service-learning is not a "border-crossing" experience: Outcomes of a graduate Spanish online course. Hispania, 96(2), 295-309.

Colomer, Soria Elizabeth and Linda Harklau. "Spanish Teachers as Impromptu Translators and Liaisons in New Latino Communities." Foreign Language Annals 42 (2009): 658-72.

Daniels, Mary B. & Elizabeth Dahms. "A Case Study of Community-Based Learning: Centre College in Danville, Kentucky." ADFL Bulletin 39.2&3 (2008): 61-5.

Darias, Teresa, et al. ”Community Video: Empowerment through University and Community Interaction.” Construyendo puentes (Building Bridges): Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Eds. Josef Hellebrandt and Lucia T. Varona. AAHE’s Ser. on Service-learning in the Disciplines 13. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1999. 149-69.

d'Arlach, Lucía, Bernadette Sánchez and Rachel Feuer. "Voices from the Community: A Case for Reciprocity in Service-Learning." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 16 (2009): 5-16.

Díaz-Barriga, Miguel. “Spanish in the Social Sciences: Notes on the Challenges of Service-Learning among Mexican Migrants in Pennsylvania.” Juntos: Community Partnerships in Spanish and Portuguese. Eds. Josef Hellebrandt, et al. American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese Professional Development Ser. Handbook Volume 5. Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle, 2003. 154-61.

Elorriaga, Margarita. “College Students as Tutors: Learning from the Latino Community of Adams County.” Hispania 90 (2007): 533-42.

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College Students of 2020--Will They Take Spanish Community Service Learning Courses?

by Ann Abbott

What's your first impression of the young woman in the photo: is she studying?

I think most people would say "no." But in just a few years, a cell phone and a laptop might be precisely what students use to study.

I am on the LAS Online Committee. Our charge is to understand how we can increase our College's (not the university's) on-line offerings. The goals are to increase access to our students and to generate revenue. (Cynics, stop right there. The College is serious about quality; money is not the sole motivator.)

There are a lot of talented people on the committee, and I learn a lot from listening to all of them. At yesterday's meeting, Barbara Hancin-Bhatt shared a new report from the Chronicle about College Students of 2020. As Barbara pointed out, the changes in how universities teach are big and the time frame is small. Two points from the executive summary seem particularly salient for Spanish community service learning (CSL): value and convenience.

First, two quotes from the Executive Summary.

"Students’ convenience is the future. More students will attend classes online, study part time, take courses from multiple universities, and jump in and out of colleges. Students will demand more options for taking courses to make it easier for them to do what they want when they want to do it. And they will make those demands for economic reasons, too. The full-time residential model of higher education is getting too expensive for a larger share of the American population. More and more students are looking for lowercost alternatives to attending college. Three-year degree programs, which some colleges are now launching, will almost assuredly proliferate. The trend toward low-cost options also will open doors for more inexpensive online options."

"The conversion to more convenience for students will multiply over the next decade. To some degree, those situations are already happening, and they will be amplified as time goes on:
• Students will increasingly expect access to classes from cellular phones and other portable computing devices.
• They may sign up to take a course in person, and then opt to monitor class meetings online and attend whenever they want.
• Classroom discussions, office hours with a professor, lectures, study groups, and papers will all be online."

Value. Students and parents are right to question the value of their tuition dollars. I believe there are many ways to answer their questions, but the value of Spanish CSL (when done well) seems obvious: (1) you improve your Spanish, (2) learn about Latino cultures by actually interacting with people from those cultures and (3) gain real-world, pre-professional experience. However, the onus is on us (say that three times fast!) to explain that value to students and parents. Like I've said before on this blog, students tend to see their CSL work as "just" volunteering. We need to show them how to actually highlight their accomplishments in the community in terms that educators and employers value.

