Thursday, January 27, 2011

UIUC: Learn about Activism at the University YMCA

by Ann Abbott

In Comunidades: Más allá del aula, I have an activity about certain actions one can do to address the problem of affordable housing (p. 120). Each item in the activity presents a problem and a possible solution.  Students' task is to decide if the solution involves charity, volunteerism or activism.

That difference is something that most of my students haven't thought much about. By doing academic service learning, students' volunteer work is at least connected to their academic learning, providing them insights into the larger cultural and policy issues that impact the realities they observe in the community. Sharing and comparing their experiences in the classroom helps students make sense of their volunteer work.  Furthermore, many of the prompts for reflective essays included in Comunidades ask students to conclude with a paragraph about what actions they can take to address the larger issue at hand.

Still, teaching students about activism is not the primary goal of the course.  It's difficult enough to cram into one semester all that they need to work effectively in the community just in terms of language skills, cultural know-how and professional behaviors.

But a few students are already activists when they enter the class.  And a few more are certainly ready to take the next step at the end of the semester.  But then they move on to their next set of courses.  Or they graduate.

That's why I'm so excited to see that Aaron Johnson-Ortiz is offering an "Activist Laboratory" at the University YMCA.  This is what I would have loved to had available to me when I was a student!  And I hope that it will appeal to some of my students now.  Read the description below, and be sure to sign up if you're interested.  I think this is a very exciting opportunity.

ACT LAB is a 6-workshop training series for emerging student activists hosted by the University Y. The series welcomes individuals with a background in activism who are desiring of a more formalized training, and who want to be exposed to a wide rage of issues and methods beyond their own backgrounds. ACT LAB workshops will emphasize interactivity rather than lecturing, requiring each participant to be fully engaged in each session. Participants are expected to go through the whole series, and will receive a University Y ACT LAB certificate at the end, which will help student leaders pursue a career in activism.
To register or for more information, email
AL1 - Community and ActivismFriday, February 4, 2011, 5PM-7PM
Through hands-on exercises, participants will challenge themselves with questions like: What is your leadership style (your strengths and challenges)? When working with others, what do you bring to the table, and how do you improve group dynamics? How do you envision the world you want to live in? How do you see your role in bringing that world into being?

AL2 - Solidarity and Mediation
Friday, February 18, 2011, 5PM-7PM
This session will focus on coalition-building and solidarity between different groups. The first half of the workshop will be an Interfaith Dialogue training, which promotes finding common ground between faith groups. The second half is called Solidarity Organizing, which will help participants think critically about their role as activists, and especially their relative positions of privilege when working with oppressed communities in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and/or class.

AL3 - Another Planet is Possible
Friday, March 4, 2011, 5PM-7PM
We will visit to the 5th and Hill site, and talk with local residents and organizers associated with Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC). 5th and Hill is a toxic site in the African-American community in North Champaign, and residents and activists will share their stories and then talk about intersecting issues (What do the toxic remains of a local coal processing plant say about fossil fuel consumption and sustainability globally? What does the environmental damage say about race relations and economic inequality locally, nationally and internationally?).

AL4 - Theater of the Oppressed
Friday, April 1, 2011, 5PM-7PM
This session will focus on interactive and performative art forms as activism. Participants are expected to utilize their full selves and bodies in the session. "Theater of the Oppressed" is a theatrical form developed by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal that utilizes role playing and actor-audience interaction to aid in community dialogue and conflict mediation.

AL5 - Media and Mobilization
Saturday, April 9, 2011, 3PM-5PM
(Held at the Independent Media Center) The session will include a tour of the Independent Media Center, and several of its working groups, and will include a radio training at W-RFU (Radio Free Urbana).

AL6 - Education as Activism, Activism as Education
April 22, 2011, 5PM-8PM
This session will take a look at inequality and social justice organizing in education. Their will be a dialogue on racial, political, and economic inequality in K-12 education, followed by a workshop on collective bargaining and union organizing in a university context. At the end, we will have time for reflections and dialogue about the series. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Take a Picture of Language Learning in the Community

by Ann Abbott

Once again, The Language Educator is chock-full of great information.

In the latest issue, they announced a photo contest, "Capturing the 'Lost C'--Communities."  This is going to be part of my students' final exam.

