Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Language Ideologies and Spanish Community Service Learning, Part 2

by Ann Abbott

In a previous post I reviewed Lisa M. Rabin's article about language ideologies and service learning from the Spring 2009 issue of the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. I concluded by saying that the information in that article will certainly inform my teaching of Spanish CSL. Try these steps with your students, and let me know how it goes.

1. Include bilingual schools as community partners. If that's not possible, English as a Second Language classes are another option. Many of my students work in bilingual classrooms at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign and in Urbana's Leal School. As they experience bilingual education for themselves and share their experiences and learning with other students in the class who work in other settings, their awareness of what bilingual education is, grows. Many students simply are not informed about bilingual education in the first place.

2. Bring experts into the classroom--in person or by video. Despite students' experiences and their sharing in the classroom, I remember vividly one semester when, near the end of the course, another student who did not work at one of these schools asked in class, "What is bilingual education anyway?" So I hired one of my TAs, Munia Cabal, to interview one of the bilingual teachers, capture it on video and share it with our students. Students have viewed that video for several years, and it now is included in the Companion Website to Comunidades. (The Companion website is not yet available. I will add a link later.) Do you know exactly what bilingual education is and why it works? Watch the video yourself. I certainly learned a lot.

3. Build activities and whole lesson plans around the concepts. My students still needed more information, and they needed to be able to put bilingual education into context with other types of language education. Leccion 8 (pp. 43-48) in Comunidades asks, "?Sabemos diferenciar entre ingles como segunda lengua y la educacion bilingue?" (By the way, it's important to tell students right away that the word in Spanish is bilingue because they often try to simply pronounce "bilingual" in Spanish.) I hired Munia Cabal to write some of these activities, and I added to them.

  • Spanish as a Foreign Language. As usual, I begin by asking students to think about their own experiences with the topic. In this case, the first activities ask them to think about how they have learned Spanish as a foreign language and then to connect that to their expectations for immigrants learning English as a second language. They can all identify successes as well as frustrations and limitations in their own language learning so that when they hear people say "they should learn English," our students can more accurately understand what that actually entails.
  • Define ESL and bilingual education. The next section offers definitions of various types of ESL and bilingual education programs and asks them to compare them to what they have observed during their work in the community. Which type of program(s) have are offered or do they participate in? (Click here to see information about bilingual education. I don't claim to be an expert in this area, so I would suggest using this source as a jumping-off point if you want to explore the field further.)
  • What is the importance of bilingual education? The last section asks students to identify reasons why it is important to maintain the mother tongue at the same time that students learn English. However, it also points out at least one disadvantage: without strong programs that help all students socialize and learn with each other, ESL or bilingual ed students and "other" students may not interact much. (Obviously, a dual immersion program would resolve this issue as English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students learn with and from each other.)

4. Reflect upon the issue. Students who have used all these materials have written very thoughtful reflective essays like this one from a student in my "Spanish in the Community" course: "Poco a poco, a través de mi trabajo en el colegio Booker T. Washington, estoy empezando a entender como la comunidad es un buen representante de conceptos e ideas que existen en nuestra sociedad. Un concepto que he empezado a entender mas es la importancia de clases bilingües en los colegios. Antes, mis creencias sobre las clases bilingües eran un poco negativas. Yo siempre pensaba que las familias inmigrantes, como personas que quieren asimilarse a la comunidad americana, deberían hacer todo lo necesario para que sus hijos aprendan el idioma y avancen en su educación aquí en este país. La verdad es que yo pensé que las clases bilingües eran malas porque atrasan el proceso de inclusión a la vida aquí en los Estados Unidos. El idioma es algo muy importante en nuestra sociedad y pensaba que si los niños estaban tomando clases en español por la mayor parte de su día, entonces los que serian mas afectados por el sistema serian los niños. Ahora, como trabajo en un colegio publico con muchos niños de familias inmigrantes, estoy empezando a entender la importancia de las clases bilingües y como ayudan a los niños. En la clase que trabajo, he notado que la mayoría de los niños hablan español no solo entre ellos mismos pero en sus casas también. Varios de los niños no tienen la oportunidad de practicar el Ingles con sus padres o hermanos y hermanas. También es importante tomar en cuenta que si los niños hispanohablantes van directamente a clases en Ingles, no solo estarían muy confundidos pero se olvidaran el español después de un tiempo. Ahora entiendo que aunque es necesario aprender el Ingles lo mas pronto posible, también es importante que los niños reciban una buena transición entre el Ingles y Español, sin que se olviden su idioma nativa. Con clases bilingües, he visto que los niños pueden seguir aprendiendo el español mientras también aprendiendo el Ingles. La profesora con que trabajo me ha explicado que aunque la mayoría de los niños entran al colegio solo sabiendo el español, no muchos saben como leer o escribir en español. A través de las clases bilingües, me dijo, "los niños pueden aprender a leer y escribir a un nivel muy básico en español, mientras haciendo lo mismo en Ingles también." De esa manera, los niños no se van a olvidar su idioma nativa, sino van a aprender mas. Mi experiencia en el colegio me ha abierto mis ojos para que pueda ver los beneficios que ofrecen las clases bilingües. Solo espero que con el tiempo que me queda en Booker T. Washington, pueda llegar a entender otras cosas buenas que ofrecen las clases bilingües."

5. Provide students with deeper tools to analyze attitudes toward language learning. From now on, I will ask students to read Lisa M. Rabin's article (excerpts, probably) and introduce terms and concepts such as language ideologies, ethnic studies and myths of language acquisition and social mobility to enrich the students' knowledge of the topic.

If you have any other teaching suggestions, activities or reflection prompts that you think would help our students better understand the information (and misinformation!) about bilingual education, please share them here!

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