Monday, November 30, 2009

10 Questions to Ask Your Community Partners

by Ann Abbott

"How are things going?"

Is that as deep as you probe when talking to your community partner? Maybe you're afraid they will tell you something bad, and you'll have to drop everything and address the problem.

Well, you do need to ask more questions than that. First of all, you need to fix any problems that exist. Secondly, the more you know about your community partner, the more you can help your students extract meaning from their experiences in the community.

So, here are ten questions to ask. I'm sure you can think of more! Leave a comment to add yours.

One-to-One Questions.
  1. What's the best thing a student has done? You want to encourage your students to do more of this behavior.
  2. What's the worst thing a student has done? This can be painful to hear. Believe me. Sometimes it's really egregious ("Can you please tell your students not to teach the children here how to swear in English?"). Sometimes they are little things that you simply need to call to your students' attention.
  3. What do students know at the end of the semester that they didn't know at the beginning? Maybe you can create teaching materials or handouts that can speed up their learning curve.
  4. How many students can you honestly handle? Maybe they could use a lot more, but are afraid to ask. Or maybe they feel that they just don't have the resources to train and follow all your students. If the latter is the case, consider assigning a student "liaison," if possible.
  5. Do you want to continue this partnership? Tweak it? Don't assume anything.

In-class Questions. Consider inviting your community partner(s) to class so that students can learn from their expertise in ways that simply don't happen in the hectic workday.

  1. What is your organization's proudest achievement? These overworked, underpaid people often do wonderful things in our communities.
  2. What change in public policy would have the biggest positive impact on the people you serve? We want students to see that while it's important to help people one by one, policy, politics, and their own votes can truly have an important impact.
  3. What can our students do after they graduate and move away to continue having an impact? Students can take what they learn in the local community and apply it in their new communities. I'd also like to see us create ways for students to stay in contact--Facebook groups, maybe?
  4. What is the most important skill you use to do your job? It's probably something that no one is explicitly teaching in our universities!
  5. Please describe the impact our students have on your organization. Students need to hear that they are, indeed, having an impact. We all want to know that what we do matters.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Authentic Oral Input for Spanish Community Service Learning Students

by Ann Abbott
So, have your students watch the first video interview (in Unit 1 and presented as a series of short clips), then have them do these additional activities.
Vocabulary Activity

Asocia la actividad con el problema.

1. ___ tejer
2. ___ vacunar
3. ___ dar clases
4. ___ limpiar un parque

a. enfermarse
b. enfriarse
c. verse feo
d. no tener acceso a información

Grammar Activities
1. Indica si la frase se refiere a los estudiantes universitarios de Mexico, de EE.UU. o los dos.

México / EE.UU. 1. Es preciso que presten servicio en la comunidad.
México / EE.UU. 2. Es posible que presten servicio en la comunidad.
México / EE.UU. 3. Es bueno que presten servicio.
México / EE.UU. 4. Es necesario que trabajen muchas horas en la comunidad.
México / EE.UU. 5. Es bueno que no esperen hasta el último año para hacer todas sus horas de servicio comunitario.
México / EE.UU. 6. Es recomendable que trabajen en la comunidad.
México / EE.UU. 7. Es imprescindible que ofrezcan sus servicios a la comunidad.
México / EE.UU. 8. Es aconsejable que participen en el voluntariado.

2. Ahora completa estas frases para describir tus actividades para este curso. OJO: Usa correctamente el subjuntivo.

1. Es preciso que...
2. Es esencial que...
3. Es posible que...
4. No es necesario que...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leave Students Alone on Facebook

by Ann Abbott

Language instructors are curious about how to use social networking sites in their teaching, and there were many ACTFL sessions about Facebook and other technologies. Everyone wants to know what the possibilities are.

Maybe we should just let our students do what they are already doing.

Something I read recently in a parenting magazine caught my attention:

"Dr. [Christine] Greenhow [University of Minnesota in Minneapolis] recently studied how students use social networking sites (SNSs) as learning tools and found that students are developing 'twenty-first-century skills'--like competency in technology, creativity, communication and collaboration. Many use SNSs to discuss homework and school-related anxieties as well as to post their creative ventures like pieces of fiction writing, photographs and videos. In short, the sites are now part teen hangout, part study hall." (Judith Aquino, Working Mother August/September 2009)

That reminds me a lot of how I use Facebook!

My blog posts automatically import to my Facebook notes and sometimes generate neat discussions with my colleagues and friends. Darcy Lear and I use the chat function to work on our collaborative projects and simply to share and encourage each other. My friends often share their creative projects--whether lesson plans or other types of creative expression--which often, in turn, inspire me to try something new and different.

This also makes me think that I could explicitly encourage students to share their thoughts and creative products from the community service learning (CSL) courses that I teach. Instead of intruding on their already established SNSs, they could share in ways that they already use. But I do think I have a lot that I can teach them about other social media tools, and that is why I teach about them, not necessarily with them, in my Business Spanish class.

