Friday, July 24, 2009

Youth Entrepreneurship

by Ann Abbott

Carolina Kloecker is interning at ACCION Chicago this summer, and she forwarded me this great clip of a young woman from Chicago and her entrepreneurial endeavor. I think it's a great example of how young people can build a business out of their passion. (In other words, find your passion first; then build a business around it.) I also love the fact that it shows a person of color building something great and being recognized for it.

Finding local angles on the topics that we teach is really important. That's one of the reasons that I like to use The Enterprising Kitchen as an example of social entrepreneurship in my classes. Many of my students read about TEK and say, "I know that neighborhood!"

This video was on, and in the future I will look her for stories that exemplify the entrepreneurial concepts that I teach in my class. The section with videos is especially rich with profiles, interviews and stories that students would enjoy and learn from.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Champaign-Urbana: Use Your Spanish

I received this message from a friend of mine.

"Dr. Howard Elementary School is in search of an after school Spanish teacher for the fall. The position is paid too! There is a strong following of parents in the PTA there and the kids are doing great in the language after a year learning with AJ Herzog, Margarita Herrera, and I!

"Please spread the word at La Casa, through the U of I and everywhere in the community to Spanish speakers and Spanish educators (or future educators!!!). Contact the wonderful vice president of the PTA Miss AJ Herzog at if you or anyone you know would be interested!"
Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for Spanish students who are studying to be Spanish teachers, or any Spanish CSL student who has done their CSL work in a school.

Student Spotlight: Nicholas Ludmer

by Ann Abbott

Nicholas Ludmer is someone to watch. I believe that he is headed for truly great things. His drive and talent doesn't come from Spanish community service learning (CSL), but I'm happy to see that it fit very well with his values and desire to learn. (I have highlighted his accomplishments on this blog several times, and I hope to continue doing so.)

When students take their CSL work seriously, it can open many doors for them. If they have excelled in their CSL work, I like students to think about how they can use their experience in the following ways:
  • Request letters of recommendation from their supervisors in the community.
  • Gain insight into different career paths.
  • Add solid information about their accomplishments in their resume (not just a bullet point on their list of volunteer activities).
  • Expand on those accomplishments with specific examples in cover letters and job interviews.
  • Differentiate themselves from other highly qualified college graduates by emphasizing their real-world language skills, cultural know-how and professional skills.

Nicholas did much more than that, he now has a full-time job working at the clinic where he did his Spanish CSL work last semester. He'll go to medical school next year, but in the meantime he has a job that will serve him well. He writes:

"Good News! I decided to work full time at Frances Nelson during my gap year. I feel like it's a great way for me to gain clinical experience, maintain and improve on my Spanish, and save up for medical school all at the same time. I am really excited to start there and wanted to say thank you. I would never have known about it or volunteered there had it not been for the CBL classes."

You know that your student has done a wonderful job in the community when the organization then turns around and hires him. Congratulations, Nicholas. I know you will be a wonderful asset to the clinic and an advocate for all the patients, but especially the Spanish-speaking ones.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spanish Vocabulary to Describe Entrepreneurs

by Ann Abbott

When I teach social entrepreneurship to my students, one of the first things I need to do is get rid of the mental connection of "Donal Trump" with "entrepreneur." Yes, he is an entrepreneur, but he represents many of the negative connotations of entrepreneurship that our students reject.

It helps to give them many alternative examples. I like to giving them examples of real-world social entrepreneurs. Examples of commercial entrepreneurs with a sense of corporate social responsibility. And examples of entrepreneurs that come from countries outside the US.

But I also find that students need some new vocabulary to be able to talk about this different type of entrepreneur. (I suspect that this is the case just as much in English as it is in Spanish.) We need to replace words like greedy, corrupt and egotistical with other words like responsible, socially-committed, mission-focused.