Convenience. This is trickier. Spanish CSL isn't particularly convenient. In fact, it can be downright inconvenient for students who must trek off campus (if the students of 2020 actually live on campus), maintain a regular work schedule (no showing up late or not showing up at all if it isn't "convenient") and push themselves past their comfort-levels (speaking--and making mistakes--to native speakers). However, I am already convinced that technology can enhance how we deliver Spanish CSL work as well as how we teach the students. I can envision teaching one of these courses on-line. Sure. I also think that their on-line interactions with their classmates and me can be just as rich as face-to-face interactions. For example, my Facebook friendships are just as rich as my face-to-face friendships. The medium can even enhance our communication in some ways. But the actual time in the community has to be built around commitment, not just students' convenience.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Journal Review for Spanish Community Service Learning: The Language Educator 4.3

by Ann Abbott

Another issue of "The Language Educator," another cache of very useful information. I'll comment on the different pieces in separate posts.

1. On-line tools for learning Spanish The building where I work used to have a television set above the elevators that broadcast SCOLA(with newsbroadcasts from many languages and countries) throughout the day. They took it down, and it is true that it looked outdated--the Hummer-sized tv set hanging above your head--but it was a visual reminder of what our building, the Foreign Languages Building, was all about. If you walk into the newest buildings on campus--the Institute for Genomic Biology and the Business Instructional Facility--they have flat screen tvs that greet everyone who enteres with constant information about what they are about, their brand. But I digress! SCOLA may seem old-school, but don't forget it as a good resource for advanced language learners. ' "Voices en espanol." I already knew about this blog, but it was nice to see it mentioned again. I subscribed to the site so I can be sure to catch up with its latest content--interesting blog posts and great podcasts. Yes, most of the Spanish is from Spain, but I always tell my students that they should just concentrate on improving their Spanish of any variety; then it will be easier to pick up on the particularities of the varieties they encounter most often in the community. While I was at Voices en espanol, I clicked on the link for "La Casa Rojas." I know that our students usually don't want to (and in some cases can't) pay for language-learning tools on the web, but this site is full of great information and good writing. While cultural information in Spanish textbooks tends to concentrate almost exclusively on literary texts and works of art, students want to know more about daily life and cultural practices in Spanish-speaking countries. This site has that information. Its categories include: dia cotidiano; festivales/tradiciones; gastronomia; politica/historia; reflexiones linguisticas. (I'm going to come back and put in the accents when I'm on a different computer. Argh.) Memorizing decontextualized lists of vocabulary words is not a good investment of a Spanish CSL student's time, in my opinion. Still, since these sets of Spanish flashcards are tagged, you can find words that are related to a topic that you are interested in. In my opinion, you're better of jotting down words you hear in the community and making your own flash cards. But if you like using flash cards and think this might help, give it a try. Again, our Spanish CSL students probably aren't going to be encountering people in the community with Spanish accents and phrasings. Still, it's good practice to listen to the radio and test your "ear" so I think Spain's Radio Nacional website provides good practice for our students. Since I'm not familiar with all their programs, the site is very busy and overwhelming for me. I simply click on "Radio Nacional en directo" and listen to whatever comes on. I would also recommend clicking on "Podcasts" and choosing from the topics covered there. Some that might be related to work that our students do in the community include "A su salud," "Al son de America" and "Alimento y salud."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Journal Review for Spanish Community Service Learning: Hispania 92.2

by Ann Abbott

Darcy Lear and I have an article--"Aligning Expectations for Mutually Beneficial Community Service-Learning: The Case of Spanish Language Proficiency, Cultural Knowledge, and Professional Skills" pp. 312-323--in the latest issue of Hispania. It's always exciting to see your words appear on the page and to know that other people (might...) read them.

This article was motivated by the fact that everything we had read about Spanish community service learning (CSL) was positive, yet we knew that there were many challenges as well. I think Spanish CSL is very important and has great potential, but I think we also have to be honest about the work it takes to make the experience work well for all parties involved. Plus, in Valerie Werpetinski's reading group, I had read an article by Susan R. Jones about the "The Underside of Service Learning" and students who just "don't get it" and end up reinforcing stereotypes. The last straw for me was when I read an article that said that a Spanish CSL group went to a rural Central American community and ended up singing songs in Spanish around the campfire with the local people. Really? That's great, but I need a little more information about that. I myself would have difficulty doing something like that.

I understand that as an emerging practice in Spanish studies, it is important to document Spanish CSL's achievements and possibilities. However, we also need to be honest and expose the possible failures.

So Darcy and I inventoried our negative experiences and realized that they all came down to one problem: students and community partners had different expectations about the experience.

