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!

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