Monday, February 1, 2010

6 Questions to Ask Now Regarding Your Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

I'm in Week 2 of my semester. You're probably a week ahead or behind me. The important thing is that we're still at the beginning of the semester, when we can still make some tweaks, if necessary.

So, think back to your last CSL course (last semester? last year?). Think about how things have gone so far this semester. Then answer these questions for yourself.

1. Are my community partners satisfied? Did you ask your community partners if they are happy with your students' work? If you received any negative feedback, how can you address it this semester? Can you create a lesson plan to teach students to do something important to the community partner? Can you ask last semester's students to "coach" this semester's students? What else can you do?

2. What will I do differently next semester? Did you have a great idea for changing something last semester while you were teaching? You know, you had a light-bulb moment that happened in the elevator as you were going back to your office after teaching. But then you got interrupted before you could write it up. Think back, try to capture those moments, and stick a note in your textbook so you can address it this semester.

3. Do my students realize the value of this experience? Do you even fully realize its value for your students? Students may see your CSL course as "another Spanish class." It is. But they can get unique value from it: it combines language learning with real opportunities for intercultural communication in professional settings. That's unique value! Make sure they know that.

4. To whom am I grateful? I'm sure you've done a lot of work to pull this course together, perhaps despite your departmental or institutional responses. Still, someone has helped you along the way, even if it was just your community partners. Or those students last semester who seemed annoyed but were really just pushing you to develop a new aspect of the course. Maybe a colleague shared lessons or thoughts on CSL in general with you when you were planning--or when you were at wits' end! Near the end of Comunidades, students need to write a thank-you letter to someone in their community partner organization. I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to write a card of your own.

5. To whom can I ask my questions? Don't go through another semester feeling like all the weight is on your shoulders. If you can't find someone on your campus or in your field, write your questions or concerns in a comment on this blog. We can all help each other.

6. Am I trying to "fix" my community partners? I've seen this happen before. Let's say your community partner runs on a shoe-string budget with a few over-stretched employees. You want to "help them improve" their office, their systems, their programming, their website--whatever. Is that really what they want the most? Or is that what you want? Concentrate on helping them do what they do best.

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