"We would invite all readers to send in a high-quality digital photograph that you feel represents language learning, particularly when it comes to making the connection to Communities. ... Help us do a better job of illustrating this important aspect of language education! Consider how you can best showcase your students' language learning and their relationship to Communities through a photo--and then enter it to win! You may see your photograph in an upcoming issue of The Language Educator." p. 24

Contest Deadline: May 15, 2011
Prizes: The first place winner of the contest will receive $500; second place $200. For all other entries, if we feature the photo in TLE, photographers will be credited in TLE and on our website.
Instructions: Please e-mail if you would like to submit a photo for the contest and we will send you the specifications for how to upload your photographs. We would appreciate it if you do not send your photos as e-mail attachments initially.

As part of their final exam, students in my "Spanish in the Community" course will submit a photograph, a short caption and a reflective essay. I will form a committee, we will choose the best photograph and I will submit it to the contest.

Model Classroom Activities for Your Students

by Ann Abbott

I have been visiting my TAs' classes. As usual, I am impressed by our Teaching Assistants' intelligence, poise, energy, creativity and classroom skills.  Anyone who complains that students only have teaching assistants the first years of their university classes should sit in and see the quality of our TAs' work.

But there is one area for improvement: modeling activities.  I know that I need that reminder as well!

When you're teaching more advanced foreign language learners, you may think that your activities do not need much set-up. We usually think more about instructions and modeling for novice language learners.

Instead, I saw that students in advanced courses would spend the first few minutes of a group activity figuring out what they were supposed to do in the activity. This was also the only time I ever heard English. "What are we supposed to do?  How do we start this? Etc."

The solution is easy. Give everyone 30 seconds of silence to read the instructions themselves. Then do the first item in the activity yourself (or with another student, if appropriate).

Spending one or two minutes in this way will actually save you time. Students who don't know what to do waste a lot of time figuring it out or doing it wrong.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Student Reflection: Kendra Dickinson

I met Kendra during her on-campus interview for a Fulbright Scholarship. I was struck by her high level of Spanish, maturity and intellect.  It is so nice to meet students who are true learners, going out of their way to inform themselves about intellectual, cultural and policy issues.  So when she told me she needed a faculty advisor for her capstone project, I agreed. I know I will learn more about the environment and Extension's projects through her blog posts this semester, and I hope others will, too. [Ann Abbott]

by Kendra Dickinson


My name is Kendra Dickinson and I am senior studying Spanish and Environmental Studies. This being my last year at the university, I have put a lot of thought into how best make use of the incredible knowledge that I have gained over the past 3.5 years as a student. This semester, I will be working on a project that combines what I have learned in both of my plans of study, as well as giving me the opportunity to use the skills that I have gained at the University to affect the community at large.

This week I started working at the University of Illinois Office of Extension and Outreach, in the division of Hispanic Programming. The overall goal of the Illinois Extension is to put to work the research and the knowledge gained by the members of the University to benefit people of Illinois, the United States and internationally, through a variety of educational programs on topics such as environmental stewardship, food production and sustainability, and youth, community and family well-being. You can visit the Extension website ( for more details. The division of Hispanic Programming focuses on bringing these types of programs and information to Spanish-speaking individuals and communities here in Illinois, and around the world. During my time working with Extension, I am going to be working on a variety of projects, for example:

·         A Water Survey, interviewing Spanish-speakers living in urban areas in the Midwest about the sources of their water and their water quality
·         Translating and adapting 4H materials into Spanish
·         A local Spanish language radio show
·         A trip to Perú for students and faculty to visit important archeological sites

I am very excited to help with these projects. At my time here at the University, I have had the opportunity to be part of vibrant learning community that offered me so many resources to continue education and enhance my knowledge. Therefore, I am very happy to be a part of the University’s goal of sharing its knowledge and resources with local communities and creating practical applications for its research that benefit the community at large.  Stay tuned for updates about the projects that Hispanic Programming Office will be working on this semester, and for ways that you can get involved!

Friday, January 21, 2011

UIUC Scholarship of Engagement Seminar

by Ann Abbott

Valeri Werpetinski has set up another great semester of service-learning and public-engagement forums through the Center for Teaching Excellence.