Many instructors create course-specific Ning sites work well for language learning activities, teamwork and blog publishing. I think that is great.

And of course, there are already many language-learning social network sites on the web that students can simply be encouraged to use on their own.

Are you using SNSs in your language and/or CSL courses? Did you attend an ACTFL session about SNSs? Leave a comment to share your ideas!

Related posts

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Un Momento. Is That Written with a "C," a "Z" or an "S?"

by Ann Abbott

Recent conversations with some of my community partners have convinced me even more that our students need as much practice as possible with Hispanic names. When they are doing their community service learning (CSL) work, they simply make too many mistakes. That can create all sorts of problems, especially when filing names. And while students may not think that filing is a valuable use of their time, it is in fact invaluable to the people who need to access those files at a moment's notice, for vital tasks.

Although there are many reasons that students might make mistakes with Hispanic names, right now I'd like to focus on possible confusions between the similar sounds of "s," "z" and "c" in Spanish.

On the telephone, or even in person, how would you know if a person's name was Velázquez, Velásquez or Velásques? All three are possible. What about Macías or Masías? I have seen both.

There's only one way to know: Ask! Even if you think you know, ask.

"¿Se escribe con 's'? ¿No? ¿Cómo se escribe?"

This classroom activity should help your students. Be sure that they focus on the strategy of getting the right spelling, not just memorizing how some names are spelled. Remember, there are often variations!

1. Choose 6-8 names from this list and read them out loud to your students. Ask them to write them down. (These are all names of people that I know or have seen, although not necessarily in these combinations.)
  • Horacio Salazar
  • Saúl Esquivel Meza
  • Zenobia Vásquez González
  • Azucena Ortiz-Díaz
  • Nicolás Luis Reyes Fragoso
  • Rosalinda Enríquez Verzal
  • César Arturo Ponce Vélez
  • José Luis Chávez Valdez
  • Zanya Solís Várgas
  • Bianca Paíz
  • Isaac Cruz Péres
  • Criseida María Solorzano Torres
  • Zanya Garza García
  • Ezequiel Zubía Lópes

2. Tell students to ask you strategic questions to confirm the spelling of the names they are not sure of. They cannot ask "¿Cómo se escribe el #2?"

3. Give the students the correct spellings and check how many they got right.

4. Besides "z," "s" and "c," what other letters might cause confusion when writing down names? What strategies can you use to make sure you spell them correctly?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Using Authentic Input: Tips from Michael Leeser and Greg Keating

by Ann Abbott

While at the ACTFL conference last week, I went to a workshop that Michael Leeser and Greg Keating gave about using authentic input in intermediate Spanish. Michael, Greg and Bill VanPatten are the authors of Así lo veo (McGraw-Hill), an intermediate textbook using unscripted documentary-style interviews with native speakers of Spanish. The book will be available in January 2010.

As Michael explained, some Spanish instructors claim that it is impossible to use authentic oral input with intermediate students because it is too hard for them to understand. Thus, the workshop centered on strategies for making authentic input accessible to students.

As I listened, my mind was also on the authentic, unscripted interviews with native speakers that are included with my own textbook, Comunidades: Más allá del aula. I'll post more about them in the future, with activities inspired by the information from Michael and Greg in their workshop.

I took lots of notes, and here I'll give you a list of tips that I jotted down.

Gregory D. Keating
  • If you think the authentic language in the video is too fast for students to understand, try giving them a "scrambled sentence" to put together logically, before they view the video. That way, they will have read the sentence and worked with the content before they listen to it.
  • Likewise, you can transcribe a fast or difficult passage and do a cloze activity in which students fill in the missing words, before or after they listen to it.
  • When there are false starts in the video, ask students to focus on the facial gestures and body language that go along with them. They can give important clues about meaning.
  • If the video includes regional slang, preview it and gloss it.
  • If the video includes regional accents that might be unfamiliar to students and difficult for them to understand, you can start with a very short clip that highlights that particular feature and prepares students for it.

Michael Leeser

  • You can use authentic input to teach grammar.
  • Have students view clips once for what the speakers say, then have them re-view it to focus on how they say it.
  • When students listen to various speakers, you can create an activity that gives quotes and asks students to identify who did say it or who would have been most likely to say it.
  • Michael said, "It's not so much about the content per se, it's about the tasks we give students to do."
  • One of Michael's students brought a video clip to class of Star War's R2-D2 "talking." His student asked, "Is R2-D2 happy or sad?" Even though no one could understand what he was saying, everyone could answer. That's a powerful example of how the proper task can really help students glean meaning from authentic input.


