Thursday, December 16, 2010

Student Reflection

by Allison Kutzki

Through working with the community, I have been able to extend my use of Spanish to something outside of the classroom, and upon reflection of my experiences thus far, I have been able to solidify my reasons for being a Spanish major. This thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to return to my high school and I spent a few hours in one of my old Spanish teachers’ classroom. He asked me to speak with his honors students about my experiences at the University of Illinois with Spanish and why high school students should continue to take Spanish in college. The night before I went, I was laying in my bed and I was forced to articulate to myself what I would have like to have known if I were a high school senior deciding what classes I wanted to take my first semester in college. Although I was fortunate enough to attend a rather affluent high school, one thing that it lacks is the diversity that actually exists outside of the school. I think that many students are left with the false impression that Spanish is not needed. In each class I asked students who was planning to take Spanish in college. To my surprise, less than half responded that they wanted to take it. In that moment, I realized that I needed to somehow convey my passion for the language, and the rewarding and useful experiences that it has given me.

Consequently, I found myself talking not so much about the experiences that I have had with my college Spanish courses, but rather about the practical ones that I have had with the language outside of the classroom and in the community. I explained to them first and foremost that they are honors students and that it would be a waste of their skill if they did not pursue at least a minor in the language. Secondly, I tried to express just how much the language has come to mean to me, and what a large part of my life it has truly become. I discussed the experiences that I have had with tutoring and translating for Spanish speakers and how rewarding that was. I put a large emphasis on my experience translating at parent teacher conferences. I told them that the role that I played in the lives of those families was crucial, not only in the moment, but also in the long run to the success of the student in their education. It was after explaining these things to the students that they began to take an interest in what I was saying. Many students asked me questions about what it was like working with native speakers, fluency, and the classes that prepare you for such work. I could tell that I had actually convinced many of them that taking Spanish in college was not just an option, but it was a necessity. I think many of them feel as though taking Spanish in high school is something that they had done so they would not have to take it in college. However, when I asked them why they were taking it, many of them responded that they actually enjoyed the language, but yet were not sure about their college plans.

Like these high school students, I took Spanish merely because it came easily to me and it was fun. I always liked my classes and I thought if I take it all four years then I will not have to in college and it will leave more room in my schedule. As a freshman, I decided that maybe having a minor in Spanish would be a good idea, so I continued to take classes. After a year in college, and being around a more diverse population, I realized the potential that the ability to speak another language had. I continued to pursue my interest for the language, and it has evolved into a passion. Something I have realized through the reflection that I have done this semester is how much insight looking back and evaluating your experiences can give you. Going back to my high school and talking to students whose shoes I used to stand in, has shined a new light on where I am today; and has also helped to reinforce the life decisions I have made in the past three years. It has made me so thankful and confident in my career choice and excited to one day in the near future, have students of my own whom I can pass on my knowledge and passion.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Student Reflection

by Dana Lange

As we are nearing the end of the semester, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what I have gained this semester from the class and what I may have shared with the students and teachers. For me personally, helping with the religion class has allowed me to use Spanish for an additional two hours a week, outside of the classroom, in a real-life setting, building upon all of the Spanish that I learned and used while I spent the first part of this year in Spain. Though I don’t speak Spanish as much as I did in Spain, the class, for me, has been a comfortable setting for me to continue to use it. Furthermore, I’ve gotten to know many of the adults and kids from the Latino Ministry at St. John’s.

For the students, I hope that they have grown to feel more comfortable with me, too. It seems like they have- last week Maestra Patty wasn’t able to make it to class due to the snow so we had an substitute teacher, but I think it was good that I was there to be a familiar, friendly face for them. I also hope that I have been an example to them and that they enjoy coming to religion class on Saturday mornings.

I am very thankful that I have gotten this opportunity to serve the community in this way. Though I believe I would have done it anyway, SPAN 232 really pushed me to take the initiative and assist the class, as well as make sure I came every week, even though some of those Saturday mornings were harder than others. I recently found out that the Spanish-speaking priest at St. John’s will be leaving at the end of next semester and that the Latino ministry will therefore also be leaving. Though it seems like they will have a new church to go to in the area and that I still may be able to help, I am glad that I took advantage of this chance while I could. I truly have become more confident in my Spanish-speaking abilities as well as a more active member in my community and I am very grateful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Does Public Engagement Mean at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign?

by Ann Abbott

I'll be frank: I was very disappointed in the "Next Steps Letter" and "Implementation Grid" regarding Public Engagement in the "Stewarding Excellence @Illinois" process.

While I don't disagree with anything that is written in the reports, I definitely take issue with what was not included in the report.  Absolutely nothing was said about public engagement as it relates to our university's teaching and research missions.  That is very disappointing.

Those of us who do public engagement know that it has a very important role in teaching--through academic service learning and other venues--and research.  However, I have found that many people are stumped when I mention that an entire research agenda can be (and is!) tied to academic service learning.  It seems that our approach to Stewarding Excellence @Illinois suffers from the same lack of information and imagination.

The University of Illinois needs--at the highest level, especially at the Office for the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement--strong supports and cheerleaders for the teaching and research agendas tied to public engagement.  Extension does one, very important, type of public engagement, but it does not represent the entire gamut.

Perhaps I have missed something.  Perhaps there is a focus on academics and research within public engagement in another report somewhere.  I hope so.  But I haven't seen it.

Student Reflection

by Dana Lange

To gain a few more extra hours, I offered to help at Urbana Middle School over Halloween weekend while the Mexican consulate came to help many of the Mexican people living in the area with visas, passports, and other supportive aspects. Upon arriving, I really didn’t know what to expect while there, but I was very glad that I helped out and I would be more than willing to volunteer again!

I knew that I had to help both Friday night and most of the day that Saturday in order to make up for some hours, so I was a little nervous and not really sure how I would be spending all of that time. But when I got there, they actually needed help with the children’s activities, which was something I knew I could do. All night Friday and all day Saturday, I entertained the kids with coloring, games, and different physical activities- all while speaking Spanish. Most of the kids came and left as their parents finished up with what they needed to get done, but a few of the kids, whose parents were also volunteering for the weekend, stayed just as long as I did. I forgot how much I enjoy all of those children’s activities and the time quickly passed. At the end of the day, the kids were even upset that they had to leave!

