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.

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