  • Authentic video is more than just listening comprehension. The visuals are also important input: body language, the physical environment, pragmatics, etc.
  • Videos are good for homework to be done outside of class.
  • A woman in the audience who teaches in Iowa mentioned that due to changing demographics in her state, many of her students actually work with native Spanish speakers in their part-time jobs. The authentic input with regionalisms is actually just what they need. She also mentioned that "relationship building" is what they're trying to accomplish right now. Very insightful and something to really think about...
  • Michael said that he sometimes shows students a clip from a feature film with no sound, just action. He then asks them to write the script. He shows it again with the sound on, and they compare how closely their script matched the real one.

Congratulations to the authors for their great work

Champaign-Urbana: Donate a Toy

by Ann Abbott

Want to help all children in the local community to have a holiday present, but you don't have time to volunteer? Next time you're out shopping, pick up a toy that you can donate to the University of Illinois' Office of Volunteer Program's (OVP's) Holiday Toy Drive.

With my broken foot, I won't be able to do much shopping. I'm going to contact Debbie Sim, the organizer, to see if I can send some money. If you can give in any way, contact Debbie or go to their Facebook event for more information.

Here is more information from Debbie:

"This year OVP is hosting the annual Holiday Toy Drive from November 11 to December 9. All the toys will be given to underprivileged children in the local community.

"Last year there was an extreme shortage in toy donations, and there were a lot of children we were unable to give gifts to. Working at OVP and working directly with community agencies I have really come to understand the impact the University students and staff can make in Champaign-Urbana. I am optimistic that this year we will be able to fulfill all the wish lists!

"All the toys must be dropped off in the Office of Volunteer Programs Office, 288 Illini Union by December 9. I will be the main contact so feel free to contact me with any questions. You can email me at Please forward this email onto your fellow colleagues, students, and individuals who might be interested in getting involved. Also, I attached a Holiday Toy Drive flyer.

"Thank You!


"Debbie Sim
Illini Union Office of Volunteer Programs
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
288 Illini Union
Phone: 217-333-7424

Student Spotlight: Dave Mackinson

by Ann Abbott

Dave Mackinson was a student in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course several years ago. I remember that he was fun, easy-going, well-liked by all his classmates and that I sincerely enjoyed reading his work and listening to what he had to say.

This semester, I just happened to run into Dave on campus as he was attending a recruiting event in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. But I knew that our Spanish students could greatly benefit from his insights and experiences as well. So Dave has very generously taken the time to write up some of the touchstone experiences in his path from University of Illinois student to international, agri-business professional.

Students, consider this a roadmap! I know that a lot of you are doing many of the same activities that David did as a student, yet you don't know precisely where they can lead. They can lead in many different directions, obviously, but I think you can learn a lot from Dave's path. I'd like to highlight a few things:
  • Dave credits his Spanish-language skills for his job. Always, always work hard on your Spanish. It's easy, I know, to just meet your course requirements. Go beyond that! Look for opportunities to listen to and speak Spanish whenever possible. Really polish your written Spanish before you hand in an assignment. Push yourself and push your Spanish!
  • Dave was willing to relocate. Are you? Are you making your study abroad and internship decisions based on your apartment lease, trying to match your friends' plans, and playing it safe? You may need to take some risks.
  • Dave had a wonderful study abroad experience, but he seems to be saying that you should take charge of that experience and separate yourself from English and other Americans as much as possible. You can't immerse yourself in the language and culture of the host country if you never cut your ties from English and your college friends.
  • Do you think agriculture is just for farmers? As Dave explains his job, you'll see that it's not. Don't have preconceived notions about "right" fields and "wrong" fields for your career. Look broadly for opportunities.

Here are Dave's own words:

"I will try to just give you an idea of what kinds of things I was interested in and the experiences that I’ve had.

"I majored in International Agricultural Economics in the College of ACES. I actually stumbled upon the major – I had never studied economics in high school, I was just looking for something international because I enjoyed Spanish and I thought business might be a logical avenue if I wanted to travel.

"I took a winter break trip to the Dominican Republic with Dean Bohn my freshman year. Incredible experience that I attribute to the career track I’m on now – it made me want to travel more, it made me realize how necessary it is to speak Spanish at an advanced level, and it made agricultural systems seem very interesting and relevant to me (we toured coffee, avocados, sugarcane, etc.). Being from a farm in central Illinois, I grew up not considering agriculture to be any kind of door to an international career. I was very wrong.

"My sophomore year I spent the spring semester in Granada, Spain. I recommend the experience to anyone, it was 5 of the best months of my life. The CEGRI program was excellent but I did very little assimilating into the Spanish culture outside of that in Granada – it was much easier (and very fun) to just re-create my U of I experience in southern Spain with other Americans.

"Fall of my junior year I realized there were career fairs and I thought it high time that I look for an internship. My goal was to find some opportunity abroad or at least a program or company that works internationally. I picked out a few company names from a list of employers and glanced at their websites to see what I would be interested in. Like my major, I stumbled upon Syngenta. Honestly, I knew very little about what kind of work I would be doing here (Washington, Iowa). My summer internship was full of days working in our corn and bean fields. My father was convinced there was still hope I might be a farmer, haha.

