Thursday, January 28, 2010

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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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:
  1. 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.
  2. "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.
  3. 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 visitors. If I were coming to this blog, that would be good for me. Need something new and different to do with your students?: just visit, search, grab and go!
  4. "Student Spotlight: Frances Brady." In general, people like to read about the students and concrete examples of their experiences. Frances was featured recently, and her links to Chicago-land non-profits gives students some good leads.
  5. "Spanish Community Service Learning Bibliography." I'm really glad to see that this resource is being accessed often. I hope that people will refer to it often and leave a comment so that I can constantly update it with articles and books that I may miss.
Help me give you want you want from this blog--answer the poll (you can mark more than one answer) or send me a message.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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, and now I'm saying you need to be organized. You need both.

Monday, January 25, 2010

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 learning.
When you ask them to generate their personal vocabulary list based on interactions in the community, they'll understand that you're not a slacker; you simply couldn't have known what vocabulary they would need.

Comunidades has a Lección devoted to explaining the pedagogy of CSL to students and how it connects to the ways in which we learn a second language. In a previous post I offered another lesson plan for engaging students with the pedagogy. And I recently came across this new example of CSL:
  • Coordinating a community run is service.
  • Measuring body mass index is learning.
  • Calculating the average BMI of a school, setting up a website to gather statistics, then organizing a "Walk Across Oklahoma" to help reduce obesity is service-learning.
Ask your students to offer another example of how we can combine service and learning to create service-learning.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

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 one number at a time. In Spanish, they usually don't. When your expectations aren't met, that's confusing.
  • Think about how fast you say your own telephone number. If you're like me, you say it really fast. Because you have it memorized. It's something you don't even think about. That speed can be hard for our students to pick up on.
Comunidades has an entire Lección devoted to taking telephone messages, because it is truly that important for all our students who will work in the community in an office setting.

For extra practice, have your students do the "Numerales" listening exercises at this site. They can check their ability to understand telephone numbers using the "tests" on the site. But many of the audio clips have addresses, websites, and more. In class, you can pass out a telephone message slip, ask them to listen to selected clips, and have them take down a complete message. I think I'm pretty good, but these were challenging even for me!

Friday, January 22, 2010

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? Do they know how to tell a Spanish-speaker what to do? You might consider using parts of this lesson plan on "Desastres naturales." I especially like how the activities culminate in the creation of informational posters about "Un plan de acción en caso de desastre natural" that could actually be distributed in the community.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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 well than several partners so-so.

3. Redefine students' work. If your students have been working every week with the community partner, could your students still serve your partner's needs if they concentrated on a project instead? An intensive Saturday of service?

4. Delegate. Ask students to self-schedule. They can also suggest reflection prompts. Ask them to write a letter to next semester's students: "Everything I wish I would have known about working in the community."

5. Sources for lesson plans. You don't have to come up with every lesson plan on your own. You can use Comunidades: Más allá del aula as your textbook or a supplement. You can also access the website to find listening comprehension materials, video interviews and links that can serve as the basis of at least some of your lessons.

Monday, January 4, 2010

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 "International Logistics Supervisor" at the downtown Chicago PepsiCo office. Don't set your sites on a specific job title; prepare yourself to be flexible, with valuable, transferable skills.

Congratulations on your great success, Miguel. Your experience is very enlightening for all students.

Here is Mike's note:

"I am writing to tell you that I have found a job where I am able to use my Spanish every day. Only 2 months after my graduation in May I was hired by PepsiCo. My title within the company is International Logistics Supervisor and my role is to coordinate product production at our plants with trucking lines and vessel sailing schedules in order to transport products for Gatorade, Quaker, Tropicana and Frito Lay down to countries all across Latin America. Most of my exports go down to Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru y Colombia. I speak with forwarders and customers agents in these countries daily and am able to do so with my ability to speak Spanish. My grasp of the Spanish language is what got me this job and I would like to thank you for contributing so much to my education."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

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 you mess up? What if the business/organization relies on the good will of people like you instead of hiring qualified translators like they should?

Soria Elizabeth Colomer and Linda Harklan (both from the Univesrity of Georgia) just published an article about that in the latest issue of Foreign Language Annals. They bring up very important issues for students who we train to be second language classroom teachers, requiring an "Advanced-Low" proficiency but who are then pulled in to being the school's translators--a job that requires specialized knowledge and a "Superior" proficiency level.

The article is highly readable and contains important information for all of us who are engaged with students who are preparing to become Spanish teachers--or really, any of our students who will be dragged into translating and interpreting because of the great need and lack of resources these communities and non-profits face.

I'll quote from the article's introduction, but I highly suggest you read the whole piece:

"In this article we document how Spanish teachers, as some of the few Spanish-speaking educators in new immigrant communities, are bearing an especially heavy burden as impromptu, unofficial translators and school representatives. Taking the experience of north Georgia educators as an example, we document a wide range of duties assigned to and assumed by foreign language educators working in schools hosting new immigrant student populations. We show how these duties include not only translation and interpretation, but also much more demanding roles as surrogate counselors, administrators, and teachers of English and other content areas. We explore the hidden extra workload that this work imposes on Spanish educators. Finally, we consider teachers' varying attitudes and responses to these new demands. We conclude by considering the implications for the field in terms of professional education and policy."