I was happy to help keep them entertained, but most importantly I was happy that I could distract them from some of the work that their parents had to deal with. It occurred to me that these children will have a completely different perspective than many of their friends and classmates and it will affect them, for better and for worse, for the rest of their lives. They may face discrimination, language barriers, and other obstacles that children whose ancestors have lived in the United States for generations, but I know that they will also be able to share their unique perspective with others and grow as a result of it. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Student Reflection

by Allison Kutzki

No puedo creer que casi hayamos llegado al término del semestre. El tiempo pasa tanto rápido. Sin embargo, creo que he aprendido mucha información muy útil sobre el español y también la cultura que puedo aplicar a otros aspectos de mi vida. He estado tomando español por nueve años y paso a paso me doy cuenta de que hay tantas cosas de que se compone la lengua. Existen tantas historias ricas juntas con la cultura y las tradiciones. El contenido de este curso, en combinación con el trabajo que he hecho afuera del aula, me ha permitido de realizar esas cosas importantes. Mi carrera es la educación de español, entonces he tomado muchas clases en ambas materias. Tomo otras clases de cultura, pero no eran activos. Los cursos están enseñados por ver las películas, leer las historias y los artículos de países hispanohablantes. Mientras que estudiar así es útil para adquirir una base de información, es difícil ponerte en el lugar de las personas de quienes estudias. Este curse me ha permitido tomar lo que he aprendido en el pasado y aplicarlo con la gente. Después de mi trabajo en la comunidad, tengo un entendimiento más profundo de la gente que he estado estudiando.

También, he tomado muchos cursos de educación y un tema muy frecuente es las diferencias culturales que existen entre los estudiantes. Crecí en las afueras de Chicago y asistí a una escuela secundaria en que no había mucha diversidad. Entonces, antes de venir a la universidad, tenía una impresión falsa de la gente de otras ciudades y escuelas.  En mis clases de educación, he aprendido sobre la importancia de ser delicado a las diferencias culturales de los estudiantes. Sin embargo, después de trabajar con los estudiantes en Leal y también con los padres en las conferencias en La Escuela Central, me he dado cuenta de que las dificultades que tienen personas que vienen aquí de otros países y el significado verdadero de diversidad. Comprendo mejor como la barrera del idioma puede impedir la habilidad de los estudiantes para aprender y también de la importancia en que los estudiantes bilingües mantengan ambos idiomas.

Las experiencias que he tenido en este curso van a ayudarme mucho en el futuro. Quiero enseñar español, pero también me doy cuenta de que me gustaría trabajar también con los hispanohablantes. Para mí, es muy divertido conocer a la gente de otras culturas y también comunicarse en otro idioma. Lo que he aprendido en este curso también me ayudará en el aula con mis estudiantes si tengo estudiantes hispanos porque tendré un entendimiento mejor de sus culturas y de donde vienen. Si no trabajo con los hispanohablantes, mi conocimiento de las personas de otras culturas es algo que les podré enseñar a mis estudiantes que crecieran con mucha diversidad. Más que todo, este curso ha aumentado mi español increíblemente. No solo he tenido la oportunidad de hablar con los hispanohablantes cada semana, pero también he llegado a comprender bien la historia de los hispanohablantes en este país y esto es algo que me ayudará mucho en mi futuro.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Student Reflection

by Allison Kutzki

Since wanting to be a teacher, I have always worked with high school students. Therefore, working at Leal has been a rather novice and insightful experience for me. Not only has it been a place for me to practice my language skills, but I have also learned a lot about how to deal with children in an educational setting. There is so much more that goes into instructing first graders than simply the content. While the main goal teachers have is to provoke learning, other smaller goals must be accomplished before the larger can be achieved. There is a psychology behind every direction and activity which helps shape not only the students understanding of classroom material but their behavior. Everything for these students must be done in an orderly, clearly directional fashion. Before going out to recess, there is a routine. Students must clean up their areas, go to the restroom and then get a drink of water. Students then line up at the door and those in charge of carrying out recess toys line up in the back. The students then sing a song which instructs them to stand in line silently; and only after obeying, do they proceed into the hallway and outside.

Being in this environment, I realized that I had forgotten a lot about how elementary school was. It occurred to me how crucial little things like this are in helping students to successfully learn, especially for those who may not have been well disciplined at home. Many students have parents that are first generation immigrants to this country and my not have the time or resources that other children have. They may live in smaller houses with many of their family members and they can often lack a certain structure and discipline. It is with this that it is so important to these students future education that they learn to follow this structure in school.

Being able to maintain order in a classroom full of six and seven year olds is not an easy job, but the teacher that I work with has done a fantastic job of doing so. She has created a certain dynamic with the students in which she commands their attention, but also has their respect. Students look to her with affection and are comfortable interacting with her, but when she says it is time to do something, the students willingly abide. Being able to control the students’ behavior has allowed for a proactive learning environment for the children, one with minimal disruptions and much cooperation. Although I aspire to work with high school students, I realized that this dynamic is essential to productive learning in the classroom. If students fear their teacher, it is unproductive because the only thing they learn is to listen to instructions, and cooperative learning between the students and teachers is inhibited. If students feel more powerful than the teacher, this is also unproductive because the students learn that they have the ability to control the classroom and as a result, the teacher is unable to share their knowledge with the students. In observing the demeanor my teacher has towards her students, I believe that I have gained some insight into how I can establish this same dynamic with my students some day. It is evident that while a something created to facilitate the broad task of learning, it cannot be done without attention to small details such as rules, order and mutual respect.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Student Reflection

by Katie Dudek

A December to Remember

I cannot believe it is already December.  At the risk of sounding cliché, it seems like it was just yesterday that I walked into Ms. Bucio’s classroom for the first time.  It is very interesting to think about how my Spanish has improved since then, how much more confident I am in her classroom, and how much my relationship has changed with each her students.  All of this was evident when I went to Booker T. Washington to volunteer this past Monday.

I arrived at the school at 12:45 PM like I normally do, put my things in the classroom, and walked down the hallway to where Ms. Bucio’s class lines up after lunch to go to the bathroom.  The moment I saw them scattered on both sides of the hallway, I knew something was going on.  Usually they are very obedient, lined up in a straight line against the wall, but that was not the case.  Why?  There was a substitute teacher.  Though I have been a university student for a few years, I still know what having a substitute teacher means.  It means that the kids act up, change their names, alter the class rules, and for lack of a better phrase, simply go bananas.  However, when they saw me heading towards them, they began inching towards the correct side of the hallway, and lining up like they knew they were supposed to.  Over the course of the semester, I had gained their respect.