One of the reasons I really like the video above and the blog post where I found it is that he gives students of Spanish many, many words to describe the entrepreneurial spirit. In my future classes, students will watch this video and do vocabulary activities based on it.

I often find inspiration for my teaching (and for my own entrepreneurial projects) at Mujeres de Empresa.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This is How Teenagers Consume Media, but How Do They Produce It?

by Ann Abbott
I read with interest one teenager's explanation of how teenagers in general consume media. Aside from using Facebook alot, everything else is very different from how I myself consume media.
But as an educator, I am interested in how teenagers and young adults produce media. More and more I find myself asking this question: Do they even want to produce it?
It's commonplace for educators to say, "Our students know how to use technology better than we do." Hmmmm. Some technology. Not all.
Reading the piece, it struck me that everyone he said about media and teenagers suggest that they use it for entertainment and building relationships. They don't seem interested in using media for education. So should we be so intent on forcing it on them in our classes?
I do think there are lots of reasons to use technology in our teaching, but we must go into it knowing that they don't already use many of the devices/platforms that we do.
For example, I tried very hard to have students make videos and upload them to YouTube. It didn't work well. Students were consumate consumers of YouTube material, but few of them actually knew how to produce and upload simple videos.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What Are Your Community Partners Going Through Right Now?

Amy, Spanish CSL student, working at ECIRMAC

by Ann Abbott

I hear lots of news stories about how California's budget crisis is affecting social service agencies and the people they serve, but every state seems to be facing the same thing.

How are your community partners doing?

As we all wait to know just how bad the budget cuts are going to be, here is a glimpse of how one of my community partners, East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, is feeling the impact:

"At this time there have been no cuts in positions at the Refugee Center but long term there will be a negative impact. Staff is worried as they are well aware of the financial difficulties. They are also seeing an increase of demand for the services they provide as families start to implode due to the economic downturn. We are seeing more domestic issues, more parenting problems, more mental health issues, more calls for help in accessing services provided by state offices. The agency does not have the funding to hire or increase staff time to meet these demands and unless the funding can be replaced there may need to be cuts in staff.As the staff is bi-lingual, bi-cultural such cuts could affect the delivery of services of other agencies with which we collaborate."

Will your community partners still be here next year? Will they be able to accomodate your students with their thinned-out staff? Will they need even more of your students. Tell me how the budget cuts are affecting your community partners and your community service-learning partnerships.

UPDATE: Illinois does has a budget now, but there are still unanswered questions and agencies are afraid of getting late or reduced payments.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Student Evaluations of "Spanish & Entrepreneurship"

by Ann Abbott

I was happy to see students' positive evaluations of the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course from the spring. It tells me that many things in the course are going well, but I'm always on the look-out for ways to improve. So here are some things that I gleaned from students' comments. (Thank you, students, for writing your honest thoughts!)

Love what you do and it will show. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, community service learning (CSL) and teaching. Students pick up on that. Many wrote that they appreciated my enthusiasm and that I cared about the students. That's true. Other important personal factors seemed to be that I was "open-minded," fair to all students and interactive. I guess my advice for others would be to simply let your love for your work show.

Students who like CSL, really like CSL. This prerequisite for this course is "Spanish in the Community," kind of an Spanish CSL 101. Therefore, my students knew what they were getting into and chose to do more CSL work. When asked what the most beneficial part of the course was, many cited their work in the community. Some students hate CSL work. Some students like it. And some students really like it. What I have heard from students who really like it is that they appreciate having more than one opportunity to learn this way. After all, we have dozens of Spanish classes that are taught in the "discussion" format. It's good to have at least two in the CSL format.

If you make students buy a book, use the book. Even though I told students that no appropriate book on social entrepreneurship exists in Spanish (as far as I know), they still were unhappy that the book was in English. I understand that. They also complained that we didn't use the coursepack that much in class. Again, I totally get that. The coursepack has activities in Spanish, and it was supposed to be the bridge between the English textbook (Enterprising Nonprofits) and our class periods that are conducted totally in Spanish. Next time, I will either update the coursepack so that it has really useful information for almost every class period, or I will eliminate it.