Further analysis showed that those expectations had to do with three central items:
  • Students' Spanish proficiency.
  • Their cultural knowledge.
  • Their ability to carry out simple professional tasks--in either language.

After outlining the potential misaligned expectations, we offer some strategies to align/re-align them:

  • Spanish CSL instructors must accept the role of intermediary and incorporate it into their teaching schedule, in order to avoid frustration.
  • Communicate expectations in multiple venues and moments. Don't really on just one source; consider using the syllabus, course website, class discussions, reflection essays, exam items and more as opportunities for students to examine their expectations and/or frustrations.
  • Create classroom materials that do this work for you. (Obviously, I attempted to achieve that in Comunidades, but every instructor will supplement with materials that fill his/her students' particular needs.) Don't overlook the need to teach professional skills, but do try to kill at least two birds with one stone. For example, if Spanish CSL students tutor children in a school setting, a lesson that builds students' linguistic skills for asking targeted questions could be based on content that will help them check children's reading comprehension.

Unfortunately, there is no pdf of the article that I can link to. If you're interested in seeing a copy of the article, please contact me at (Try clicking here. Thanks, Anita.)


This issue of Hispania also includes a "Post-Conference Forum" with short pieces describing the sessions of the 2008 AATSP conference. Two of them are of particular interest to Spanish CSL instructors.

"Integrating Community Assets into the Language Learning Process: A Workshop at the AATSP Conference in Costa Rica, July 2008" by Ethel Jorge (Pitzer College) and Richard A. Raschio (University of Saint Thomas)

First, let me say that I like the title. Instead of focusing on community needs, it highlights community assets. That wording and point of view go a long way towards helping our students avoid the "charity" model that can be seemingly unavoidable when privileged parties help people within under-resourced communities.

They also focused on another important topic: ethics. "Since there is an increasing interest among language teachers in integrating community assets into their courses, we stressed the necessity of taking into account how the communities are rediscovered and the ethical considerations involved in connecting them to the language learning process on campus." This, of course, deserves an article itself, but I did touch on this topic in my post about carbon footprints and Spanish CSL footprints.

Prof. Jorge is one of the early adopters of and writers about Spanish CSL.

"Carnivals: Transatlantic Connections between Latin American and Spanish Celebrations" by Ethel Jorge (Pitzer College)

Prof. Jorge highlights the cultural and historical connections between the Carnival celebrations in Cadiz, Spain and Montevideo, Uruguay. Aside from the interesting facts about these specific celebrations, this is a wonderful case study of the cultural ties formed by global and historic patterns of immigration. I have sustained here before and in my teaching materials that students should understand that immigration is not just about Mexicans coming to the United States. The realities of human migration are much more complex, enduring and bi-directional than many people realize. Prof. Jorge's example of Carnival celebrations can bring that to life--with lively examples of Carnival cultural practices and products--for our students.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An Example of Virtual Volunteering and Ideas for Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Facebook has been a wonderful way for me to reconnect with old friends. It has also been a great source of inspiration as I think about how to use social media and virtual volunteering for Spanish community service learning (CSL).

Those two great things about Facebook combined when a friend that I grew up with, Lynn Wilder, posted that she was taking pictures for volunteer-based genealogy website. She has combined two of her hobbies--photography and genealogy--to add to a data base that helps others do their genealogy research better.

Here is Lynn's description of her work:

"I started volunteering for the website of about two months ago. There were many reasons why I chose to do it. Volunteering with the website gave me the opportunity to help others in their search for their ancestors. It also allowed me to share my talents of photography (yes, I think you can take a BAD photo of a gravemarker!) and it also gave me the chance to see all different kinds of cemeteries and cemetery headstones. I love hearing from those persons that I've taken gravemarker photos for. Oftentimes, those few photos that I've taken helps answer a lot of ancestry questions that they've had. Obviously there is no monetary reward for volunteering, but those few notes of "Thank You" that I receive make it all worthwhile!"

I love this example! It's a great way to use crowdsourcing to complete a task--in this case, taking photographs of gravestones to an ever-increasing data base.

What ideas can it give us for using social media to do Spanish CSL?