First, she has arranged monthly meetings for the Scholarship of Engagement Seminar (be sure to scroll down to see all the topics).  The name of the group is rather formal, but please don't feel that you have to be "serious" about the scholarship of engagement and service learning to attend any or all sessions!  It's a great opportunity just to gather ideas and meet other people who share your interests.  A group of my students and I will present on March 16.

Val is also leading a Service-Learning Course Design Clinic.  If you are thinking about offering a service learning course, know you're going to offer one or want to tweak one you're already teaching, I'm sure you will walk away with lots of ideas and resources.

Finally, there will be a Service Learning and Social Entrepreneurship Showcase, and a different group of my students will present a poster there.

Although it doesn't focus specifically on service learning, I can highly recommend Cheelan Bolin's workshop on student teams.  I learned a lot when I attended and have implemented the concepts I learned from her every single semester since then.

Finally, I highly encourage you to just browse through the Center's entire calendar for this semester.  There are lots of good workshops.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Resources for Teaching Business Spanish and Other Languages

by Ann Abbott

Dr. Mary Risner was among the many interesting people I met at the K-12 Business Languages Workshop at Florida International University in Miami this past weekend.  Mary is Associate Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.  Specifically, she works on their outreach program, and she shared many resources with the workshop attendees.

  • The Outreach Library. I imagine that you need to live close to the University of Florida to borrow these items (but perhaps that is wrong). However, I googled many titles on the list of books and dvds available, and I hope to find them through my own library or order some for my courses.  Here are just a few of the titles I found particularly interesting and potentially useful: Beyond Borders: Ethics in International Business; The Multicultural Meeting; Comunicaciones Interculturales: Factores que pueden afectar el exito en los negocios in Latinoamerica; Ethical Markets: International Finance Reform; Zoned for Slavery: The child Behind the Label; Global Village or Global Pillage; Global Cities, Immigration and World Economy: Mexico City; Sweating for a T-Shirt; Global Cities, Immigration and World Economy: America's Immigration Debate; Uprooted: Refugees in the Global Economy.
  • Traveling Suitcases.  Funny enough, I had heard about travelling suitcases from a professor within our own College of Business, Prof. Paul Magelli.  He was friends with the woman who first began them, but unfortunately I cannot remember her name right now.  So I was pleasantly surprised to see this as one of the resources the University of Florida offers.  Although I focus mostly on cultural perspectives and processes in my courses, cultural products are also very important in business.
  • The Network of Business Language Educators (NOBLE). As Mary explained at the workshop, it is good to get together once a year or more to share resources and ideas for teaching business languages, but that dialogue should be sustained. To that end, NOBLE is a place to find and share resources. Mary also explained that it is a place for language educators and business faculty to inform each other from their own areas of expertise, in order to enrich each other's teaching.  As soon as I came home I began following the group on Twitter (@LangForCareers) and joined their Ning group. I hope you will do the same.
The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois also offers outreach programs and materials. So be sure to use the resources available on-line and pick up the phone to talk to the friendly people at these two Centers (or the one closest to you)--they want to help all K-12 educators teach about Latin America, whether the focus is business or any other cultural aspect.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Teaching Business Spanish at the Elementary and High School Level

by Ann Abbott

I just returned from the 3rd Annual K-12 Language for Business Conference: Technologies and Tools for a New Language for Business Course.  It was held in Miami and Sponsored by Florida International University's Center for International Business and Education Research (CIBER).  There were tracks for teachers of Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.  They planned to offer Arabic, but not enough Arabic teachers enrolled.

At ACTFL conferences I have interacted with some elementary and high school language teachers, but this was the first time that I had been involved in an event that focused solely on K-12 teaching.  It seemed that many of these teachers were already highly professionalized--which is wonderful to see, given all the criticism we hear about our schools. Some were already teaching business in their language courses, some came from "academies" that focused on business, and others wanted to incorporate business content into their regular Spanish courses.