My experience Monday was the best way I could have ended my volunteering at Booker T. Washington.  Without Ms. Bucio there, the substitute relied on me to know who the kids were, what they were supposed to be doing, and what was the best way to go about teaching their lessons.  At one point she gave me the teacher’s manual for their grammar book and asked me to explain to the class the exercise that we would be doing.  As she did not have any Spanish-speaking experience, she was very thankful that I was there to help her, and expressed that she could not have made it through the day without my assistance.  Though I am sure she would have managed, it was great to hear that I was able to be such help. 

This has been an amazing experience for me.  Although I have very much enjoyed working with the students on the academic tasks that are given to me, the thing that I have loved most is simple conversations I have had with the students about themselves and their interests.  This is where I have grown the closest with the students and where I have been able to utilize my Spanish the most.  For instance, while working on their essays for “free writes”, we often brainstorm ideas together about what they can write about. As a result of this activity, I now know that [Nancy] loves baking with her mom, especially cakes.  She wants to be a cake decorator when she grows up.  [Obdulio] is crazy about soccer.  He always plays goalie during gym class and when he plays with his friends. [Gianni]’s favorite Christmas song is “Arre Borriquito” and sings it all the time, and [Marcos] loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books or “El Diario de Greg.”  I will miss spending time with these students each week.  This will definitely be an experience that I will never forget, and a December that I will always remember.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Student Reflection

by Charlotte Piwowar

Final thoughts

Now that the semester has come to a close, I figure it would be appropriate to share some general overall thoughts about my time at Champaign Central in the ESL tutoring classroom this semester.  Although I’ve faced some challenges or situations many times, each day has had a different dynamic from the last.  So then, what have I loved?  What has been especially challenging?  Especially rewarding?

I’ll start with the tough stuff.  Volunteering has been, for the most part, a fun and rewarding experience, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been bumps in the road.  Tutoring can be challenging enough with students for whom English is their native language; needless to say, doing so with students who have limited English skills or for me to explain things in my second language can be tricky.  I’ve mentioned the students from the Congo before—they usually come down for help with U.S. history, which generally means copying definitions out of the textbook.  They don’t understand much of what they’re writing, yet they always work the hardest of any students coming in, and I can tell that their English is improving rapidly.  It can be frustrating because neither the assignments they do nor the nature of the school’s ESL program seem to be set up to help them in the best way possible; total English emersion doesn’t appear to be that effective when there is such a little base of English understanding to begin with.  I can only imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes, but I really admire all of their hard work and determination.

This past Monday was probably the day, though, that has been most challenging to date.  I sat down with one of the Spanish-speaking students who is in the tutoring classroom relatively often (although sometimes it seems like he just comes in so that he doesn’t have to be in class).  He was working on a multiple-choice exam for World History, so I figured that it would just be a matter of translating a few words here and there.  Not quite.  First question: I let him read it and gave him a while to think.  Que piensas?”  What do you think? I asked him.  “No sé,” came his response.  Was it the words or the concepts that were tripping him up?  Both, he told me.  So I set out by asking him to tell me how he understood the question and options, and I tried to fill in where there were gaps.  Even once he knew what all of the words and sentences meant, though, he still seemed to have no idea what the correct response should be.  They are allowed to use their textbooks on the exam, so we went looking in the chapter to try to find helpful information—again, though, running into problems with comprehension, making it go sort of slow.  Slowness isn’t a bad thing, but the next question went the same way.  As did the next.  It quickly became apparent that he hadn’t really been learning anything in class—he doesn’t understand English nearly as well as I thought he did, meaning that he rarely understands the main concepts as the teacher lectures either.  I don’t know what his grades are like in the class, but I can see how, given the nature of all that I have seen of this program, how it would be relatively easy to slide through, fooling teachers all over into thinking that he understands more than he actually does.  I didn’t want to straight up tell him any answers (as I’ve seen happen sometimes), and so getting through each question was very slow.  By the time class ended we hadn’t even gotten half-way through the exam (he would have another day to work on it), and while he thanked me on his way out, I couldn’t help but feel like I really hadn’t been that much of a help at all.  I left that day determined to figure come up with strategies to better navigate that type of scenario—which will inevitably appear again—so as to help the student understand as much of both the English and the subject matter as possible, and help them get to the answers all on their own, all within a more reasonable time frame.

Despite challenges like these (or maybe even because of them) I have loved my time at Champaign Central.  Through this experience and some others, I’ve found that I really like to work with youth, and would like to work in such a setting in whatever I end up doing one day.  Additionally, I like going there because that school reminds me a lot of my own high school—the mix of students, the way they act…there’s just something about it.  To me, that’s really refreshing.  I love being a student at this University, but it’s easy to forget that there is a world beyond campus, filled with so much more diversity in people and life experiences.  Going there helps to keep me grounded in that reality, and I plan to continue working there next semester.  It has been a very pleasant and rewarding experience—giving me the opportunity to continue to grow, learn more about myself, practice Spanish, and to gain real-world experience too.  Hopefully the students feel just as positively, and feel like I have helped them or given them something as well, just as much as they have to me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: Fall 2010

by Ann Abbott

The latest issue of the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning arrived in my mailbox today. Although there are no articles specifically addressing foreign language service learning, the articles are interesting and point toward some bigger-picture issues.

  • Seider, Scott C., Susan C. Gillmor and Samantha A. Rabinowicz. "Complicating Students' Conception of the American Dream through Community Service Learning." A lot of very good CSL work takes place in religious colleges that emphasize social justice.  This article focuses on a "CSL program sponsored by the philosophy and theology departments at Ignatius University," and shows that, "students demonstrated significant declines in their belief in the American Dream in comparison to a randomly assigned control group. Qualitative interviews revealed that the program exerted this influence, in part, by providing participants with diverse opportunities to think critically about the availability of opportunity in the United States" (5). It's always good to see our educational efforts take aim at unexamined myths. I remember tackling this topic while teaching Lazarillo de Tormes.  After analyzing example after example of how environment determined his actions, most students still confidently stated, "You can be whatever you want to be. I know that because my grandpa [father, uncle, etc.] did that." 
  • Bowman, Nicholas A., et al. "Sustained Immersion Courses and Student Orientations to Equality, Justice, And Social Responsibility: The Role of Short-Term Service-Learning."  This article compares the learning outcomes for students who participated in a short-term CSL project versus those who participated in a semester-long project (like my students do).  They found similar outcomes in terms of students' "orientations toward equality, justice, and social responsibility" (20). However, the authors emphasize that this depends on high-quality course design, not the CSL immersion itself: ""This research underscores the need for thoughtful integration of course structure and best practices in service-learning. Short-term service-learning courses that involve sustained immersion, academic grounding, and opportunities for deep interaction with community members and diverse perspectives" (28).
  • Moore, Tami L. and Kelly Ward. "Institutionalizing Faculty Engagement through Research, Teaching, and Service at Research Universities."  Suffice it to say, the research university to which I belong, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has a long way to go in institutionalizing service learning.  This article's "[m]ajor findings highlight supports and barriers for faculty involvement in community-engaged work, and thereby link directly to discussions of the structures and leadership required for changing  institutional policies and practices related to integration and engagement" (44).  Their specific findings and recommendations could form part of a road map for universities like this one, instead of just trying to patch together a public engagement profile when a big report is due or for an accreditation process.
  • Vogel, Amanda L., Sarena D. Seifer and Sherril B. Gelmon. "What Influences the Long-Term Sustainability of Service-Learning? Lessons from Early Adopters."  Similar to the previous article, this one focuses on the role of service-learning throughout an institution and specifically "explore[s] the factors that influenced sustainability, including facilitators, challenges, and strategies for success" (59).  Again, this growing body of research on the institutionalization of service learning shows that it takes commitment from high-level administrators plus supporting infrastructure, such as a campus-level service-learning center.