"I’ll explain as succinctly as possibly what my department in Syngenta does. We are part of a supply chain that starts with corn breeders developing new lines (for example, crossing a male line that has excellent drought resistance with a female that has large ears). Over the course of several years (and many growing seasons) we take the 100 or so seeds that breeder has “created” and begin the process of multiplication. The goal is to harvest more and more seeds each season while still maintaining the quality of this new line. Eventually, we might then cross this line with another strong variety to create the hybrid seed our company will eventually sell to farmers to grow. Due to the competition between major seed companies (Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta) the need to create the best product possible makes the timeframe for production an issue. Thus, the moment we harvest seed in Iowa, we put it on a boat or a plane and ship it to Argentina, Chile, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico. My job is literally to follow the seed we produced in Washington, Iowa to and from Chile. We harvest in September here and we plant in October in Chile – we harvest in April in Chile and we plant in Iowa in May. It’s essentially just a cycle (with many, many variables, haha).

"Syngenta does not have its own plant in Chile so we work with several contractors there that are paid to grow our seed for us (and to our very technical specifications). My position was created due to our program expanding in Chile, my willingness to re-locate, and my ability to do all of my work in Spanish. Very few professionals in the agricultural industry speak Spanish – that has opened a door for me within my company. My position is an assistant to our production management team. I would consider my role in Chile as part liaison (organizing calls between our Chile and US teams, translating, translating, translating, haha, working out problems with Chilean contractors, getting a feel of our growing locations by talking to Chilean farmers), part data-analysis (agronomic data, reports, shipping logistics and planning, etc), and part government issues (the process of certifying new plants and then constantly importing and exporting them is tricky).

"I’ve had very positive experiences in Chile, and there is a list of things that I love about the country. The language has been another experience entirely. Unlike my time in Spain, working in Chile only involves other Chileans and they do not speak English. It was incredibly challenging sometimes. You want to be as complete and as accurate as possible with your work, but often things slip through my conversations or phone calls. You want to be able to work at your highest level but things involving the language or my new country often really slowed me down. You want to just have a normal conversation sometimes too.

"My favorite memories in Chile involve my time in Talca, Santiago, and then along the coast in Pichilemu (I met surfers in Santiago who are from Pichilemu; they convinced me it was the best place to spend my weekends). My first months in Chile I lived on the outskirts of Talca in a cabaña near one of main growing areas. The family that ran the cabañas and the adjacent hotel really helped me get started. I ate most of my meals with them and then spent my evenings with them talking politics or life and drinking Chilean wine and beer (both really good stuff). Santiago was another experience entirely. For the harvest season there we are located at plants south of the city, so it was worth it to me to live in the city (the neighborhood where I lived is called Bellavista) and then just commute in the mornings (I can now drive stick up and down mountains and through the crazy streets of Santiago, haha).

"Like a few other things, last spring I stumbled upon a Masters program for Latin American Economics that Georgetown has in Santiago. Long story short (this email is already too long, haha) I got accepted a few weeks ago. So, I’ll be in Chile for work again in a few weeks until my contract ends next spring. Plan is to then stay in Chile for school.

"Ok, I’ll leave you with that. Hope you’re doing well.


Thanks, Dave. You're an inspiration for our Spanish students. Good luck with your Masters program, and I hope that we can post an update on you and your success soon!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ACTFL 2009: Sessions of Interest

by Ann Abbott

I had a great time in San Diego last week at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Annual Convention and Expo. Even with a broken foot! That kept me from attending all the sessions I would have liked, but I still got to see a lot of friends--from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, from Prentice Hall, and from Facebook and Twitter--and catch up on their work.

Here's a list of friends who presented, in no particular order. They didn't all present on community service learning (CSL), but you might find a topic that intersects with your own interests.

Ann Abbott (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) & Darcy Lear (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). Assessing Community Service-Learning: A Practical Approach

Darcy Lear & Elizabeth Bruno (both from UNC-Chapel Hill). Service-Learning in the Spanish Minor for the Professions

Gillian Lord (University of Florida). Attitudes and allophones: Using technology to improve second language pronunciation

Michael Leeser (Florida State University). Getting Students to Communicate About Substantive Issues Using a Documentary

Montserrat Mir (Illinois State University). Speech acts and language proficiency in teacher education

Kathleen (Tac) Tacelosky (William Jewel College). Use of null-subject by native Spanish speakers in crossing-the-border narratives

Fernanda L. Ferreira (Bridgewater State College). The Voice of Research in the Acquisition of Portuguese

Kim Potowski (University of Illinois, Chicago). Critical Components of Heritage Language Programs

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Student Reflection: Organizational Challenges and Triumphs for Setting up ESL Classes

by Andy Kraus

Picture: Some of the Coordinators hard at work.