Students want to know why they're studying what you're teaching. One student wrote that s/he was happy that this was one of the few courses they had taken that was "applicable for the future." Faculty are busy explaining to themselves why they shouldn't be teaching anything "applied," shouldn't be seen as a "service department" and shouldn't have to capitulate to the corporatization of the university. Students aren'ts listening to that conversation. The world outside is changing--people are demanding to know the value of what they are teaching--and our students are struggling to find their place in it. I sustain that this internal faculty debate is premised on a false dichotomy. You can remain true to your humanistic values and teach students how that is directly applicable to the world outside the classroom.

Your students will give you good nuggets of information. If the big structural parts of your course don't work for the students, the whole thing will fail. But if that structure is solid, students will point out smaller things that you can tweak. My students told me that they would like more guest speakers, more credit for the CSL work, less multiple-choice quizzes on the readings, and for future students to pick up the team projects they started and move them further. Okay!

What insights have you gained from your students' course evaluations?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Virtual Volunteering and Video

by Ann Abbott

A former University of Illinois Spanish student, Sandra Mazuera, recently made this cute video for a contest. Another student recently won a contest for his video about his time in China. Still another former student, Nancy Parman, edited videos for my Spanish in the Community class and made great videos of her own. Marcos Campillo, Spanish community service-learning (CSL) extraordinaire, just filmed and edited videos for Comunidades. My friend Joseph Squier founded a very popular University of Illinois course called Writing with Video. I just uploaded a video to Facebook of my 10-month-old treating the faucet handle like a motorcycle throttle.

It seems just about everyone is making and sharing videos these days.

So can our students give our community partners a hand with the videos they need to make? YouTube's Video Volunteers provides an organized, easy way to put video skills to use. Our students could do projects here, and it's another great example of how our former students can stay involved long after their Spanish CSL course is over.

Champaign-Urbana: Use Your Spanish

The Champaign Public Library wants to have a series of multicultural story times for preschool children in October 2009.

Ms. Ginny O'Brien is looking for someone who might be interested in coming for a morning and doing two back to back sessions. Each session would be about a half an hour in length.

If so, please contact Ms. O'Brien ASAP at the Champaign Public Library. or call my home number at #863-2025.

Ask Your Spanish CSL Students to Reflect on Someone Else's Experience

by Ann Abbott

Do you ever read a semester's worth of your Spanish community service-learning (CSL) students' reflections and start to feel like it's all a little narcissistic? We ask students to tell us about their experiences in the community, their learning, their plans for the future, and then when they do precisely what we ask of them, we read a lot of "me, me, me."

One way to get around that, of course, is to ask them to describe in detail the people in the community, the community itself, and issues.

But another way around self-centered reflection is to ask people to write a letter of recommendation. They have to reflect on someone else to be able to effectively recommend them. Plus, knowing how to write a good letter of recommendation is a good transferrable skill. As a bonus, once students know what it takes to write a good letter of recommendation for someone else, they can make their own letter-writers's job easier by supplying them with all the necessary ingredients.

Go to Loreal's "Women of Worth" website and ask students to do the following:

  • Explore the site to get a "feel" for what the selection committee is looking for in a nomination.
  • Analyze all the honorees from a previous year. What patterns do they see? What makes these women's stories compelling?
  • Use the information from that analysis to write an actual recommendation for someone from the community where they work. (If they don't know anyone from the community well enough to write a nomination, ask your community partners if there is someone they think your class should nominate.) They should follow the steps on the site, but save all the information on a Word document to turn in and share with their classmates.
  • Read their classmates' nominations and vote on the best.
  • Submit the best nomination.