Student Reflection

by Charlotte Piwowar

Sharing with Classmates

Time is quickly slipping away as we get towards the end of the semester, and I can’t help but feel like it’s all just begun—especially with my work in the community!  I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time at Champaign Central, and since I’m there at the same time every week, I’ve gotten to know more and more about the students that come in regularly.  Something that I’ve really enjoyed, though, is how the Spanish in the Community class is winding down.  We’ve been able to reflect and share more about our experiences with our classmates, talking about how our feelings have grown or changed (both with respect to our Spanish skills and to the people we work with), what has surprised us or what we’ve learned of the communities we work in, and what sorts of challenges we’ve confronted.

Two other people in my class also volunteer in the same classroom that I do, and so it has been especially interesting to talk with them about their time there.  We’ve had a lot of similar experiences, and have encountered some of the same problems and challenges—how to best help the students who have the most limited English skills, but whose native language we also don’t speak, and what we do when students are goofing off, for example.  We’ve shared opinions about what the school and program could use to really improve and help the students better.  It’s always fun to talk about when we’ve had an especially positive experience too.

One of my fellow Champaign Central volunteers asked me how this experience compared to when I was in Ecuador.  I’m still not quite sure what aspect he was referring to, but it really got me thinking about what it’s like to be somewhere where you’re expected to do almost everything—no matter how simple or complex the task—in your non-native language.  I think that having been in a similar situation has been something that has really helped me while in the classroom with these students.  It’s taught me to be more patient, and, surprisingly enough, to recognize what may and may not be helping facilitate things a little better.  I can sometimes tell when a nod and a “mhmm” indicate true understanding or are just a way to fake it—because I would often times do the exact same things!  I think that it has also given me a little leverage with some of the Spanish-speaking students who are having more difficulties; I tell them how I too, had to grapple with a lot of the same types of issues that they are confronted with.  While it wasn’t always easy, and my language skills still can keep improving, I try to encourage them to see that it is something that they too, can do, if they just keep at it.

However, I wish that I would have gotten to hear more about what other students are doing though during the course of the class.  We’ve spent so little time reflecting, relative to the length of the semester, and even with such a small class it seems like we never get to hear about what everybody is doing.  People are working in such different places—the refugee center, elementary schools, offices, even teaching Catechism classes—that there is a wide range of types of people they are meeting, giving them opportunities to witness so many different lives and realities.  Nonetheless, it has been great to get a glimpse into these other worlds that are so different from my everyday life, and I am very glad to have had taken a course that gives me such a unique chance.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Student Reflection

by Katie Dudek

The Harry Potter Hype

The moment that all Harry Potter fans have been waiting for has finally arrived.  The much-anticipated part one of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is now playing in theaters across the country.  As of 10 AM Monday, November 15th, the Savoy 16 had sold out their eight theaters for the midnight showing on Thursday.  J.K. Rowling’s books about “the boy who lived” are books that my generation has grown up reading.  I still remember when I received my first set of Harry Potter books.  It was Christmas morning when I was in fifth grade.  I picked up a box that I thought was going to be filled with clothing, however my arms dropped with the unexpected weight of the gift.  Quickly, I tore off the wrapping paper and lifted the lid of the box to find the first three books of the Harry Potter series.  I was elated.  From that moment on, I have been a devoted Harry Potter fan.  I have read every book over three times, own all of the movies on DVD, and though I was not able to attend the midnight showing of the second to last film, I will be rushing to the theater as soon as I get my hands on a ticket. 

What I love most about Harry Potter is that people of all ages can read and enjoy the story about the boy wizard who is relentlessly trying to find a way to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and protect the entire wizarding world (yes, I am a huge fan).  Because I volunteer in Ms. Bucio’s fourth grade classroom during the part of the day that they are studying grammar and literature, I have been able to share my love of the books with the students in the classroom.  My role in the classroom is to work with them on their reading comprehension.  I am ecstatic when the student I am working with decides to choose one of the Harry Potter books to read.  Not only am I helping them to better understand the book as they fill out their comprehension worksheets, but I am learning things as well.  While the names of the Hogwarts houses are the same, I am learning new words in Spanish that I have never encountered before.  “Varita” means wand, “juego de redomas” means set of flasks (for their potions lessons at Hogwarts), and “lechuza” means barn owl, which is a word mentioned quite often, as it is the main form of communication between wizards or “magos.” 

I have had so much fun reading these books with the students and talking to them about the new movie based off the book, Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte.  We all cannot wait to see how the movie is going to portray one of the best books in the series, and how it is going to be divided into two different movies.  I have really enjoyed the fact that I have gotten to know the students so well, and they now feel very comfortable having me in their classroom.  Being able to bond over our love for Harry Potter has helped with this.  I cannot wait to hear what they all thought of the movie.  It will definitely be a topic of discussion when I return to Ms. Bucio’s classroom after the Thanksgiving break.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Student Reflection

by Charlotte Piwowar
More Spanish in the Community

Volunteering in the Learning Zone at Champaign Central High School has been a blast so far, but it’s not the only time I’ve been using Spanish.  I never quite realized how big the Latino community is in Champaign-Urbana, and therefore the resulting need for Spanish speakers.  The Spanish in the Community class has really opened up my eyes to this, and given me some additional opportunities to keep practicing Spanish.

