Thursday, December 3, 2009

4 Myths about Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

It would be nice if starting a Spanish community service learning (CSL) course or program happened easily. It would be even nicer if CSL magically made all our students learn more--and remember everything they learned! While I truly believe that CSL is a very effective pedagogy when done well, it is not easy, nor is it a magic bullet.

Here are some myths about CSL. If you're considering starting a CSL course or program, take them to heart. If you're already doing CSL, well, you already know...

Myth 1. My campus' CSL Center will handle everything for me.
A centralized CSL office is a wonderful thing! I wish that the University of Illinois had one. But they don't integrate the CSL work into your curriculum; you have to do that. They don't know how to match up the community partner's needs to your students' Spanish proficiency level; that's up to you. So while they are a great start and save you a lot of work, you still have to make the experience meaningful to your course, to your students.

Myth 2. Doing the same thing in class, but adding CSL, will make the students care.
Maybe. Maybe not. They might care about their CSL work and still think your class stinks.

Myth 3. I don't have ties in the community, so I (can / cannot) do CSL.
You can make ties in the community, and you have to start somewhere, some time. But if you do not have ties in the community, ask yourself why. Your answers could give you a clue as to whether or not you should do CSL. My friend, Darcy Lear, for example, moved to North Carolina from Illinois and started working at UNC-Chapel Hill. She had no ties in the community because she had just moved there. But she quickly plugged herself in, contributed to community organizations and proved that she was a trustworthy partner. But if you have lived in your community for a long time, scorn your local newspaper, don't vote in local elections, and secretly think that all non-university people in your area are "hicks" (or some variation on that word), CSL probably isn't for you. Your potential community partners will smell your elitism.

Myth 4. Translating is a great CSL task.
No it isn't. Your students won't be able to translate well. You will spend lots of time revising their translations. This will remind you why you went into education instead of translation--because you hate to translate because it is so hard. You will resent having to fix your students translations, and you will swear you will never do another CSL class again.

Any more myths to bust? Leave a comment!

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