On a smaller scale, students can click on the "Get Involved" tab, read the stories there, and submit their own. It's just one more way to make reflection real, not just an academic exercise like any other, that only the professor reads. It gives students reflection a real purpose and a real audience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Champaign-Urbana: Put Your Spanish to Work on August 5

Spanish speaking volunteers are requested for 2009-2010 registration.

Volunteers will be needed to assist with translation as well as distributing and collecting registration materials during this time. Further details will be given at registration.

Please refer to the information below regarding the date and time.

Thanks again for your assistance.

2009-2010 Elementary School Registration - Booker T. Washington

August 5, 2009 ~ 12:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Nikia M. Kyles, Office Manager

Booker T. Washington, 606 E. Grove St.Champaign, IL 61820

Phone: (217) 351-3901; Fax: (217) 373-7350

Classroom Activity to Define Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

When I teach Spanish community service learning (CSL), I want my students to end the course with a better understanding of the Spanish language, latino cultures and the methodology of CSL itself.

In the first classes of the semester, I do walk them through the tenets of CSL, its goals and why we use it to teach Spanish. But I think I'll start using the following activity to teach them the definition.
  • Go to (always a source of really great information) and click on "what is service learning?"
  • Have students read slide one and then substitute with specific examples from the academic subject of your course. Example: Tutoring children in an after-school program is service. Reading novels in a Spanish literature course is learning. When Spanish students read books in Spanish and English with Latina/o school children, document which words they both had to look up, and report their progress to teachers and parents--that's service learning. (This isn't an easy exercise!)
You could stop right there. Or you could go through all five slides.

Slide 2. Divide students into eight groups and assign each group one category from the list. Have them explain with specific examples how your course incorporates each element. Then each group presents to the class. Finally, have them explain what the negative consequences could be if each element were not incorporated into the course.

Slide 3. Have students work in pairs. Ask them to come up with a two lists: reasons why younger kids couldn't do the work they are doing in the community and reasons why they could. Then, for each grade level, have them come up with a developmentally appropriate example of service learning for the academic subject of your course.

Slide 4. If you haven't done this already, mouse over "Pre-service reflection" and ask students to answer the questions it raises. Ask them what misconceptions they had before they started the course. Then give them a list of possible "Now what?" action items related to the issue their service address and ask them rate them on a scale of most urgent to least urgent.

Slide 5. Students may not be interested in the administrative/teaching level of CSL. Still, you could ask them to look at titles from last year's National Service-Learning Conference and then propose a title about your course.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can Spanish Community Service Learning Lead to a Job in the Nonprofit Sector?

by Ann Abbott

I am convinced that Spanish community service learning (CSL) is very valuable for our students' career plans and development. So I was excited to see a tweet about this podcast about "Common Nonprofit Career Search Questions with Meg Busse."

In it, the speaker answers many questions, including how to highlight your volunteer experience. Here are her answers:
  1. Create a category on your resume called "Relevant Experience" and include it there.
  2. Explicitly detail the skills you contributed and gained to your volunteer experience.
Throughout the podcast, she promotes volunteer work as a great choice for preparing for jobs in general.

Listen to the whole podcast for more details. Consider asking your Spanish CSL students listen to it and then shape their resume--and their CSL experience--accordingly.

There's even more information at's "Career Corner."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Calendar: Start Planning Your Spanish CSL Course Now

by Ann Abbott

June is gone.

July is almost half-way gone.

In exactly five weeks from now, my contract begins for the academic year.

There are two possible reactions to this:

1. Ahhhh. Five more weeks before my duties start.

2. Ack! I have to get things organized now so that I'm not in a panic when classes start.

I'm not panicking, but I am going to start preparing my Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses now. I'll do a little bit each week so that things are as ready as possible when classes actually start.

How about you? Will you wait or jump in now?

I'm sharing my calendar here. Feel free to follow my calendar and to-do list. Let me know if there are any other steps that should be on the list. And let me know if you run into any snags.