A few weeks ago I went to the parent-teacher conferences at Champaign Central to serve as a translator.  I was matched with a woman who had three students at the high school, and so stayed with her the entire night, going to different teachers for 15-minute meetings to discuss how her children were doing.  It proved to be a very enjoyable experience!  Not only did we talk during the conferences, but when there was some down time while waiting for a few teachers we chatted about our families, her experiences as a migrant, my life and goals, and shared a few laughs.

Another opportunity that I found was volunteering at the monthly Wesley food pantry (pictured above).  While there, I served as a “shopper” for some of the Spanish-speaking clients.  Shoppers walk through the food lines with the clients to help them select food that they would like to take home with them.  For many people, it was their first time coming to the pantry, and so they were a little nervous or unsure of how it worked or what they should do.  Having a smiling someone to walk through with them helped to put them at ease a bit more and make the experience both a positive and a social one. 

Through both of these experiences, along with my weekly work at Champaign Central, I’ve really learned the importance of individual connections through service.  Volunteering isn’t just a chance to do something good for the community, it’s an opportunity to share, to learn about myself, to meet new people, and to learn about their experiences—experiences which often times are very different from my own.  While spending time at these one-day events doesn’t create any long-term relationships, hopefully it makes the task at hand a little more enjoyable and smooth for Spanish speakers in a predominantly English speaking place, while giving me a relaxing and pleasant way to spend an evening with a little bit of Spanish practice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Business Spanish: Marketing Research Course Project

by Ann Abbott

My business Spanish students are working on a marketing survey related to University of Illinois students and their habits (if any) of going out to bars and restaurants in downtown Champaign.

We're at the very beginning stages, and we'll document our results on our project wiki as we go. On the wiki, you can see the set of questions, and students have to get answers from five University of Illinois students. The results will be shared with owners of bars and restaurants in downtown Champaign.

Today we compiled the data from the 68 surveys that had been turned in so far.  In the end, we should have completed 130 surveys.

But before we began compiling the data, I put students in pairs and asked them to use their first impressions and their intuitions and write down the following:  What do you think are going to be the three most important results that come out of this marketing research?  When we're done with the project, I want them to look back and see if their intuitions and first impressions were correct.  I imagine they will be.  After all, they belong to the niche market that we're studying.

Here are some of their answers:

  • Word of mouth is very important when students decide which bars or restaurants to go to.
  • Many students do not want to go far off campus.
  • Students communicate by text when deciding where to go.
  • Many people use the Facebook pages of their friends and the bars and restaurants when deciding where to go.
  • Most students don't read university publications.
  • Students like to go to busy places.
  • Students spend about $20 per weekend.
  • Students value most their friends' opinions of good places to go to.
  • Many people use apps on their telephones when making decisions.
  • The "Black Sheep" is a popular newspaper.
  • Students do want to go to downtown Champaign because they have hear good things about it.
  • Students will go wherever their group of friends wants to go.
As we analyze the data and make related marketing suggestions, we'll see if their instincts were right.

New Book Full of Creative Ideas for Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

I was excited to get my copy of the new book, "Quick Hits for Service-Learning: Successful Strategies by Award-winning Teachers" (U of Indiana Press), in my mailbox yesterday.

My piece (written with Darcy Lear) is entitled "Matching student presentations to the nature of service-learning work." In it, we describe how students can do poster presentations instead of the more familiar oral presentations.  The intro states:

"Each semester, our Spanish service-learning students engage in meaningful community-based projects, yet the typical end-of-the-semester oral presentation is the opposite: boring and delivered to a passive audience. Without extensive training, most PowerPoint presentations simply recreate the pitfalls of oral presentations with students reading each slide's text.  Instead, we have found that a poster session modeled on the professional conference format allows students to present their projects in succinct yet eye-catching posters that necessitate active dialogue with their audience." (80)

The pieces included in this book are all very brief and intended as "descriptions and directions offered for your reference and study as you map out your more specific curricular plan." (M. A. Cooksey & Kimberly T. Olivares, "Editors' Introduction")

Some pieces that might be of interest to Spanish service learning practitioners include:

  • Increasing cultural competency through refugee focused service-learning projects: Bringing the world home
  • International Service-learning (ISL): Creating an intersession social work course in India.  (Although this is not about work with Spanish-speakers, short-term study abroad is becoming increasingly popular in all languages.)
  • Developing a resource manual for new immigrants
  • Learning beyond the classroom: A Spanish for the Professions course
  • Partnering with the community to bridge the language classroom to the Latino population

Monday, November 15, 2010

Student Reflection

by Dana Lange

The last weekend of October, in order to make up for some extra volunteering hours, I helped out in the community in a couple of different ways. One of my favorite activities was Thursday night, when I attended parent-teacher conferences at Central High School to translate for Spanish-speaking parents.

Thursday night I was a little nervous- not necessarily in my speaking and understanding abilities, but I had never been to the high school and I was already a few minutes late! As soon as I got to Central, though, I felt much better. Everyone was very helpful in directing me where to go and I met several other U of I students who were volunteering as well. About half an hour into the evening, I met Marsela [not her real name], the woman who I helped for the rest of the night. We visited several classes and talked to several teachers- she has three children who are at Central! At first things were a little awkward, though I knew she appreciated my help. But later on Marsela had to tell me (so that the teachers could be informed) about some family difficulties that she and her children were having, which was leading to a lot of their problems in their classes.

Marsela was incredibly grateful for my help at the conferences, and not just because I was able to translate for her. To me it seemed like she was also grateful just to have someone to go with her to the conferences, to wait with her, to talk with her, and someone that she could explain what she and her family are going through right now- someone who would listen to her and be understanding without being judgmental. She is a single mother with [several] children and I like to think that she enjoyed having a little help for once, even if it was just at a parent-teacher conference.

Being at the conferences and talking with Marsela made me realize, again, how difficult it is to live here and to not be able to speak English. I was so glad to be able to help translate that evening, but Marsela probably doesn’t usually have help with the language most of the time. Especially when struggling with health issues, finding a job, and taking care of your family, being able to seek help and get advice from professionals is crucial, but it’s not always readily available if you don’t speak English. I had a great time getting to know Marsela and practicing my Spanish, and I hope to be able to use my knowledge of two languages in similar ways in the future.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Student Reflection

by Allison Kutzki

“The key to growth is challenging comfort”
I have always been told that in any aspect of your life, in order to make progress and change, you must constantly be putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. That is ultimately when you are forced to draw on skills you may not have known that you had, and the reflection of such challenges is what helps you grow. Through my Spanish 232, Spanish in the community class I was given the chance to do just this as I was offered the opportunity to translate at parent teacher conferences at Central High School. Although I have worked with native speakers in schools, I had never been put in the position where I actually had to translate concepts and ideas between people from one language to another. What intimidated me even more was the fact that I did not know anyone that I was going to be working with. Essentially, I had to interpret details about a student’s academic performance that I had never met; from a teacher I had never met, and tell a parent I had never met this important information. Needless to say, I was nervous that I was going to feel uncomfortable and also that my language skills would not be sufficient to communicate to the parents exactly what the teacher was trying to communicate.  