My first meeting with the ESL group was a couple weeks ago! The tutors sat down and learned about what the program would be like, what the responsibilities are, and we planned dates for the tutoring sessions.

After the meeting of tutors (we have a lot this year!), I met with the coordinators. I helped out a lot last year and am going to be one of the main planners this year because of my experience. We have a syllabus lined up and each day of the week one of the coordinators will be planning what we do that day. The students are loving it!

Finding and printing materials is a challenge, as it was last year. There are a number of free sites on the internet where we have found good information to use, and we have a number of textbooks as well for the more advanced students.

We also have a good number of students this year, around 15. This works perfectly because we have around the same number of teachers, and this helps us give a lot of personal attention to the students, which they need because they all have different levels of mastery of the English language.

I can't wait to see what next week brings!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Student Reflection: Anthony Solis Introduces Himself and His Work in the Community

Anthony Solis is currently a student in "Oral Spanish." For his honors project, he is working in the community and blogging about his experiences, thoughts and learning. (My apologies to Anthony and the readers--he sent me his post with all the correct diacritical marks, and for some reason I couldn't get them on here. Sorry!)

by Anthony Solis

Me llamo Anthony Solis y esto es mi primer anyo en la universidad. He tomado clases de espanyol por cuatro anyos en la escuela secundaria. Mi concentracion es estadisticas y mis amigos me preguntan por que tomo mas clases de espanyol si no me ayudan a recibir el titulo. Primero, siempre es bueno "expandir la mente" y comunicarse con personas distintas de uno mismo. Pero, por que me sumerjo en el espanyol?

Todo empezo cuando era muy joven. Mi papa puede hablar bien el espanyol para la educacion que recibio cuando el fue estudiante en la escuela secundaria y yo siempre queria conversar con el en una "lengua secreta". No hablo' mucho espanyol en casa, pero cuando miro hacia atras, veo que hablabamos al menos un poco de espanyol en casa. Siempre he tenido ganas de hablar con fluidez pero es imposible si no tienes el entorno social. He aprendido que la lengua no es solamente una manera de hablar, pero es una manera de vivir. Los hispanohablantes con quienes he trabajado querian hablar en espanyol entre ellos pero conmigo, usualmente en ingles. Es posible que entre ellos querian guardar su cultura pero espero que solo sea mi falta de fluidez la causa de cambiar las conversaciones al ingles.

Me encanta trabajar para la comunidad. Con mi experiencia en ECIRMAC, voy a ayudar a la comunidad y tambien mejorar mis habilidades de hablar. Quiero tener oportunidades para hablar con gente que necesite que le hable en espanyol. Con la experiencia, espero tener mas confianza en empezar y continuar conversaciones en espanyol.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


by Ann Abbott

The TAs at the University of Illinois are on strike. In my Business Spanish class, we talked about strikes during the chapter on Human Resources, and we specifically discussed the possibility of this strike. Now that it's happening, I'd like my students to return to those concepts and work with them in the context of what is going on in university right now and is affecting them.

Please click here to see the lesson plan.

Feel free to circulate widely! I know that many TAs and profs want to still teach their students yet not cross the picket line and having an on-line lesson is one possible solution.

Student Reflection: Andrew Kraus Introduces Himself and His Work in the Community

Andrew is a student in my "Business Spanish" class, and for his honors project this semester he is using his Spanish in the community and blogging about it here.

by Andrew Kraus

I'm a senior studying economics and communication, and I am also pursuing a Spanish minor. This will be my second year working with the Newman Hall ESL group, and I'm very excited to start teaching English to native Spanish-speakers of the community again. Last year it was very rewarding to see the students growing in their English ability every week.

Besides tutoring last year, I have been fortunate enough to use Spanish outside the classroom frequently in other places. I have travelled to Barcelona, Spain and the Dominican Republic, and both of those experiences greatly honed my ability to "speak on my feet" with native speakers. I also try to read Spanish papers and watch "The Simpsons" in Spanish as much as I can. It is still a unique challenge to transfer that language knowledge effectively through to students.

I hope that through this class I'll be able to help local people improve their English ability, and maybe in the process improve my Spanish language acquisition. But most of all I am excited to interact with people from the local community!

Friday, November 13, 2009

UIUC: Use Knowledge Gained in Class and Community to Innovate!

by Ann Abbott

“Dear Colleagues:
"As many of you know, this is the time of year when the Technology Entrepreneur Center launches the annual V. Dale Cozad New Venture Competition. TEC and the Academy have collaborated on the event for a number of years now, and for the past three years, we have kicked off the Competition with a great event called “speed teaming.” Modeled after “speed dating,” the Cozad speed teaming event allows students with ideas for a venture to meet and talk to students who may not have an idea, but who would nevertheless like to be a part of a team and compete. Many, many students have valuable skills that they could bring to a team: great writing, a capacity for finance, marketing, excellent oral presentation skills, research abilities, etc. Students from many disciplines have participated in Cozad in the past, and the experience is transformative!