  • I don't mean to be morbid, but something exactly like this could be useful in and of itself. Immigration separates people from their families and they miss important family events--births, christenings, birthdays, religious holidays, weddings, and, yes, even deaths. Just the other day a friend of mine talked to a woman from Mexico who is living here and could not go home when her mother died. She cried as she told my friend about it. And what about immigrants who die while in the US? Not everyone can afford to be repatriated. Sorry to talk about such a sad subject, but I can see how the website Lynn contributes to helps people. Perhaps it could bring comfort to people separated by borders as well.
  • Story Corps accepts stories in English and Spanish. Could our students help immigrants record their stories and add to the rich database of stories that are already on the site?
  • Perhaps our students could read about President Obama's ideas on immigration reform and then send a statement about their own ideas (hopes, beliefs, experiences, etc.) for immigration reform. It could be a coordinated effort for students to report their findings and feelings about their Spanish CSL work with immigrants. Or it could be simply individual reports of students' unique takes on the topic.

Any more ideas? I know our students love the face-to-face contact with local Latinos. It boosts their confidence and gives them an immediate sense of accomplishment and feedback. Still, web-based virtual volunteering has so many possibilities for our students before and after they finish a Spanish CSL course. It can also be a way to involve students with lower-level Spanish fluency but who can still learn language, culture and socio-political content.

Write a comment and add to this list if you have any ideas! (Our own example of crowdsourcing.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

10 Things Every Traveler (or Community Service Learner) Should Do

by Ann Abbott

Pico Iyer is a novelist who has traveled a lot, to interesting locales, and with interesting companions (the Dalai Lama!). So I read his piece, "10 Things Every Traveler Should Do," with interest. In fact, when I read it, it made me think of how our students can connect in different ways to the communities where they do their Spanish community service learning (CSL).

Obviously, I don't think that our students should think of these communities as "exotic" locales for their "leisure travels." And in fact we sometime have to explicitly stop them from exoticizing both the community members and the spaces they inhabit.

But on the other hand, many of our students rush into the community to do their work, then rush back to campus to do their studying and socializing. They're busy people! They may come to know their workplace (an office, a school, a clinic, etc.) very well without every getting a real sense of the larger community context.

So wouldn't it be great if our students could spend some time further exploring the places where they work? It's in that spirit that I offer the Spanish CSL counterpoint to Iyer's list of things that tourists should do.

#1 "Savor every moment of your first few hours." Iyer argues for the importance and authenticity of first impressions.
Spanish CSL: This is tough for Spanish CSL students. Most are very, very nervous in the beginning. They're worried about speaking Spanish. Worried about understanding Spanish. Worried about what is expected of them on the job. Worried, worried, worried. Honestly, I don't think there's any way around that. But when you're in that state, you're concentrating on yourself: how you'll perform, how you'll look, how others will judge you. As soon as you can relax, just take a deep breath and look around you. Who is this person across from you? What posters are on the office wall? What announcements does the principal make in the morning? Which house on your walk has the nicest flower garden? Take it all in. It's all part of your learning.

#2 "Embrace the prospect of being a tourist." You don't have to call yourself a "traveler" instead of a "tourist." There's nothing wrong with doing typical sightseeing, and that may be just what you need in order open doors for other kinds of experiences.
Spanish CSL: If you were on a trip to a different city or country, what would you want to see? During my junior year abroad, I saw enough European cathedrals to last me a life time. In the community where you do your CSL, what are the churches like? What art do they display in their churches, if any? Is the church (temple, mosque, etc.) a neighborhood hub, or is it in decline? Do you like museums? If there's one in the community, go. If not, do local artists display or sell their work somewhere? Do the women (and men!) gather somewhere and do traditional (or modern) handcrafts? Is the art on the school walls similar or different than in the school you attended? If you're going to be a tourist, why not find a tour guide. During your work in the community, have you gotten to know someone who could show you around the neighborhood? Ask them to tell you about the local businesses, the houses, some local gossip, some tips on the best place to eat.

#3 "Devour the hotel literature."
Iyer makes the point that you can miss a lot of good information if you dismiss the tourist brochures as tacky.
Spanish CSL: Write the hotel literature! Not "hotel" literature literally, but write something up that really promotes the cultural heritage of the community. Its architecture. Artifacts. Write some restaurant reviews for the local stands. I'm serious. This is a good exercise in seeing a community's assets, not just its needs.