Upon entering the school, I soon realized just how important what I was about to do actually was. In the guidance office, there was one woman who spoke Spanish who was able to explain the procedure of the conferences to the parents that came in. Other than that, it was just me and a few other translators. Watching the families come in with their students, I slowly began to connect what I had learned in my 232 class to what I was seeing. Many of the parents looked lost, as if they did not know what these conferences were about. They did not know what to expect. In class, we had discussed a lot about some of the hardships and experiences people have coming here from another country, especially when they do not speak the language. Many of these parents may not have had the same educational experiences as their children, and it is possible that they have no idea what conferences entail. It dawned on me just how crucial these meetings and my role in these conferences were.

I met up with my first family, and the lady in the office introduced us. The son spoke Spanish and English, but most of our conversations were done in Spanish. Upon meeting with the teachers, many of them explained to me that the students were bright and had the ability to be successful; however, what many of them were lacking was motivation. As I explained this to the parents, it was almost as if a light went off. I had one mother reiterating to me what I was saying as to make sure that she understood what exactly needed to be done. She began asking her son why he was not doing his work or completing his assignments. I then realized that this was probably the first time that she had ever asked him that, as it was the first time that she even realized that he was having any sort of issues in school. I had three families and the story was all the same. I was able to connect these parents who had been previously oblivious, to the world their children were living in. It is through these types of interactions that the parents can become actively involved in their children’s education.

As I later spoke to the secretary in the office, she explained to me one of the biggest problems is not that parents chose to not be involved, they just do not know how to. Whether it be because they cannot communicate, or because they simply do not understand material, their lack of involvement is due to factors other than care. I could see it in the parents faces when they saw their students grades that they immediately took interest in how they could help their students be more successful. In participating in these conferences, it was made evident to me just how crucial language is, and how a lack of communication due to language skills can be detrimental to students’ education. If parents are not aware of the proper help that their child needs, they those students lack a crucial system of support in being successful in school.

Needless to say, mediating communication between teachers and parents was an extremely rewarding and eye opening experience. Not only through these conferences was I able to practice my language skills in discussing school content material, but I was also able to connect with parents and students on a personal level. I was given the opportunity to talk to these families about their lives, but more importantly I feel as though I became the reason that some of these parents will take a step in encouraging their children to be motivated to do well in school. While translating in such an intimidating setting seemed like a large task to take on, thus far it has been also one of the biggest sources of growth for me as well as immensely gratifying.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Assessing Transcultural Competency in Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

After the webinar presentation I gave last week ("Achieving Transcultural Competence through Community Service Learning"), I received several questions about assessment.

My initial reaction was, and remains, that structured student reflection should be the centerpiece of that assessment.  After all, it's already a part of any well-designed CSL course, and our prompts can ask students to analyze any number of elements of transcultural competency:

  • Recognize and describe moments of cultural difference.
  • Notice and describe the emotions that often accompany transcultural (mis)encounters.
  • Discuss the results of a particular experience when the student used cultural information in the community that he/she had learned about in the classroom, in other coursework or from other sources.
  • Present a possible worst-case scenario following an instance of transcultural incompetence in the community partner organization.
  • Etc.
Then the  latest issue of "The Generator" arrived in my inbox, and it focused on establishing evidence of learning.  "Because the learning goals for service learning projects are broad, assessments also should be so that you can capture as much information about student learning as necessary," the Generator piece says.  They use a photography metaphor, suggesting that the assessment should consist of an album, not just one snapshot.  Their examples include a quiz, a photograph, a checklist and more.  

That made me think of Darcy Lear's presentations on portfolio assessment for Spanish CSL at the 2009 ACTFL Conference (we co-presented) and 2010 CIBER Business Languages Conference.  She explained the various assessment tools she uses and how her students create a portfolio of documents that are useful to their community partners and reinforce the academic concepts of the course.

In terms of assessing transcultural competency, students could do the following and submit the items in a portfolio:
  • Write brief response paper to an academic reading on transcultural competency.
  • Make a list of questions that they have about the concept of transcultural competency. Follow those questions with ideas about how they could research and answer them.  (After all, it is a rather complex concept and difficult to put into practice.)
  • A photograph of themselves with explanations about the cultural significance of various items they are wearing (e.g., fraternity symbols, brand logos, school colors, athletic items, international items, fair-trade items, etc.).  The same thing with a photograph of a person from another culture.
  • A reflective essay addressing any of the prompts from the list above.
  • There are many other possibilities!
What would items would you include in a portfolio assessment of transcultural competency in Spanish CSL students?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Student Reflection

by Dana Lange
For the past month now, I’ve been helping the catechism classes at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, volunteering as a kind of “teacher’s assistant” during classes that prepare the Spanish-speaking kids of the community to receive their First Communion, a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church. I decided to use this opportunity as my “trabajo en la comunidad” for a few reasons. I am Catholic and my faith is very important to me- I think that’s pretty important for a religious education teacher! I also live at the Newman Center so I only have to walk downstairs every Saturday morning to get to work. Plus, my freshman year of college, I also worked with the catechism classes, doing pretty much the same thing except with a different teacher. I enjoyed it very much and I knew what I could expect for class this year!

So far the semester has been going well- the only thing is that I didn’t get started until later in the semester and I also had to miss two weekends of volunteering for various reasons, so I have to make up some hours. But I’m hoping that as I continue to work with the kids, I’ll get to know them better on a personal level and they’ll feel more comfortable with me. As the teacher’s assistant, I haven’t had too much work to do- during class I’ll pass out papers, try to engage the kids in the discussion by asking them questions, calm the students down when they start to act up, read, sing songs, and help them learn certain prayers. Some of my favorite moments are when I’ve gotten to take a little more responsibility over the class. For example, the first week of class the teacher, Maestra Patty, asked me look over the workbook that we use and plan an activity. Another week, Patty had to leave class early and so I was in charge of the class! Of course, there were other teachers around working with other classrooms if I needed any help, but I felt confident with my students as we watched a movie about trusting in the Lord and talking about what they learned from it afterward.

