Thursday, December 16, 2010
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
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
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.
Posted by Ann Abbott at 10:51 AM
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.