Monday, July 13: Course materials
1. Double-check my book order. I had been using a coursepack, but now I'm ordering Comunidades.
2. Re-read the syllabus and make any necessary changes. Again, that change from the coursepack to a textbook will require a few minor changes to the syllabus: list it as the required text, refer to the companion website for the reflection prompts, assign the audio portions as homework, etc.
3. Update the course calendar. The basic structure will remain the same, but I need to change the dates.

Monday, July 20: Web materials
1. I use Illinois Compass (WebCT/Blackboard) as my course management system. I need to make sure all the elements there are ready for the students: upload the syllabus and course calendar; change the instructions in the "discussions" to coincide with the reflection prompts in Comunidades; update the due dates.
2. My website-- information for community partners and students. I will update that information and read through it with fresh eyes to catch mistakes. I'm especially interested in simplyfing the information whenever possible.
3. The course wiki is the absolute most important part of the program for me. I use it to give information to students about the course, describe the community partners, allow students to self-schedule for the CSL hours, and check up on students' actual completed work hours. I need to copy last semester's wiki, create a new one for the fall semester, read through the information and try to simplify it and update any necessary information.

Monday, July 27: Community partners
1. Send an e-mail to all community partners. Give them an update on the program, how many students will be in the community, when the semester starts and ends, and ask them if they have any questions.
2. Set up the date for student orientations.
3. Request appointments with partners I haven't seen in person for a while--or ever. One of the schools we partner with has a new principal, and now that she has been there for a little while, I'll try to contact her for a personal appointment.
4. Write hand-written notes to all community partners with thanks for their support and appreciation for all their organizations accomplish with and without my students.

Monday, August 3: Students
1. Send a welcome e-mail to all students who are currently registered for "Spanish in the Community." I'll tweak last semester's message if necessary.
2. This can open the flood gates for follow-up e-mails from students. I will handle any emergencies, but I will tell them that their TA can handle most inquiries once classes start.

Monday, August 10: TAs
1. Prepare materials for Spanish CSL TAs. (Many of you are teaching the course yourself, so you can skip this step. But TAs teach "Spanish in the Community" at the University of Illinois.) I need to give TAs access to the on-line training materials in Compass/WebCT, prepare a very clear document with their duties (teaching and grading, of course, but also handling student sign-up on the wiki, controlling their actual hours on the wiki, and knowing when to refer problem cases to me.)
2. Outline the in-person TA orientation that I will have with them at noon on Thursday, August 20.

Monday, August 17: Honors Projects
1. Prepare a list of possible honors projects for James Scholars students. Students who want to earn honors credit for a course must do a special project. In the past my students have done things like blog about their experiences in the community, write a grant proposal for a community partner, prepare training materials for future CSL students, and many other projects.
2. Before I can make the list of projects, I need to contact my community partners and ask them if there are any projects they would like an honors student to tackle, in addition to their weekly two hours of work in the organization.
3. Post project list to website/wiki.
4. Write one more reminder e-mail to all the community partners about the upcoming semester.

Whew! When I write it all out like that it seems like a lot. And it is! But I think my plan to tackle things one week at a time will be helpful. I'll let you know how it goes, and I'll share any materials I create. And be sure to let me know how it goes for you!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Five Reasons to Love Teaching Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

1. You have extra time. The way things are set up at the University of Illinois, our Spanish community service learning (CSL) classes meet with the instructor just two hours a week. That certainly doesn't mean the CSL instructors work less, but it does mean that you can have some extra non-classroom time each week to communicate with community partners and students, plan your classes and grade the reflections.

2. You feel inspired. I don't know about you, but after so many years teaching Spanish, sometimes it is hard for me to muster the same enthusiasm I used to have for discussions about "¿Qué hiciste durante el fin de semana?" or oral presentations on Picasso, El Alhambra and paella. Instead, with Spanish CSL you know that your students need you so that they don't fail in the community and that community members need your students to succeed. That may sound like a lot of pressure, but knowing that my teaching actually has an impact in the community makes me want to rise to the challenge.