#4 "Run an errand for a friend."
This seems very wise to me. If you search for something that someone else wants, that will take you off your common path. If you always hit the local art museums, your friend's request for a Christmas tree ornament to add to her collection will lead you where you never would have gone on your own.
Spanish CSL: Ask someone to tell you a question they have about the community where you're working. You know you're going there for: to improve your Spanish and get to know more about Latino cultures. But what is your dad curious about? Maybe he sees all kinds of Latino dishes prepared on cooking shows and wants to know if you can bring him some plantains or yuca. What would your roommates want you to bring home? Maybe a copy of one of the ESL highschooler's playlists would give them some new ideas for party music. Who knows? Ask!

#5 "Take in a performance or a sporting event."
These are familiar events, yet unique experiences in different cultures.
Spanish CSL: If you work in a school during the day, why not go to one of their games in the evening? Do they sell the same things at the concession stand that you grew up with? Or different? Are they gearing up for a school musical? Invite some friends and go to it. Do the employees in the agency where you work get together for happy hour on Friday? Don't drink if you're not 21 (and drink responsibly if you are), but do consider joining in if they're open to it. Did you help them organize their annual fundraising banquet? Offer to collect tickets at the door so you can attend (and eat!) for free.

#6 "Check out a bookstore."
The books they stock reflect local interests.
Spanish CSL: Is there a bookstore in the community? Unfortunately, the big chain bookstores have run out many independent bookstores. But maybe there is a magazine section in the local grocery store that carries titles you're not familiar with. Is there a branch of the local library that caters to locals' reading interests? Does a local shop rent Spanish-language movies? And no, I'm not talking about "art" movies that your professors would show in class. Take a look at some of the cheesy action movies you see other people pick up when they're at the check-out. See if you can understand the dialogue.

#7 "Ride a bus to the end of the line."
You'll see what the locals see. Literally.
Spanish CSL: Safety first, but if it's possible, go ahead get off one or two bus stops later. Or if you usually ride the bus to your CSL work, walk. If you normally walk, take a parallel street to the one you always take. The point is to get a deeper understanding of the community as a whole, to take a few steps away from the place where you work.

#8 "Read the daily newspaper."
Iyer urges us to pick up a local English-language newspaper to get the local take on things (news items of local important, and a local take on US news). And even if you can't read the local language, those papers can give you insights too. Do they have different sections than US papers? What stories do the pictures tell?
Spanish CSL: These are bad times for newspapers. But if you're lucky, the community you work in has a Spanish-language newspaper. Reading it is required homework for the course, worth 100% of your grade! What are the local stories? What are people buying and selling? Who got married? What news from Latin America makes it into the paper? What businesses are buying ads? Why? If there is no newsletter, what are the community's sources of information? Church bulletins? Bulletin boards? School newsletters? Find out what community members want to find out about.

#9 "Go to McDonald's."
All McDonald's have adapted slightly to the local culture, Iyer says.
Spanish CSL: Is there a McDonald's in the community where you work? Step on in. The menu may be exactly what you were expecting, but are the types of customers different than those in your neighborhood? What are people doing while they're in the McDonald's? What about different times of day? In the early morning, working people may be speeding through the drive-up to get a breakfast sandwich while inside a large group of retirees has taken over the tables, nursing a cup of coffee for hours. On a Saturday in the winter, moms with cabin fever might be there to let their kids play in the play structure. Maybe it's a teenage hangout on Friday nights.

#10 "Get lost."
Spanish CSL: Iyers really means that you should roam. Vagar. I know you have to log 28 hours of CSL work during the semester, and that's a tall order while you're also studying for other classes, running to meetings for your three team projects, working a part-time job and trying to have fun, too. But stop the clock for at least a few moments, and just let your body--and your mind--vagar while you're in the community that is teaching you so much.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Community Service Learning Can Lead to Great Letters of Recomendation

by Ann Abbott

At the end of the semester, I always tell my students to ask me for a letter of recommendation whenever they need one. I think I ask a lot of my students, so then I always have a lot to say about them in a letter.

