Friday, January 30, 2009
The Refugee Center needs students to help out with a fundraiser Banquet on February 28 from 6pm to 11pm.
Enjoy the company of community members and listen to performances by an African choir!
Students will be helping with set up, serving food, and take down.
If you are interested in helping please contact Deb (217) 344-8455 at the Refugee Center.
The fundraiser will be held at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on 708 Main Street in Urbana.
It’s a great way to get to know the community and make up some hours if you are waiting for your background check!
I must admit that I often think of the predominance of literary studies in Spanish departments as sometimes at odds with the on-the-ground work of social justice in a Spanish communty service learning course.
It doesn't have to be that way, of course.
My PhD is in literature. The critical thinking skills I learned in my training have transferred easily to the work of teaching culture, language and professional skills to students working within the local Latino community. The pleasure of "story" behind my passion for literature is still there whenever I hear an immigrant's story--or when I read a student describe their reaction to hear immigration stories, sometimes for the first time. And there are many more connections between literary studies and well-designed community-service learning.
However, I also learned to analyze power dynamics during my PhD, and the position of literature as "real"/"important"/"rewarded" within Spanish programs and CSL as "just teaching" / "service-y" / "applied" is pretty obvious.
So, I'm glad to see that our campus's Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory is hosting a symposium titled, "Comparative Human Rights: Literature, Art, Politics." (Click on the image above to see more details.)
It's very nice when a blog does what it is actually supposed to do: create dialogue.
That's why I was happy to see Jose G. Ricardo-Osorio's comment on the post I wrote about his recent article in Foreign Lanuguage Annals.
I want to highlight his comments here because they go into more detail than in the article itself (in which CSL was just one of many assessment methods he presented):
I am glad to know that you found the data I presented in my article very informative. I look forward to reading your research on student learning outcomes assessment in CSL programs.
I think that one way to use CSL as a key assessment is to random sample the students who will participate in the program. As you assert, using CSL as an assessment measure can be a very complex (and logistically impossible)endeavour. However, it can be used to assess certain students. If we accept that students learn at different paces and by various means, we must also embrace the notion of assessing students in the same way they learn. This means that the ideal students to participate in a CSL program should be students who better learn by doing, by constructing, by solving problems. Bottom line, not all of the students in a foreign language program should be assessed through CSL. There are other performance-based options that can be used instead. A foreign language department's learning outcomes assessment report could include CSL as a key assessment to collect data for program improvement. Thus, a random sampling approach may be less expensive and easier to administer.
I would like to maintain our communication channels open. It is always encouraging to come across colleagues who are also passionate about the assessment of learning.
Anyone else have thoughts about assessment in a Spanish CSL course and CSL as an assessment tool for Spanish programs?
- Students: What do you think about the tests in your Spanish community service learning course? Are you, as Prof. Ricardo-Osorio describes, someone "who better learn[s] by doing, by constructing, by solving problems"? Tell us about your perspective in a comment.
- TAs/Instructors: How do you decide what to put on your tests in your Spanish CSL course? Do you think those tests actually measure students' performance in the community? Leave a comment!
- Researchers: What are the major research questions that we must address in foreign language CSL assessment? Post your ideas here.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I am very happy that this semester almost all the students in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course already took "Spanish in the Community" and did community-based learning.
That means that they know what the course is about and it's really what they want.
It means that I can spend my time in the classroom talking about social entrepreneurship because they already learned all about community-based learning.
And it means that they can take responsibility for their satisfaction with their CBL experience.
In class last Thursday I asked all students to write down their response to these two questions:
- What are you going to do differently in your CBL work this semester in order to be happier with your experience?
- What worked well for you that you plan to continue doing in your CBL work this semester?
For #2, one student said that he enjoyed getting to know the students he tutored at Central High School on a personal level, so he wants to continue to have that type of interaction with them this semester.
As community service learning instructors/administrators, it is of course our duty to design community partnerships that engage our students. But students need to know that they have the capability in many instances to engineer the type of experience they will have in the community.
One more item of interest from Pink's February/March 2009 issue.
John Gray--familiar to almost everyone for his work on "Mars and Venus"--writes about gender differences in workplace communication. He cites this example:
"At the copy machine, a woman might say, 'This thing isn't working.' On 'Venus,' that's a way to let off steam. Another woman might sympathize with her. On 'Mars,' however, the man is thinking, 'Why is she telling me this? Does she want me to fix it?' He misinterprets her statement as a sign of weakness."
This made me think of all the miscommunications that can happen in the community based on cultural differences.
In the past, some students who worked at the Refugee Center showed in their reflections that they were upset by the communication style of the main Latina counselor there. Basically they felt that this counselor was "mean" with some of the clients. I know this counselor well. Believe me, she is not "mean," and all the Refugee Center's clients hold her in the highest possible esteem. But she is direct. And frank. Those are cultural differences that some of our students can misinterpret.