"All students across campus (and at Parkland) are welcome to participate; only one member of each team must be a UIUC student. Graduate and undergraduate students are welcome. For-profit and not-for-profit ventures compete – and social ventures have won the Cozad Competition in the past!

"The Cozad Competition is now in its tenth year, and has launched a number of successful student ventures. Please encourage your students to apply, but the speed-teaming event is next Monday, and registration for that event is limited, and closes this coming Friday!!! More details are available on the enclosed flyer….

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me, or Rhiannon Clifton, the Assistant Director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center (

Thank you all for your support!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How "Comunidades" Addresses Gender, Immigration, Language and Culture

by Ann Abbott

I wrote the piece below for the upcoming newsletter for Women and Gender in Global Perspectives (WGGP), and I thought I would share it here.

I am a Faculty Affiliate of WGGP, and Gale Summerfield, the Director, and I are friends and Faculty Fellows together at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Although my work does not focus specifically on gender issues, they permeate all discussions of migration, immigration policies, education and social services--basically, everything we talk about in Spanish community service learning!

“'I want to speak Spanish with native speakers!' students say when I ask them what interests them the most about doing Spanish community service learning (CSL)—a teaching methodology in which students do meaningful service learning work within a Spanish-speaking community to enhance their learning of the academic content of the course. Then when I ask what concerns them the most, they often reply, 'I’m nervous about speaking Spanish with native speakers.'

"These seemingly contradictory student attitudes are both reflected in Comunidades: Más allá del aula (Prentice Hall), the first textbook that fully integrates Spanish CSL. On the one hand, Spanish CSL allows students to engage in real-world contexts that illuminate the Spanish language and Latino cultures in challenging, exciting and meaningful ways. On the other hand, students need a solid curricular program that supports them linguistically and culturally as they work in a community context that is quite different from the highly controlled classroom environment they are used to.

"I began teaching SPAN 232 “Spanish in the Community” in 2005 with 12 students and one community partner—Urbana’s East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center. Now around 100 students per semester enroll in our two Spanish CSL courses, and we partner with around a dozen local organizations. All told, students contribute 2,400 volunteer hours each semester. For some of our community partners, this helps them reach local Spanish-speakers for the first time; for others, it helps them enhance what they’re already doing with Latinas/os.

"Gender issues and immigration are highlighted in many parts of the textbook. One reading in particular recounts the triumphs and challenges of an undocumented Latina teen as she navigates high school, narrowly escapes a raid while shopping for a prom dress and cannot attend college because she would have to pay out-of-state tuition. The videos that accompany the textbook feature interviews with several adult Latinas living in the US who describe their experiences with culture shock, the difficulty of being far away during crises in their home countries, the misperceptions held by family and friends in their home country about their lives in the U.S, and more. (The videos can be seen at the Companion Website.) A lesson on push and pull factors for immigration urges students to think more deeply and more globally about the various reasons why people from all over the world take the risk of immigrating.

"Although both students and the community tend to react positively to Spanish CSL, there are many challenges as well. Even students who have taken years of Spanish courses and studied abroad still have trouble transferring their linguistic and cultural skills to a real-world, professional context.

"For example, one of the very first things students learn in any Spanish class is the difference between the informal () and formal (usted, ustedes) ways of addressing other people. In the classroom, students rarely address anyone formally, so they do not practice it; but in the community, they need to use it regularly. The textbook helps them practice this skill in order to be more culturally competent in the community.

"Likewise, students learn early on in their Spanish classes how to form commands, but it too is rarely practiced in a classroom setting. Therefore, when they work with Spanish-speaking children in a local school, they are often not fluent in giving commands to more than one student at a time (e.g., siéntense y abran el libro). Furthermore, students often misinterpret the cultural differences in the use of commands. They may perceive as rude a person who uses commands because their cultural preference would be to temper that form of speech with more indirect requests. However, it can be perfectly acceptable in Hispanic cultures for a person of authority to use the more direct, blunt command.

"As these examples show, students’ Spanish-speaking abilities and cultural knowledge can be very valuable assets to community organizations who often struggle to meet the needs of diverse linguistic groups with limited budgets. However, the challenge for Spanish CSL instructors is to help students bridge their classroom knowledge and their real-world tasks. The lessons in Comunidades are designed to help instructors and students do just that."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Students Gain Transcultural Literacy through Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Do Spanish departments provide transcultural education?
I asked myself that question after reading this article about Prof. Mark Dressman in the most recent edition of Inside Illinois.

I'll quote liberally:

"According to Mark Dressman, a professor in the department of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at Illinois, the current group of college students will inherit a workplace where they will need to be prepared for 'significant contact with the rest of the world.'

"To adequately prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s global economy, Dressman favors 'transcultural education,' which he defines as an experience that goes beyond the traditional rite-of-passage trip to western Europe.