In fact, I just wrote a letter of recommendation for one of the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students from this spring who was invited to apply for a position working at the White House! (Good luck, Julio!) Because the course includes community service learning (CSL), in his letter I was able to give very specific information about the items I list below.

Here are some ways that CSL can result in a solid letter of recommendation for students, provided, of course, that they do good work in the course.

Small class size. In general, foreign language courses are small. And because of the extra administrative duties of a CSL course, most are also small in size. Our "Spanish in the Community" courses are capped at 20 students per section. I allow more students into "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" because they are already experienced with community service learning, and because I am teaching the course, not a TA. With classes that size, the instructor can get to know the students' strengths (and weaknesses!) very well. This leads to letters that are personalized and specific.

True sense of responsibility. It's one thing to note on a letter of recommendation that a student attended class regularly and handed in assignments on time. Yes, those are indicators of responsibility that a future employer would want to see. But the letter is so much stronger when you can say that the student managed to indepently find his/her way off campus and into the community, show up on time for his/her work with the partner organization, and perform in a professional manner while there.

Multicultural awareness. Cultures and subcultures are created around many different factors: ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic class, age, gender, etc. Spanish community service learning puts students in multilingual and multicultural environments and asks them to work productively and be sensitive to cultural factors which can sometimes be difficult to spot. Employers, too, want employees who can work effectively with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This isn't just to avoid conflict; the smartest companies know that diversity enriches their idea generation and deployment. If our students can explicitly demonstrate that they understand that and have actually done it in the community, employers should take notice of that.

Teamwork. Sometimes it seems as if "teamwork" is nothing more than a buzzword that instructors include in their syllabus. Sometimes they have students work on a team project but pay little or no attention to the process as well as the product. Sometimes the actual project's only value is for the professor to use it to assign a grade. But when you do a community-based project, the stakes are real. It's not just for a grade, because community members are counting on you. So when I sit down to write a letter of recommendation, I can give specific examples of how the student worked with team members, reported progress to me, handled obstacles/change in the project design, communicated with all stakeholders, and delivered the final product.

Writing. When reflection is effectively integrated into the CSL curriculum, students need to do a lot of writing. Although some in foreign language education would consider it sacrilege, I ask my students to write a few reflections in English. So in the end I have a very good sense of my students' writing ability--clarity, organization, relevance, argumentation, providing compelling evidence and then seeing the larger relevance of what they're writing about. Furthermore, since my students write reflective essays throughout the semester, I see how their writing improves. All employers need people who can write clear, engaging documents that have a professional tone. Even if an employer isn't looking for someone to write in Spanish, it's an added bonus and effective writing skills in Spanish are the same in English.

Work ethic. I teach social entrepreneurship, but not all students have an entrepreneurial mindset. Some students want very defined parameters for all course components and do excellent work within those clear rules. That kind of work/learning style is difficult to maintain in a CSL course, however it might be just what . Other students take an assignment and make it their own, showing creativity that still gets the job done. That's the kind of student that normally shines in a CSL course. When we put students into under-resourced not-for-profits serving under-resourced communities, that gives us a very clear understanding of how they react to ambiguity, lack of direct/constant supervision and the need to find creative solutions to complex problems. I can also spot a student's ability to take initiative. Some of my students work in offices where the workflow is unpredictable--sometimes overwhelming, sometimes there is no urgent task at hand. I can speak directly to that student's comfort level with being self-directed in their work and finding meaningful tasks during slow times.

Spanish fluency. Whereas many upper-level Spanish courses involve mostly question and answer sessions (in which the prof. often does most of the talking), a Spanish CSL course involves more talking both in the classroom and, of course, out of it. I can tell you how well my students speak Spanish, and my community partners alert me if anyone has sub-par language skills. Moreover, I know if my students can speak "live" Spanish, not the artificially-academic Spanish that is most often used in our classrooms. In my experience, employers want workers who can greet a client in Spanish and pick up the phone and call a business contact in Latin America. Just because they can discuss 19th-century Argentine poetry in a classroom doesn't mean they can handle professional Spanish with aplomb. CSL builds those skills.

I'm sure that readers can suggest other ways that CSL results in an exceptionally strong letter of recommendation. Leave a comment and let me know your ideas!