In the schools, I have also read some students' reflections saying how they don't like the way the teachers treats the students. While I haven't witnessed first hand the communications they are referring to, knowing that all the teachers we work with are highly respected individuals in the Latino community, I suspect that this again is owed to cultural differences.
Students can easily become confused. We tell them that they must be polite and respectful in the community. For them, that translates into "May I please have your attention please." Or avoiding conflict at all costs. Or "I hate to bother you, but could I please take just a moment of your time to ask you about something that has been on my mind but I just haven't known how to bring it up...."
Sometimes, in the Spanish language, long, drawn-out, rather Baroque constructions are demonstrations of politeness.
Yet other times, direct and firm communication is a show of respect and closeness.
These are some of the hardest things to teach, and some of the hardest things for our students to recognize as actual miscommunications. They understood the words, so they think they understood.
It even happens to me.
My friend from Honduras, for example, says, "Me vas a regalar X." That sounded so rude to me every time I heard it! Then I went to Costa Rica and heard people say that all the time. It was not rude, it was just a common expression. I could have interpreted that phrase as a character flaw--rudeness--of my friend. Instead, it was a cultural difference in communication style.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
As usual, the Winter 2008 issue of Foreign Language Annals if full of good information for language instructors. While there are no articles specifically about community service learning, the topic does show up in one article:
Jose G. Ricardo-Osorio. "A Study of Foreing Language Learning Outcomes Assessment in U.S. Undergraduate Education." Foreign Language Annals 41.4 (2008): 590-610.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what a degree in Spanish really means. The obvious conclusion is that it means different things for different stakeholders:
- Professors think it has to do with critical thinking skills and an overall knowledge of language and culture--usually taught through linguistics and literature.
- Students think it means learning to speak Spanish and learn about the people of Spanish-speaking countries.
- Employers think it means fluency.
Those may be gross generalizations, but as generalizations I think they are accurate. (Write a comment to agree or disagree!)
It seems to me that only in a well-run Spanish community service learning course or program do those three perspectives begin to converge.
Why do I say that? Because in most literature/culture courses in the Spanish major that I am aware of, there is no intentional language instruction. Students are expected to improve their fluency and accuracy by osmosis.
So then what happens after a Spanish major takes several courses of this type of instruction in linguistics and literature/culture? I don't think we know, in the true sense of program assessment. We can see what grades a student received and whether or not he/she studied abroad, but not much else. At the University of Illinois, only the students studying to be high school Spanish teachers must take the oral proficiency test.I invite you to read Ricardo-Osorio's article about students' foreign language learning outcomes. I learned a lot from it. I also understand that most Spanish departments--especially now--simply don't have the resources it takes to do a thorough assessment of their majors' learning outcomes before they graduate.
What are the types of assessment that Ricardo-Osorio notes?
- The OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview)
- Student Portfolios
- Exit Exams
- Computer-Assisted Assessment
- Capstone Course Project
- Service Learning Project
Regarding the Service Learning Project as a means to assess student learning outcomes, Ricardo-Osorio writes, "Due to the nature of service learning, performance-based assessments can easily be incorporated. Thus, Students may be required to apply what they learned in the classroom to real life scenarios" (595).
As anyone who teaches/directs Spanish community service learning (CSL) knows, this is very oversimplified. We are only beginning to understand what assessment can look like in foreign langauage CSL. (Darcy Lear and I plan to present and publish on this in the near future.) And in a huge program like the U of I's, how could you possibly create a CSL experience for every student AND assess that experience in the way Ricardo-Osorio describes: "To ensure quality, teachers must observe and record not only what and how the students do, but also the effect of the experience on the other participating agents of the project (i.e., community and special populations) (Holland, 2001)" (595).
I am glad to see CSL included as a part of the solution to assess our Spanish majors' learning outcomes. Obviously, the idea needs much more development and input from CSL practitioners.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I'm redefining success in a community-based learning context again.
Normally, when a student drops a course, you would consider that a failure. You might even take it personally? And with so many students who respond positively to the chance to use their Spanish in the real world, it's actually kind of surprising when they do drop.
But given the extra responsibilities that everyone incurs in a CBL class, sometimes the students who do not drop can be more problematic than those who do.
Today I received the e-mail below from a student who took a hard look at his schedule, the course requirement and the syllabus. He came the conclusion that as a responsible student he could not over-commit himself.
That, to me, is success: to communicate our expectations clearly and to have students make an honest assessment of their ability to meet them--or not.
Here is the e-mail. It is also a model because it is written succinctly, clearly and professionally.
"After giving this some more thought and reading through the syllabi for the two courses I have decided that the time commitment may be a bit unmanageable for me this semester. I may look for opportunities to volunteer in the community that are not associated with any coursework. Thank you for your time and for the information you sent me."