I believe Spanish community service learning (CSL) should play a role in the final point of "professional education and policty," but the entire Spanish curriculum should oscillate more easily between theory and practice in order to truly equip our students for the language situations they will encounter outside the campus bubble.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

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 encountered. You need to know yourself well, be honest about what you can and can't do, and yet still take risks! If you don't stretch yourself, you'll never know what you can do. And someone else might face the exact same circumstances as the ones Frances details below and have opposite reactions. Put yourself out there. Try things! Give them a chance. Then decide how far you're willing to go.

Here are Frances' own words:

"I'm currently working at Ounce of Prevention, which believes the best way to help at-risk children is to start before they reach kindergarten, in order to bring them up to the same level of other children entering school. They are a large umbrella organization which had direct services, research, and advocacy, which all impact each other. The direct services work with doulas, home visiting, preschoolers, and their families.

I volunteered for Streetwise, which helps homeless men and women to become self-sufficient through selling a weekly magazine.

I also volunteered for The Night Ministry, which is best known for its bus which visits the homeless on the street at night, with a nurse and medical supplies (as well as hygiene kits and cookies). But it has many other services for those in need, such as a living space for pregnant runaways.

I coordinated ESL volunteers through Centro Autonomo, which is one of many smaller collectives within the umbrella of Mexico Solidarity Network. My understanding is that it's a national organization which gains its revenue by coordinating study-abroad opportunities in Chiapas. It then is able to use this money to help educate people about the lives of Mexicans both in Mexico and those who emigrated to the US, as well as to help those who are now immigrants. They help sell fair trade goods from Mexico, give lectures at universities, etc. However, I was not directly involved with any of the national work or the work done in Mexico. Rather, I was volunteering for Centro Autonomo, which is working to create a community center in Albany Park for Mexican immigrants. There is no sense of hierarchy and the community decides everything together. They are able to provide free classes in a variety of areas from ESL to yoga to jewelry making to basic computer skills. When I arrived on the scene, the ESL volunteers ... were not working out of a textbook, but were ... creat[ing] a 4 level book. Centro Autonomo did not feel that any ESL books on the market could truly help their students (they wanted to them to learn words that would help them in their current employments: construction, busing tables, maid services, not to learn words about pilots and teachers). My job was to determine what both the students and the volunteers needed, and then coordinate that, as well as recruit more volunteers, all on a very tight timeline of a few weeks. ... If someone is interested, though, I think this is a fantastic place to volunteer. It was almost as much of a culture shock as having lived abroad. The people are genuinely amazing, hard-working, and passionate. And I needed to use a lot of my Spanish there, which I do not have the opportunity to use anywhere else. I can't speak to the study abroad experience, but most of the current employees and volunteers had initially done the study abroad program and were so enamored that after graduation, they came to Mexico Solidarity Network. If any of your students are looking to study abroad and want a social-justice-minded [liberal] experience, this could be a very good opportunity.

My start to this 10 month volunteering stint was in Ecuador, in Lumbisi, a small Andean town. I had studied abroad in Ecuador's capital, Quito, and wanted to return, but to live in a small town, rather than the city. I had kept in touch with the Ecuadorian study-abroad coordinator, Maria Chiriboga, and she mentioned that she had started a volunteer program because so many students studying abroad had wanted to volunteer. I loved the idea of volunteering with a program started and run by Ecuadorians, rather than people from the US. I was supposed to be there for several months, working with Lumbisi's elderly population by cooking and serving meals in the community center. I also visited them in their homes to read to them, help them cook, or just listen. Many of these elderly people were in their 80s and had a hard time getting around, but there were no nursing homes for them, and their children were busy raising their own families - many of them had moved to the cities to find more opportunities, so these elderly people were living by themselves, sometimes with no electricity. I visited one woman several times, helping her cook, and reading the Bible to her. Her husband suffered from diabetes, and without having received proper treatment all his life, the doctors were forced to cut off his feet, and eventually higher and higher up his legs due to the disease. When I met him, he had no legs, but walked on his hands, still sowing his field all day, still smiling and cheerful. His wife was not as cheerful, but rather was quite depressed that her children had to move away, that her arthritis hurt, that she was scared for her husband. I was there when her son and his friends set up electricity in her house for the first time. The family with whom I lived was much better off, so I lived relatively in comfort. The only trouble was that the water lines were broken when I arrived and then my family couldn't get hot water for days. This presents a major problem for cooking since there were no wells in the town. My host mother ran a small daycare, so I was able to watch the youngest and oldest of the population. This was a different Ecuador altogether from the affluent upper class with whom I lived and went to college. I found my job very difficult. Watching poverty is difficult, but listening to the elderly talk about their difficult lives is crushing. Helping in the fields or in the school might have been emotionally easier.

Unfortunately, I did not stay very long because I felt that I was not very useful. Even with everything I did, I was only volunteering 5 hours a day, and the rest of the time I had nothing to do, so I was quite bored and lonely. I think this is typical of international volunteer experiences. Others stay and find they adjust to the pace of life or find other things to do with their time. But I missed my family and my boyfriend terribly so I left early. I would still recommend FEVI to your students, but with the understanding that the work might be slow, particularly because the program seems better designed for students who are studying abroad and only have an extra 10 - 20 hours in the week, rather than for someone who is a full time volunteer.