I’m enjoying the class but I definitely have some goals for the rest of the year (the classes are a year-long commitment): I would like to get to know each student better so that we feel comfortable with each other, I would like to be able to plan more activities with the kids, and more than anything, I hope that I can be a good example of a Catholic-Christian woman for them so that in the future they will be, too.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Questions about Transcultural Competency

by Ann Abbott

I had a few more follow-up questions from Friday's webinar that I answered on the e-mail.  I thought I would share the questions and answers here.  You know how it is: if one person asks the questions that means that at least ten others had the same questions but just didn't ask it.

Question: My first concern is what does trans-cultural competence mean? 
Answer: Definitions and terms vary.  Cultural competency really comes from the health professions, especially nursing and social work, where they emphasize that in order to provide effective care, a person needs to know about other cultures' beliefs in order to provide care that works.  For example, if you provide nutritional counseling to a person from another culture that has been diagnosed with diabetes and give them a diet plan that only includes typical US dishes, that does not show cultural competency and it will probably not be effective.  The business world has their own definitions of intercultural competency as well.  However, I think, at its essence, transcultural competency means that you are aware of your own cultural perspectives and those of other cultures and that you can use that knowledge to have effective communication and interactions with people of other cultures.

Question: Since having trans-cultural competence is part of the goals of language, literature and culture classes, is it possible to teach trans-cultural competence as a course? 
Answer: You certainly could choose to teach a course on transcultural competency.  That would be very interesting and valuable!  However, I don't think it is absolutely necessary.  You could choose to do activities with your students in any foreign language course to make them explicitly aware of it as a concept and to practice it.  This is where I believe CSL is so valuable--in a traditional classroom you would probably talk about transcultural competency, but when students work in the community they can connect the theory to what they are actually doing when they work with native speakers of the target culture(s).

Question: If  your answer is Yes, What are  the  competences the students have to pursue?  How do you assess those competences?
Answer: This depends.  In my university, I would want my students to learn a mindset (awareness, observation, asking questions, etc.) that they would bring to bear on any transcultural interactions they might have.  If, however, I were teaching a Spanish for veterinarians course, I would choose competencies that professionals in that field would need.  For example, if they will be working with Latino immigrants who take care of cattle, I would talk to them about potential literacy/illiteracy among workers, attitudes towards authority, how they might ensure that their instructions have been understood even if people don't want to admit that they haven't understood, etc.

To assess these competencies is a challenge!  I would use reflection as a starting point.  I would ask students who have worked in the community to identify an instance when they felt that their cultural expectations were not shared by another person and to reflect on how they handled it and how they might handle it in the future.  Or I might give them a written case that describes a situation that requires transcultural competency and ask them to analyze it.

Question: I was thinking about doing CSL abroad. What type of critical thinking issues would you implement in an Internship abroad?

Answer: I think that doing CSL abroad is really great--it really immerses the students in the culture and language and has many other learning benefits as well.  I don't know where you're planning on going or what kind of CSL work the students would do, but I would guess that some issues that would come up would be:
  • schedules and concepts of time, especially if students are working in an office that they expect should "keep hours" the way they are used to or if they need to make appointments with people.
  • another issue related to time is, how do they define successful CSL work?  If they are in the country for a short time, will they be able to see the value of the work they have done on a small piece of aa potential longer-term project?
  • complexity, as in, when you try to solve a "big" problem (poverty, access to quality education, community organizing, etc.) or a piece of it, problems will arise.  We can help students to grapple with "messy problems" and the lack of closure they may desire but not gain.
  • along with all these big-picture, critical thinking issues, don't be surprised if you find yourself really addressing what you consider to be small things.  I never imagined I would need to spend time on numbers and the alphabet with my students!  Yet I do.  And such small things actually contain a world of complexity.
I hope these answers are helpful in some way.  Let me know if you'd like to discuss this further and if you have insights to share with me!

Achieving Transcultural Competence through Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

This semester I have been thinking, presenting and writing about the connections between transcultural competency and community service learning (CSL).  

I contributed a chapter to a forthcoming edited volume entitled Building Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health (Springer), edited by Lissette Piedra and Lydia Buki. That chapter's goal is to help human service providers build a partnership with a Spanish community service learning program, and I discuss the role of transcultural competency in that partnership.  

On Friday, I presented in a webinar organized by Pearson (Speaking About World Languages), and I was able to present my thoughts to a different audience--language instructors.  Here is the description of the talk (which I'll also be presenting at ACTFL): 

  • ACHIEVING TRANSCULTURAL COMPETENCE THROUGH COMMUNITY SERVICE LEARNING  Foreign language community service learning (CSL) addresses ACTFL's "Communities" goal area when students use the target language in the community to both learn and serve. This allows instructors to move from teaching about culture to helping students achieve transcultural competency. This presentation outlines the steps we can take to give students the language skills, cultural know-how and self-reflection habits that they need to successfully transition from classroom to community. Examples of classroom activities, reflection prompts and video interviews will be included.
I enjoyed presenting in this format for the first time, and I was really happy with the questions from the listeners.  Their questions made me think about things that I hadn't considered before, and they showed how much thought they have put into both CSL and transcultural competency.  But there were two questions I felt that I could have answered better.  Since I can't go back to the webinar, I thought I'd expand upon my answers here.

Q: What other areas of transcultural competency do you see as problematic for students in CSL? (I'm writing the question as I remember it, not as it was exactly stated.)
A: In my presentation I talked about phone messages, primary/secondary education and filing.  When asked what other issues emerge in CSL, the only thing that immediately popped into my mind was parenting: students' cultural perspectives on ("good") parenting are usually unexamined (seen as simply "the way it is") and can sometimes lead to rather severe judgements on parents who do things differently than they expect. (I often wonder if I would pass muster under the students' set of parenting criteria!)  These attitudes can be the source of misunderstandings when our CSL students work with youth in schools, clubs (like Boy Scouts) or when they provide babysitting while parents receive training or consultation of some sort.  Of course, later, other examples occurred to me.  Students cultural perspectives on transportation, technology and daily schedules also impact their perceptions about their interactions with Latinos in the community.  At another point I will develop those examples for another presentation or piece of writing.

Q: How do you assess students's transcultural competency?
A: Now I can't even remember the answer that I gave, but I'm sure I said something about how this is an area that needs more research and materials development.  However, I do think that our starting point should be explicit instruction and reflection--something that we're already doing.  In other words, we need to help students understand what transcultural competence is and why it is important that they work towards that goal.  Once we have established that, then throughout the semester we can ask them reflect on how their understanding of transcultural competency has grown/changed/etc. as well as specific examples of their triumphs and challenges with transcultural competency in their CSL work.