3. You can collaborate. CSL courses are collaborative in so many ways.
  • With community partners. They know what the community needs are and you know what your students are capable of doing with their language skills. Together you find the best ways for your students to help and learn more Spanish at the same time. And you may have the title of "Instructor" during the course, but your community partner and the community members will be doing a lot of the teaching for you.
  • With students. If, like me, you aren't out in the community working alongside your students, they will come to class with stories, information and questions that you could have never anticipated. They will teach you many things! And one of the most valuable things they will teach you is what you're not teaching them. Let me explain: Even though you may be a prize-winning, by-the-latest-research instructor, most of what you know about teaching doesn't really help you teach your students to work in an under-resourced organization in a community that has many recent immigrants. Your students' questions (and, yes, even complaints) will tell you what they need to learn in the classroom so they can succeed outside of it.
  • With CSL practitioners everywhere. My hope is that Spanish CSL instructors and students will look to this blog for information and conversation. But there are also all kinds of CSL conversations taking place on your campus and on-line. Darcy Lear has APPLES at the University of North Carolina as a resource for information and connections with other CSL faculty on campus. I look to Valeri Werpetinski from our Center for Teaching Excellence for great, challenging dialogue about CSL. Look for @NSLC on Twitter: you'll get great info, and if you search through who she (?) is following and who is following her, you'll find all kinds of people who do CSL. And in another post I'll list the great websites I have found for resources and dialogue of all kinds.

4. You receive valuable feedback. What feedback do you get in your regular courses? Hopefully your students take the time to give you careful, considered feedback on your end-of-the-semester evaluations, but in my experience the majority of bubble-filled sheets come back with little actionable information. I once got, "Me gustan tus zapatos" on the back of my evaluation sheet. (That was back when I wore stylish shoes instead of Mom shoes...) And if you have been visited by your colleagues, many of them are looking at your approach to grammatical accuracy and textual analysis skills. But with Spanish CSL students will flat out tell you what works and what doesn't. Your community members will call you and let you know if your students' Spanish isn't up to par. Valuable feedback isn't always positive feedback. You make it valuable when you act upon it.

5. You can be creative. Spanish has some really good textbooks already available. Yes, you can spice them up with your own activities, but mostly they require your creativity in terms of delivery instead of content. Spanish CSL is so new that you can really invent your course and your lessons. You don't have to travel abroad to bring bring in realia; you can get it from the community. You can put your creativity to work on lessons that derive from real-world needs. My hope is that Comunidades will give instructors a good base of lessons and materials to work with in their course, but since each community is unique, they can also apply their creativity to making materials that apply to their specific locale.

Bonus: You remember why you loved Spanish in the first place. If you're a non-native speaker like me, you can still remember being on the other side of the desk. I loved Spanish because it opened up new worlds to me. Before I ever travelled to a Spanish-speaking country, I sought out people from those countries (and any other country outside the US) just because I loved meeting people from other countries and learning about the world. I loved the sounds of the Spanish language. And the more I learned about the world, the more I became concerned about issues of international politics and social justice both here and abroad. That's what I loved about Spanish from the very beginning. But the further I went with Spanish in the university, the narrower it became in my life. It was all about literature. And for many of my colleagues, it was all about linguistics. Spanish CSL allowed me to return to my "Spanish roots."

Tell me what YOU love about teaching Spanish CSL!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tests: On-line and in Spanish

by Ann Abbott

I never take Facebook quizzes. My friend Darcy Lear never takes Facebook quizzes. But I think we might be the only two people who don't.

Since they're so popular, why not consider asking your students to take some on-line quizzes in Spanish? They can be a fun way to review geography, learn about popular culture in Spanish-speaking countries, and find out what kind of personality you really have.

Consider using them as a starting point for a reflective essay or an in-class activity.