The day began with Dr. Emily Spinelli's talk, "Using Business-Related Content to Enhance Language Courses."  Dr. Spinelli is the Executive Director of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP).  She covered much ground in her talk, beginning with statistics about the declining number of US students studying foreign languages and ending with a concrete example of business realia that can be easily found and incorporated into a series of activities: the business card. I don't have her specific example to share, but you can see that the business card at the top of this post (which I found with a Google image search for "tarjeta de presentación") is rich in cultural information that is important for globally savvy students to know.  Dr. Spinelli's sample activity asked students to fill in a chart with the name of the company, services offered, street address, zip code, etc.  In her example business card, like the one here, that information is presented in a format that is probably unfamiliar to most of our students. Likewise, most US students will not know what the 1a planta and 2a planta mean.  Even the telephone numbers have an unfamiliar format--what is the area code?  As you can see, we can use authentic materials to teach business content, without needing an MBA ourselves.  (On a side note, Dr. Spinelli mentioned "t-shaped skills" in her talk, a term I had never heard of before but that is a good description of the kind of teaching we do in business languages.)

Following the keynote talk, a panel of Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese teachers presented their challenges and solutions.  They shared examples of student work, sample activities and ways in which this can be incorporated into advancing students' language proficiency.

Three breakout sessions completed the day.  I gave the first Spanish session, "Practicing Basic Office Tasks for Language Proficiency, Transcultural Competence and Professionalism." Using the examples of taking telephone messages, filing and greeting clients, I illustrated that these seemingly easy tasks actually require linguistic skills and cultural knowledge that our students simply do not gain in a traditional classroom. Furthermore, students often assume that these basic office tasks are easy or "beneath them;" instead, they often struggle to complete the tasks correctly, completely and in culturally-appropriate ways.  I shared related activities from Comunidades: Más allá del aula.

The second session--"How to Create Communicative Tasks for The Spanish Business Classroom"--was given by Dr. Melissa Baralt (FIU). Her session was a huge success!  She modeled what she was teaching by also running the session as if it were a classroom completing a series of communicate activities.  She shared many examples of activities that take a familiar format and insert business content.  In other words, there is no need to abandon communicative, task-based instruction just because we're teaching business content.

Finally, I gave another session: "Teaching Hard and Soft Skills in K-12 Business Spanish: The Case of Social Media Marketing."  I wanted to end the day with a session that was a bit heavier in business content.  I will share the power point slides as soon as I can get everything from the conference organized.

It was very nice to participate in this conference. My special thanks go to Dr. Maida Watson (FIU) for inviting me.  It was nice to be in warm, sunny Miami during the middle of the Illinois winter.  But most importantly, it was nice to be around a group of people who were engaged and excited about incorporating business content into their language teaching.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Articles of Interest in Winter 2010 Foreign Language Annals

by Ann Abbott

There are two articles of particular interest to me in the latest issue of Foreign Language Annals (Volume 43, No. 4, Winter 2010):

  • Grim, Frédérique. "Giving Authentic Opportunities to Second Language Learners: A Look at a French Service-Learning Project." pp. 605-23. This article describes a French service-learning course in which university students taught French to youth (not to Francophones).  The lit review goes up to 2008 (perhaps it took a long time for the manuscript to be published).  Interviews with the SL students focused on learning motivation, professional aspirations, role of civic commitment. The article ends by stating the challenges inherent in planning and executing a service learning course.  I would like to see the students involved with native speakers of the target language (through technology, if necessary), but this is an interesting alternative.  
  • Armstrong, Kimberly M. "Fluency, Accuracy and Complexity in Graded and Ungraded Writing." pp. 690-702. This article asks the question, "Do students write better when their essays are graded, and what implications might this have for foreign language instruction."  It's answer?  "Findings suggested that grades had little effect on student writing, and therefore more frequent and more varied ungraded writing assignments may be a productive pedagogical tool for improving the form and content of student writing."  Yes! I am particularly interested in this because I coordinate our Spanish Composition course, but also because reflective essays are an integral part of our community service learning courses. Too often, writing in a foreign-language course is approached in a "gotcha!" way--baroque coding systems, lots of red ink and burned-out TAs and instructors who feel it is their job to mark every error on every essay.  Unfortunately, most textbooks reinforce this; they all say they use a process-oriented approach, but they do not.  Instead, I ask my TAs to make sure that each and every lesson plan includes a lot of writing--more time writing than reading about and talking about writing!  This is also the same way we should approach reflective writing in a CSL course.