Don't you hate it when a good answer occurs to you too late?  Well, by posting this to my blog, I hope it's not too late.  I really appreciate these questions because they point towards directions we need to take in the research.

Microlending Jobs and Internship in Chicago

by Ann Abbott

I received this information from Ms. Jessica Horn.  If you have any questions, please contact her or the hiring organization directly.

"I wanted to pass on a couple Chicago job and internship opportunities in microfinance.  Please feel free to have any students/graduate
s interested get in contact with me if they have any questions.

1. North Side Community Federal Credit Union: Small Business Loan Officer

2. ACCION Chicago: Loan Officer


ACCION Chicago (un-paid; described below)
Lending Intern - Fall Internship

ACCION Chicago is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing loans to self-employed individuals who have limited or no access to traditional business credit. Part of the nation’s largest microlending network, ACCION has provided over 2,000 loans totaling $15 million to individuals and small businesses throughout the Chicagoland area since its inception in 1994. Through our lending and other services, we help micro-entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses, stabilize their incomes, create additional employment and contribute to the economic revitalization of their communities.

The Lending Intern will assist loan officers to process applications for prospective ACCION borrowers and support ACCION Chicago in other general initiatives. The following is a list of potential projects.

o Contribute to monthly e-newsletter
o Identify new partner organizations
o Attend events in the community to meet potential clients and promote ACCION’s program

Public Relations
o Identify potential media outlets
o Write client stories and coordinate photographers
o Keep up with current trends in media outlets to better present a compelling story on ACCION

o Assist the Accounting Manager with day-to-day duties

Lending Assistance
o Coordinate necessary documents for loan closings
o Assist Loan Officers in the loan process, such as calling clients’ references, inputting loan applications and calling client leads

o Identify potential new donors
o Research organizations’ grant programs and other philanthropic programs
o Assist in grant writing and grant writing timeline
Basic Office Management
o Maintain contact database
o Prepare marketing materials for events and meetings

The position is unpaid/volunteer and requires an advanced undergraduate or graduate student with self-motivation, excellent organizational, communication, and computer skills, and a commitment to Chicago small business. Proficiency in Spanish, French or Polish is preferred but not required. If you are a student, we will be glad to help you earn credit for your work. Interns work out of our office in Pilsen. We require a minimum nine month commitment. The position will start in November 2010.

Submit your resume and cover letter to Mariola Janik at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Business Spanish Discussion Leaders

by Ann Abbott

One of the best things in Éxito comercial, the textbook I use in my business Spanish class, is the section at the end of every chapter titled ¨Minicaso práctico."  They are modeled after the cases used in business schools, and they highlight the business concepts and cultural information included in each chapter.

Although I admire faculty who can use the case method very effectively--meaning that the students take ownership of the discussion and end up conversing amongst themselves while the instructor simply takes notes and occasionally nudges the discussion in one direction or another--I have never had that much success.  I felt that students rarely engaged in a sustained conversation with each other, perhaps because of the added layer of speaking in a second language.

However, this semester I devised a solution that has worked out wonderfully so far.

First, I assigned a full day on the course calendar for each chapter's minicaso práctico, and each student signed up to be a discussion leader on one of those days.

Then, at the beginning of the semester I gave a class on how to encourage discussion and participation, control conflicts, connect ideas and lead discussion to deeper analysis.  (Students have an intuitive sense about these things, because they can all point to examples of discussions that go off point, break down, lead to anger, etc.)  I especially emphasize that facilitating a discussion is not the same as dominating it.  In fact, the less you talk, the more successful you have been.

On the day of the minicaso práctico, all students come to class and hand in the answers to the book's questions about the case.  This ensures that all students are prepared to participate and contribute to the case discussions.

I then assign each student to one of the day's discussion leaders.  So, for example, if I have 21 students in my class, I may have three discussion leaders, each with a group of six students.  Each discussion group sits in a small circle, and the discussion leader asks leading questions, follows up on students' comments, asks for clarification, etc. I simply move back and forth between the groups, listening, observing and taking notes; I don't say anything. These discussions have gone on for as long as 25 minutes--a big accomplishment for a discussion on a very short case and in a second language.

Finally, the discussion leaders do a self-evaluation of their performance by filling out the discussion leader rubric.  I compare my notes to theirs and then assign a grade.

In their self evaluations, I have been the most impressed with their answers to the last item: "Describe the group's overall preparation and participation. Explain what the top performer(s) did well and how the lowest performer(s) can improve. Tell what you would do differently if you had to do this again."  Their answers show that working with well-prepared teammates is key (if they haven't read the case ahead of time, they have nothing to say).  Here are some other quotes:
  • "The ones that participated most had actual experience in situations like [the one presented in the case] and related to [them]. Those that participated less had things to say about [the more general topic]."
  • "The top performer did well by supporting all his points and allowing others to add on to his comments.  The lowest performer can improve by jumping into the discussion more often."
  • "The group's overall preparation and performance was quite good. Everyone had read the case and everyone actively participated. In general, however, people were timid to think outside the box about issues not directly found in the case. ... The top performers elaborated a great deal on their answers."
  • "...members who were most successful used critical thinking as opposed to simple one-word answers...[and] they asked questions they felt would help facilitate discussion even though they weren't required to."
  • "One of my goals was to create an environment in which people were not afraid to say what was on their mind."
  • "The top performer did a great job of relating the situation to what could happen in our real lives, and the lowest performer could improve my spending more time thinking about the questions [before answering]."
  • "The group...came prepared with great examples to analyze and compare the case to, and defended their positions extremely well."
  • "The best performers in the group excelled at tweaking ideas of others and adding more and more to their own ideas..."
  • "If I were to do this again, I would have come up with more thought-provoking questions rather than questions that have only one or two possible answers. Also, I would try to involve everyone by asking people questions directly, rather than just asking a question and waiting for someone to respond."
I am happy to see that my students understand that good participation in a discussion requires both creativity, preparation, elaboration and risk-taking (getting over shyness and fear of making a mistake).  

Before the end of the semester I will connect this classroom requirement to real-world professional activities.  In their future workplaces, not only will they be expected to contribute thoughtful, creative and elaborated points to group discussions, they may also soon rise to a position in which they have to evaluate other people's performances and make suggestions for improvement.  I hope this structure for the minicasos prácticos can help prepare them for those tasks.

How do you encourage students to take charge of discussions themselves?  How do you give students skills that you believe will be transferable to their future jobs?