We could even make our own quiz: What kind of community service-learning student are you?

What would the questions be, and what categories would they fall under?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Student Spotlight: Tim Peters

by Ann Abbott

I met Tim Peters when we went on the same trip to China in the summer of 2006 with the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Tim was there to do a documentary with two other undergrads, and I was there to learn more about Chinese entrepreneurial education programs and participate in a symposium on social entrpreneurship.

Now Tim is in Argentina on a Fullbright. I've been following his journey through his Facebook updates and pictures, and now he just e-mailed me to tell me this terrific news:

"Hey, just wanted to let you know that my Fulbright side project to write for a local magazine has started bearing fruit. They let me write the cover story on recent protests at the local Paraná Wal-Mart...I covered that and did a comparison with interesting WM criticisms in the U.S!"

(I think the article is easiest to read if you click on "Full Screen.")

Congratulations, Tim! It's great to see your work and to understand more fully what Wal-Mart represents in Latin America. I look forward to seeing more of your stories and photos.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Students' Community Service Learning Work is So Valuable

by Ann Abbott

Do your Spanish community service learning (CSL) students know how important their work in the community is? Do they know what the consequences can be for Spanish-speakers if the partner organization can't meet its mission?

As I've said before, some CSL students don't see the value of doing office work, especially if it is repetitive--which, of course, most office work is. It is up to us to show them its value to the organization, to their learning and to their future job search.

During the spring semesters, my CSL students who work at the Refugee Center always help a lot of clients fill out the paperwork for their taxes. The Refugee Center charges a nominal fee for this service, but I'm pretty sure that students don't know the full value of what the clients receive with this service. I didn't until Deb Hlavna, Co-Director, told me this story:

Some Chicago-based commercial tax preparation services advertise heavily among the immigrant communities. In the specific case that Deb recounted, she told about how some local Vietnamese refugees/immigrants have driven up to Chicago, used those services, and were only charged a percentage of the rebate that the tax preparer found for them.

What's the problem? The tax preparer files for rebates and refunds that they were never entitled to in the first place. So when the IRS contacts the refugee/immigrant, they tell them that they owe more money in taxes that they paid. And what about the money they paid to the preparer? Well, they already took their cut, and they're not responsible anyway.

She told about one specific scam she learned about when the client came to the Refugee Center for help. The commercial tax preparer had filed for the "Hope Tax Credit" (for post-secondary education costs) when the client's daughter was only eight years old! The client was out the money s/he paid the tax preparer and then had to pay even more money to the IRS.

So, students, I hope you can see that the work of our community partners and the work that you do with them is truly valuable even in ways that might not be apparent at first glance.

Public Service Announcements for Community Partners

by Ann Abbott

In a previous post, I talked about building community-university partnerships that respond to community-identified needs. Clear and frequent communication, as everyone knows, is the key to building and maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships.

With one of my community partners, I took this type of communication to another level--I joined the Board of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center. At our monthly Board meetings I gain new insights into the Refugee Center's resources and needs. That allows me to think about how to match those resources and needs to my community service-learning (CSL) students' needs and resources.
At our last Board meeting, one of the Co-Directors said that they would like to do a Public Service Announcement for the local community-access television stations.

A perfect project for an enterprising CSL student who wants to gain skills in research, writing and project organization! And in the end, the student will have a video of professionally-produced public service announcement (PSA) to show to potential employers as proof of their work.

Here are the necessary steps for the student:
  1. Do an on-line search for public access television in Urban and Champaign to find out how to start the process for doing a PSA.

  2. In consultation with the Co-Directors of ECIRMAC, write a script for the PSA.

  3. Inform the ECIRMAC staff of times and duties for the actual PSA production. If the student has information to add, he/she can appear in the PSA as well.