“'In addition to developing an identity as someone from a particular city, state or country, transcultural education focuses on getting students to start thinking of themselves as citizens of the world,' he said. 'It’s a relatively new approach that is being applied across a number of fields, including education, nursing and business.'

"Dressman says that transcultural education is an approach to teaching and learning that is 'dialogic and interdisciplinary' in nature. Rather than learn about other cultures from a distance, a transcultural approach moves students and teachers toward learning through direct engagement with a culture’s members and its perspectives.

"Ideally, transcultural education goes beyond traditional course readings and discussions to include students having what Dressman calls 'a fairly profound and authentic experience of another culture, one they can’t get in a course on campus, or even in a study-abroad trip to Europe, and one that requires them to communicate with others as co-equals.'"

Yes. You could say that this is what Spanish departments (and all language programs) have been doing all along. We teach about languages, cultures and cultural products (mostly literary works and films). Our National Standards include"Cultures," emphasizing that students should learn about cultural products, practices and perspectives. At least on our campus, the majority of study-abroad students go to Spanish-speaking programs and many of our majors study abroad.

No. One word from the article struck me as absolutely absent from most Spanish programs that I know: "workplace." I believe that our Spanish programs excel at cultural analysis. (Usually expressed through literary analysis.) But I believe that we fail to explicitly connect those analytical skills to their application in real-world professional settings.

Sure, some programs have a "Business Spanish" class on the books, but it's often seen as the booby prize of teaching assignments. And I realize that bolstering students' critical thinking skills is a very important undertaking. But it's not hard to wrap up an analysis with a work-related application. Other fields are doing it better than us, it seems!

Nursing. Take a look at the standards for cultural competency in their field. I wish Spanish programs were teaching their students to work for social justice, advance culturally-appropriate policies and to empower and advocate the people they work with/for! And look at these case studies used to teach transcultural nursing--we should borrow some of these scenarios for teaching our Spanish students.

How to Teach Your Spanish Students about Human Development

by Ann Abbott

As your students are doing their community-service learning (CSL) work off campus, they are bumping up against important issues of human development. But they probably don't even realize it.

This is one of many great opportunities for Spanish CSL instructors to connect their students' experiences and learning to other disciplines. And even if you're not an expert in human development (and I certainly am not), here is a lesson plan that can begin to tie together the issues for you and your students.

1. Pon estos elementos en orden de importancia, de 1 (más importante) a 6 (menos importante), según tu propia opinión.

___ Ser respetado por la sociedad en que vives.
___ Gozar de buena salud y tener acceso al cuidado médico.
___ Sentirte seguro/a (es decir, no experimentar la violencia).
___ Poder asistir a la escuela, la universidad, etc.
___ Controlar tu propia vida (es decir, poder participar en las decisiones que te afecten).
___ Tener los ingresos económicos para poder llevar una vida digna.

Compara las respuestas de todos. ¿Cuáles son los tres elementos más importantes según el promedio de todos?

2. Lee esta definición del desarrollo humano y de los tres factores más importantes en este índice del desarrollo humano estadounidense.

Sí / No ¿Tus opiniones de los tres elementos más importantes coinciden con este índice?
Sí / No ¿Coinciden las opiniones de tus compañeros?

3. Consulta estos mapas y completa estas frases.

En cuanto al índice de desarrollo humano americano, el estado donde vivo es _________ y está en ____________ lugar comparado con los otros estados.
En cuanto al índice de salud, el estado donde vivo es _________ y está en ____________ lugar comparado con los otros estados.
En cuanto al índice de educación, el estado donde vivo es _________ y está en ____________ lugar comparado con los otros estados.
En cuanto al índice de ingresos económicos, el estado donde vivo es _________ y está en ____________ lugar comparado con los otros estados.

¿Cómo calificarías el nivel de desarrollo humano en tu estado? excelente / bueno / regular / malo

4. Ahora compara lo que has observado en la comunidad donde trabajas con las estadísticas de tu estado. ¿Crees los índices de desarrollo humano para todo el estado reflejan cómo viven ellos? Escribe tu respuesta usando términos como "más que", "menos que" y "tanto como"

5. Haz este test para saber tu propio índice de desarrollo humano y completa la frase siguiente. (OJO: Cuando comparamos los números usamos "de" en vez de "que." Es decir, cinco es más de cuatro y cien mil es menos de doscientos mil.)

"Mi resultado, __________ es (más de / menos de) _________ , el índice del estado donde vivo."

6. Ahora, piensa en un adulto que has llegado a conocer en la comunidad y haz el test con la información de él/ella. ¿Cuál es el resultado?

a. Mi índice de _____ es (más de / menos de) _____ , el índice de la persona en la comunidad que conozco.

b. Me doy cuenta de que no conozco a nadie lo suficiente para poder contestar la mayoría de las preguntas.

c. Estos elementos parecen influir mucho en el índice: _____________________________

Competencia cultural. Analiza las preguntas del test para hallar información cultural implícita en ellas. ¿Se puede hacer un test "neutro"?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What Beat Do You Teach To?

by Ann Abbott

Do the classes you teach (or attend) have a chorus--a theme that repeats, as you circle through activities that each bring new insight onto the same topic?

