Showing posts from January, 2010

I Always Say that Spanish Community Service Learning Builds Students' Confidence

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Champaign-Urbana: Use Your Spanish at Urbana High School

Urbana High School (UHS) has had a large increase in the number of Spanish speaking students in the past few years - more Spanish speakers than all the other local high schools combined! Many of these students are struggling and parent contact is critical. However, most of their parents speak little or no English. UHS needs Spanish-speaking college students or other adults to make phone calls in early February to student homes (to help get parents signed up for conferences) and to help during Parent/Teacher Conferences (Thursday, Feb. 18 4-8pm and Friday, Feb. 19 8am-noon).

Interested people should contact: Christine Godoy for details and to volunteer to help.

What Information about Spanish Community Service Learning Do You Want More Of?

by Ann Abbott

Look on the left column of this blog, scroll to find the poll titled "What type of posts most interest you?" and vote! If the answer you want isn't on the poll, leave a comment somewhere on the blog or send me an e-mail at to tell me what you'd like to read here.

Currently, these are the top posts on this site:
The vast majority of people come to the blog's home page, not a particular post, and they spend more than three minutes here. Actually, that's a lot of time, because many of those are repeat visitors."What would Bill VanPatten Think about Spanish Community Service Learning?" I think people are interested in what Bill VanPatten would say about anything, but this suggests to me that people want to hear from well-known experts in Spanish.
They search for the label "class activities." (Look to the left and scroll to find the "Search This Blog" box.) This function has a lot of repeat visito…

Five Skills Every Spanish Community Service Learning Instructor Needs

by Ann Abbott
1. Listening skills. Ask your students and community partners questions that you really want to know the answer to. Then listen carefully. Sometimes you have to read between the lines. And sometimes you might not like what they have to say.
2. Creativity. Every teacher needs creativity, but when you're teaching Spanish community service learning (CSL) you have to constantly find new ways to bridge the students' classroom and community experiences.
3. Engagement. Frankly, some instructors treat CSL like a homework assignment. "Go out there. Do something. Write me a paper about it." If you're not engaged in the community yourself, it shows.
4. Flexibility. You know those students who panic if they don't know what the test is going to be like--multiple choice or essay?! They'll have a hard time in a Spanish CSL course. Some instructors are the same way. You need to plan, but then go with the flow.
5. Organization. I just said you need flexibility, …

Define Community Service Learning for Your Students

By Ann Abbott

By this point in the semester, you've probably taught a few classes, your students know that they'll be working in the community, and maybe they have even had an orientation or work session in the community.

But do they know why they are working in the community? Do they know how it will help them learn Spanish? Do they know if it's actually more effective than the "easier" route of just sitting in a traditional class?

I've said it before: students need to know something about the pedagogy of community service learning (CSL) when they do it. When it's raining cats and dogs, and they have to walk to their community partner's building, they know what they really have to slosh through it. When you ask them to reflect upon what they have observed in the community, they will know that this isn't just about journaling, or getting in touch with your feelings; it's about tying together the classroom learning with their experiential lear…

Practice Taking Telephone Messages

by Ann Abbott

Once again, Darcy Lear and I had a conversation today about how difficult it is for students to take accurate telephone messages in the community, yet students and other instructors seem to assume that teaching that in the classroom is "too simple."

If it were so simple, our community partners wouldn't complain when they get error-ridden telephone messages from our students.

I think it's so difficult for a variety of reasons, including these:
In class, we expect students' listening comprehension to be at the macrolevel. They need to get the "gist" of our classes so that they can take good notes. They need to catch the over-arching themes in a movie we show them. They don't need to understand every word for that. To catch a phone number--you need to understand every single number. It's a very different task.
On the telephone, there are no visual signals to accompany the aural input.In English, we tend to recite our phone numbers on…

Why Should We Teach about Natural Disasters in a Spanish Class?

by Ann Abbott

The devastation and human suffering caused by the earthquake in Haiti has dominated the headlines these past ten days.

In addition to direct service and donations, how can we use our Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses to help?

First of all, I think it's important to just allow students to talk about it in class. What are their thoughts? Questions? Hopes?

Then, we can inform them about the country. Ask your students what they already know about Haiti. Are there Haitians in your community? You may consider adapting/translating all or some of the activities included in the New York Times' "Project Haiti: Holding a Teach-In."

For our Spanish CSL students in particular, I think it's worth it to contextualize this discussion in terms of community disaster preparedness. If a natural disaster (or other kind) took place in your community, how would language and culture play in the relief efforts? Paths of communication? Would they know what to do? D…

5 Ways to Simplify Your Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott
The beginning of the semester is a very hectic time for those of us doing community service learning (CSL). In addition to the normal course prep work, you also need to make sure things are lined up with your community partners and that students will be ready to hit the ground quickly. You can feel like you're balancing too many tasks, too many stakeholders and too many expectations. Simplify. CSL is never simple, let's be honest. But there are some things we can do to simplify our work. 1.Course Wiki.This is the single most important thing I have found to simplify my work administering our Spanish CSL program. It lets you, your students and your community partners access and update all necessary information. 2. One community partner. Students want choices, and you want to help as many deserving organizations as you can. But if you find yourself unable to handle several community partners, try focusing on just one. Sometimes it's better to serve one partner wel…

Student Spotlight: Mike Hedge

by Ann Abbott
Mike Hedge was a student in my Spanish & Entrepreneurship course during Spring 2009. Despite having his arm in a cast, he did wonderful work in the community and in the classroom. His viewpoints were always especially interesting to me because he did his initial community service learning (CSL) work during his study-abroad semester in Costa Rica.
I was absolutely delighted to receive a message from him telling me about his current job and use of Spanish. Not only is Mike a wonderful role model for all Spanish students, I think his trajectory points out something else that is important for them to see: You may not know what job title you will have in your first job, so make sure that you are qualified for any job that requires intelligence, good communication skills, analytical thinking, entrepreneurial thinking and the ability to work well in a multicultural team. That's what Mike is doing, and he probably never imagined that he would be working specifically as an …

You Teach Spanish; Will You Please Translate This?

by Ann Abbott

Colomer, Soria Elizabeth and Linda Harklau. "Spanish Teachers as Impromptu Translators and Liaisons in New Latino Communities." Foreign Language Annals 42 (2009): 658-72.

Once, right after I had given birth to my first daughter, I was at the breastfeeding clinic. Things weren't going well, I was in a panic, and I was in shock at the totally unrealistic schedule they had prescribed to "fix" things. Another nurse came in the room. I thought she was going to help me. Instead, she said, "I have a Spanish-speaking mom in the next room, and I can't communicate with her about her let-down. You teach Spanish. Can you come translate?"

You think that's weird? Here's the really weird part. I did it!

How many times have you been put in the position of deciding whether or not to translate for someone who really, really needs your help. You want to do the right thing. But it's not your job. You're not a translator. What if …

Student Spotlight: Frances Brady

by Ann Abbott

Frances Brady was my student before we began the Spanish community service learning (CSL) classes at the University of Illinois, but she would have been an ideal student for those courses. She always showed a strong commitment to issues of social justice coupled with a critical eye and reflective mind.

Frances is now considering going to graduate school, but I wanted to share her work and volunteer experiences with our Spanish students for several reasons:
Students often ask me where they can volunteer when they move back to the Chicago-area. Frances offers suggestions below.Some students reall find their "fit" in the non-profit world during their CSL work and want to know how they can find a job. Again, study Frances' examples for ideas.Finally, the positive, feel-good CSL stories are wonderful, but we don't want to gloss over its challenges as well. Below, you'll see that Frances' expectations didn't always fit with the realities she enco…