  4. Do all the post-production follow-up that is necessary.

I'm hoping a student will tackle this in the fall. And if one community partner has expressed a need to do a PSA, perhaps our other partners would like one, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Student Spotlight: Carolina Kloecker's Summer Internship and More

by Ann Abbott

Carolina (Carolyn) Kloecker embodies everything I think I Spanish student should be. She is passionate about the language, Hispanic cultures, travel and service. She has taken "Spanish in the Community" and plans to take "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" next year. Finally, she's a woman after my own heart: she's a blogger! You can read all about her adventures studying (and volunteering) in Ecuador at Carolina en Ecuador.

Carolina's last post describes her work as a Spanish & Illinois Summer Intern at ACCION Chicago. Here is what she had to say. (Click here to see the entire post.)

"So just 2 days after I got back, on Monday June 1st, I started my summer internship at ACCION Chicago. It's a micro-lending Non-profit organization, and we give out small business loans to clients in the Chicagoland area. About 25% of our clients are Spanish-speaking, so I've been able to use my Spanish a decent amount (I would say 2-3 times/week), especially recently. I do lots of things and keep very busy at my job, uploading documents, making phone calls, drafting letters, visiting client business locations, as well as promoting ACCION at many different events. One of my favorite events so far was one for Latina Style magazine, which was held at the Macy's on State Street. We had a booth there to give information to women who had their own business or were starting one, and either the vast majority of them or all of them were Spanish-speaking."

I'm so glad that you're learning and helping ACCION and its clients at the same time, Carolina. I'm looking forward to seeing you again during your senior year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review: ¡A la perfección!

by Ann Abbott

Gac-Artigas, Priscilla. ¡A la perfección! Para dominar la mecánica de la escritura. New Jersey: Ediciones Nuevo Espacio--Academic Press ENE: 2009.

I coordinate the Spanish composition course at the University of Illinois, so I am always interested in reviewing new textbooks.

As everyone knows, when we teach Spanish composition we are teaching (at least) two things simulaneously: writing and Spanish. It's not always easy to give each part of that equation its due weight. So I was intrigued by the book by Dra. Priscilla Gac-Artigas and its subtitle: "Para dominar la mecanica de la escritura."

I'm a firm believer that our students need to be careful, accurate writers. Not so much because their literary analyses need to live up to their profs' expectations (which is what the author refers to in the preface), but because in the real world there are real consequences when we make mistakes with our writing. Filling out forms, leaving messages for people, writing notes, writing copy for websites...all require that we communicate clearly and accurately. We don't want people to click away from our website. But most importantly, we don't want our client to have to pay a fine (or worse!) because we gave inaccurate information on an important form.

However, ¡A la perfección! doesn't match with my goals for my students. First of all, the title bothers me. Really? Perfection? I don't strive for perfection myself, in my own writing. (Or in any other facet of my life.) I strive for other things--to inform my readers, invite them to share in the writing process (with comments, guest posts, etc.), motivate my readers, reward students by showing their successes, even to work things out in my own mind through the writing process. I do not strive for perfection, and I don't want to put that burden on my students.

First, I want my Spanish composition students to care about what they are writing. Then, I want them to simply go through the process/cycle of writing/rewriting to warm up and get practice. Thirdly, I want them to see the big picture--how does a piece of writing hang together in order to have an impact in the reader and highlight your knowledge as the writer. Finally, and I mean, LAST, I want them to pay attention to grammar and vocabulary.

If students were confident, practiced writers in their first language, we could start with the "mechanics." But I find that they usually aren't.

I see a lot of value in what Gac-Artigas has written. The exercises focus on common Spanish-language mistakes our students make. For example, In the first chapter there are exercises asking students to change the gerund in English into a noun in Spanish using "el + infinitive." That is indeed a common mistake that I personally find extremely irritating and even confusing when I read students' writing. But it--and the other grammar exercises--are presented in a decontextualized fashion, that I personally don't find useful.

¡A la perfección! is not perfect for the kind of writing I want my students to do and for the kind of writers I want them to become.