Does the conclusion of your class period echo the introduction, not repeating it exactly but sounding with a deeper timbre because of the work that you and your students did during the previous 50 minutes?

Sometimes one part of my lesson comes to a full stop, with a full-measure rest, before going on to the next part. Most times, though, I like to slip from one activity to the next through a quick, deft transition that links the old and the new.

Professor Liora Bresler is a world-renowned expert on aesthetic education and the qualitative research method. She is also a good friend of mine. The interview with her in the latest Inside Illinois develops the metaphor that teaching (and research) is a musical performance.

How can use this metaphor to explore community service learning (CSL) teaching more deeply? Here are a few thoughts:

  • While traditional classroom teaching might be considered a solo effort (although, of course, it isn't really), teaching a CSL course is highly collaborative. The various stakeholders must be present (even if just present in the content) in your teaching. How do you bring the community members' "voice" into your classroom sessions? Ask students to relate specific encounters that they had with community members. Show a video about or by Spanish-speaking community members as the foundation of a classroom activity. Invite your community partners to lead a class session.
  • Think creatively about the musical instruments you use in your CSL class. My children are lucky to attend a school with a wonderful music program, including Mr. Chad Dunn and his Recycled Rhythms. They use found objects to create rhythm instruments. This creative form of recycling produces wonderful instruments and learning opportunities. What objects do your students "find" in the community, and how can you bring them alive in the classroom? Invite your students to collect real-world Spanish words and phrases that they've never seen in a textbook, then do something with those words in class. Do they discover places (stores, restaurants, offices, Latino-owned businesses, or entire communities!) that they didn't know existed before they started leaving campus to go to their CSL work? Use class time to create a Google Map with those community assets and share it with others.
  • In what other ways does the music metaphor work in a CSL course?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

UIUC: "Social Justice on the Ground" Symposium

Global Crossroads holding symposium "Social Justice on the Ground"

The Global Crossroads Living-Learning Community will be holding a half-day symposium: “Social Justice on the Ground.” Please encourage your students to attend by announcing the program. Faculty and staff members and graduate students are also welcome to attend. Although an RSVP is not necessary, we would welcome a response since we will be serving lunch.

Geared toward undergraduates, this symposium brings together students and faculty to discuss issues of social justice and researchers’ roles in relation to the communities that they study, work in, or collaborate with. Not only will students be encouraged to examine the links or gaps between academic research, collaboration, and social justice engagement; they will also be encouraged to think critically about the concept of global citizenship.

Opening Remarks
Lydia Khuri, Global Crossroads Program Coordinator

Transnational Community Development: The Case of a Rural, Midwestern Town
Faranak Miraftab, Urban and Regional Planning

Challenges of Designing for People: Developing Community-managed Water Supplies Around the World
Student Panel, Engineers without Borders

Date: Sunday, November 8, 2009
Time: 11 AM-2:30 PM (lunch served)
Location: Saunders Lounge, Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls, Urbana (entrance on College Court)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Video Activities for Your Spanish Class 2

by Ann Abbott

Not sure how to keep your students' attention in class while they're thinking about how to get through until Fall Break? Do you have a manuscript/presentation deadline looming, and you need to spend less time lesson planning and more time writing? As promised, here's a grab-and-go lesson plan for you.

The videos and lesson plan are planned for the sixth-semester level. If you are teaching a lower-level course, consider having students watch just a couple of the video clips.

If you have access to the technology, have students watch the clips during class. Alternatively, you can do the pre-viewing activities at the end of one class period, tell students to watch the videos and do the comprehension activities as homework, and then do the post-viewing activities at the start of the next class period.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Video Activities for Your Spanish Class

by Ann Abbott

Four and a half weeks: that is all the time left in our semester at the University of Illinois.

This is usually the time in the semester when our Spanish community service learning (CSL) students are consolidating their knowledge about their community partners, the clients they serve, and the Spanish they need to communicate effectively. Their confidence has increased, and the relationships they have formed with community members are strong. After the difficult first weeks, this is a time of calm, but also deeper questioning of what they are seeing and doing in the community.

For Spanish CSL instructors, this is a time to pull together loose threads and to push students to do deeper, more nuanced reflection about their learning. You may need to inject some variety into your classroom activities, just to change the atmosphere in the classroom and to help students approach their learning from a new angle. You're also probably thinking ahead to the final: how will you write an exam that covers everything they've done in class, for homework and in the community.

To meet those needs, my following posts will feature the videos at Comunidades' Companion Website and activities to accompany them. Just when your lesson-planning energy is waning, I hope you'll be able to grab some quick activities to take to your next class.

Tune in tomorrow.