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I know that 74% is a C, but it feels like an A+ to me right now.
85 out of 115 Spanish CBL students scheduled themselves on the wiki by the beginning of day 2 of the semester. (I hope I did my math correctly!)
I think this is a variation on that old 80/20 adage: about 20% of our Spanish CBL students create 80% of our administrative work.
So how do you craft a welcome message that eliminates (hopefully!) the need for follow-up messages? Below is my "welcome e-mail." See if it can work for you, too.
Subject: SPAN 232 and SPAN 332 Students: Sign up now!
Dear SPAN 232 and 332 students,
As you saw when you signed up for SPAN 232 or SPAN 332, you are required to work 28 hours with a community partner for this class. Please do the following:
1. Make sure you have the prerequisites for the course you have signed up for. We will check them the first day of class, and if you do not have the prereqs or permission from Prof. Ann Abbott, you will have to drop the class. You might as well drop now and read no further if you don't meet the course's requirements.
2. Go to http://cblschedule09.pbwiki.com/, read all the information (there is a lot!), and sign up for your community partner.
3. Buy your coursepack now. You will use it the first day. The coursepack is nonrefundable; that is another reason why you should drop the course now if you do not intend to stay in it.
4. Join the Facebook group: Students of Spanish Community-based Learning Courses SPAN 232/332. There you can talk to each other to make plans to share rides, ask each other or former students questions about the course, etc.
Sorry to be so heavy in this e-mail, but if you do not follow instructions your participation grade will be lowered. This course requires great personal responsibility because of the community service work.
Good luck in your Spanish community-based learning course!
Prof. Ann Abbott
The beginning of this semester has gone unusually smoothly. I like to think this is because of some systems/procedures that we have adopted for this semester. If you are running your own CBL course or program, you know how chaotic things can be in the beginning. Here are some the solutions we have put in place:
1. Problem. Students add/drop. During the first two weeks of the semester students are free to drop courses and add others. Whenever a student drops a Spanish CBL course, another student immediately fills it. This leads to several problems. First, we aren't notified when students drop/add, so we have to continually scan the rosters for this info. If the student who dropped already signed up to work in the community, we need to delete him/her from the schedule. Students who add have missed the e-mails telling them what to do, so are "lost" in the beginning.
Solution. Accept this ebb and flow. I no longer try to get students organized before the semester starts. It all starts once the semester starts. That way no one is ahead or behind. I don't feel frustrated that the work I did earlier is nullified when students drop and add. And TAs can share the work of getting students and schedules up to speed (see #7).
2. Problem. Students enroll "blind." Invariably, some students sign up for the CBL courses without ever reading the course description that clearly states that they need to work 28 hours in the community. They simply "needed" a Spanish class. Given the unique demands (and opportunities, of course!) of a CBL course, students who don't understand that can cause problems and take time.
Solution. Force students to make decisions. The lesson on the very first day asks students to identify what they know or think about the class. If there are misunderstandings, instructors can correct them right away. Most importantly, at the end of the lesson students must check a list: will they stay in the class, get more info, or drop it. I talked to several students in my office and after class yesterday. If I saw them blink when I told them they had to work 28 hours in the community (or 56 if they wanted to take both), I told them they should not take the course! Bluntly. If they still clung to the idea (because of scheduling issues, I suspect, not a true desire for the course experience), I told them they had to send me an e-mail with their decision and plan. The course requires responsibly, so I need to demand that students behave responsibly, not hope they do.
3. Problem. Need to provide access to wiki. Having a wiki solved a myriad of scheduling problems. Students self-scheduled, self-corrected their schedule, and community partners could track their volunteers. But the add/drop problem forced me (or the TA working for me), to constantly take access away from those who dropped and give it to those who added.
Solution. Make the wiki public. Problem solved with a keystroke. In fact, go take a look at the wiki: http://cblschedulesp09.pbwiki.com/
4. Problem. Students don't follow instructions. It seems that for some students, if it isn't a graded assignment they don't think it's important or urgent. So when we send an e-mail or tell them in class that they need to schedule themselves on the wiki, that somehow doesn't get transferred to their to-do list.
Solution. Grade it. If they don't follow instructions and sign up for their community partner, go to the orientation, etc., then 20 points will be deducted from their midterm community participation evaluation.
5. Problem. Some students treat this like any other course. See all the problems on this list!
Solution. Get tough. No breaks. No repeating. No reminding students of their responsibilities. It's all written down for the students to see. If we keep telling them what to do, then why should they read what we write? I realize this may sound harsh. However, do you want high performers and self-starters working in the community and representing you and your university or not? We cannot complain about (some) students' lack of responsibility in the community if we coddle them in the classroom. And in my welcome e-mail I tell students more than once that they should drop the class if they're not committed to it. That's their very first message from me!
6. Problem. Sending too many e-mails. This is exhausting for CBL instructors and administrators. Students stop reading e-mails if they receive too many. (So do I.)
Solution. Send very few e-mails. With all the information included in the syllabus, the wiki and the coursepack, students know what to do. If they don't do it, then there are consequences.
7. Problem. The responsiblities for CBL administration are overwhelming. Coordinating things for 10 community partners and 120 students is truly too much for one person to handle.
Solution. Share the responsibilities with instructors and students. Having students self-schedule is already half the battle. Other remaining administrative tasks can be delegated to the TAs, as long as proper systems are in place. At the U of I, CBL instructors only have to teach two days a week. Grading reflexiones every other week and taking care of some simple administrative tasks make up that "extra" hour they're not in the classroom. For example, I will not monitor the rosters to check for students who add the class; TAs will do this and send them the welcome e-mail with instructions.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Carolyn Kloecker was one of our student bloggers last semester. She wrote about her experiences working with a Girl Scout troop for Latinas in Champaign. She also mentioned several times how excited she was to study abroad in Ecuador next semester.
Well, Carolina is there now, and she sent me this message:
" I started volunteering in Ecuador today! We organize after-school activities for a group of kids in Lumbisi, an indigenous town near Quito. We also help them with their homework and sometimes with English. It's great! I'll be going twice a week, from 3pm-5pm on mondays and wednesdays. Hasta luego!"
Click here to find out more about the study abroad program that Carolina is on. This program is highly recommended for students who are truly interested in doing service in the community. Another former student blogger, Liz Girten, also studied on this program. (My other recommendation is that you study abroad for a whole academic year; you will thank me for the recommendation when you become fluent!)
Monday, January 19, 2009
Although we have never been able to nail down a community partnership, I try to follow Hope Community Health Center's work carefully and support it.
Click on the image to enlarge it, and if you are in the Champaign-Urbana area, consider attending the event.
Students: Although Hope Community Health Center is not one of our official community partners this semester, if you take the initiative to arrange your own volunteer work and schedule with them, you can certainly have that count for your CBL work this semester.
Cristina Medrano, the founder of the clinic, attended the Social Entrepreneurship Summer Institute while she was putting the clinic together, and I met her there. It is very exciting to see how the clinic has grown and how Cris has been very entrepreneurial in this important endeavor for the community. Congrats, Cris!
Friday, January 16, 2009
It's very exciting to check in with our community partners and see what their plans are for this upcoming semester and what they have been doing during the break.
I just heard from Lila Moore with SOAR, and she sent along good information about that after-school program.
You don't have to be in a community-based learning course to work in the community, so consider signing up to work with this program whether you're in SPAN 232 or 332 or not.
S.O.A.R. @ B.T. Washington Elementary
The S.O.A.R. after-school tutoring program at B.T. Washington Elementary is looking for enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers to provide homework and reading help to students in grades K-5 who are most in need of some extra support. Currently about 45 children, mainly Latino and African American, attend the free after-school program. The S.O.A.R. program is a collaboration of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the College of Education, and Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.
S.O.A.R. (Student Opportunities for After-School Resources) operates from 3:00 to 5:00 every Tuesday through Thursday at B.T. Washington Elementary School. Volunteers are asked to commit at least one day a week for the duration of the program to working with a child.
The S.O.A.R. program provides volunteers the opportunity to
-help children from different backgrounds and cultures with their homework and reading,
-practice Spanish-speaking skills in a real-life situation,
-provide a much needed and appreciated service to the local community,
-gain experience in a K-5 tutoring and literacy setting, and
-develop a close mentor relationship with a child.
Orientation/training sessions begin the week of January 27. Tutors will attend one training session on either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (Jan. 27, 28, or 29) from 3:00 – 5:00 (the normal days and hours of tutoring) in the library at B.T. Washington Elementary. I will provide additional information in an e-mail to those who plan on volunteering with the S.O.A.R. program.
If you are interested in volunteering or would like information please contact Lila Moore at email@example.com
Click here for a flyer that you can put up to encourage others to sign up as well.
What do coffee and community-based learning have to do with each other?
Starbucks is offering a free cup of Starbucks coffee if you pledge 5 hours of volunteer time.
What a great way to "double-dip." Make your five hours count for your Spanish community-based learning credit and for a free cup of coffee.
Click here to find out more.
Tell the barista: "Un café, por favor."
Our semester starts on Tuesday, January 20. We will have around 120 Spanish 232 and 332 students working in the community this semester. During these difficult economic times, these students can give a hand to our community partners who are doing so much work for some of our community's most vulnerable members. That, and a cup of coffee, can make you feel really good about community-based learning.