Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hispania, March 2011

by Ann Abbott

What a pleasant surprise to receive the latest issue of Hispania and find so much good information on foreign language community service learning (CSL).

Zapata, Gabriela. "The Effects of Community Service Learning Projects on L2 Learners' Cultural Understanding."  Zapata's article provides something that we need in the Spanish CSL literature: a study based on an applied linguist's expertise. When Darcy Lear and I began publishing on CSL, most of the literature we found was descriptive. The majority of our published pieces of been based on qualitative studies. Qualitative research, while widely accepted in many fields, is not widely used in foreign language research, in which quantitative research dominates linguistics research and humanistic research is used for the predominate force in language studies: literary analysis. Zapata's "small-scale study [that] investigates the effects of... [CSL] projects or a cultural presentation on the development of the cultural understanding of low- and high-intermediate L2 students" (86) is a welcome addition to the growing body of work on foreign language CSL. Furthermore, people often question whether CSL can be done in introductory language courses. Zapata's study shows that it can indeed be problematic at that level ("low-intermediate CSL students[']...CSL experience may have been inhibited by their L2 proficiency and problems in the delineation of their CSL duties" 86). However, more clearly delineating low-intermediate students' CSL duties is possible, and I firmly believe (but need to research) that even Spanish 101 students can do CSL work that fits their language proficiency level and meets community-identified needs.

Barreneche, Gabriel Ignacio. "Language Learners as Teachers: Integrating Service-learning and the Advanced Language Course." Barreneche's work is based on a partnership he developed with Junior Achievement. I encourage you to read the entire article, but I would like to highlight just two things. First of all, I think one of this article's strengths is its literature review. Barreneche does such a good job of situating Spanish CSL within many strands of higher education practice and policy debate today: civic engagement education, the role of foreign language education in the evolving face of liberal arts education and then, more specifically, CSL's role in students' language acquisition and motivation.  The entire "1. Review of the Literature" section should be required reading for all of us involved in foreign language CSL. Secondly, I'd like to highlight that partnering with Junior Achievement means that there is much more of interest that Barreneche (and others) can explore about content learning in CSL. Junior Achievement has very interesting programming to teach and support youth regarding finances, entrepreneurship and overall professional skills. (On Twitter, I follow @JA_USA and @JABrasil. My Twitter name is @AnnAbbott.) For example, I teach social entrepreneurship as well as Business Spanish, and a partnership with Junior Achievement in those courses could add to the course's "triple bottom line": language, culture and business knowledge. In other words, there is much work to be done on CSL's impact on students' content learning in content-based CSL courses. Matching the nature of students' CSL work to the content being taught in the course can be challenging, but the Junior Achievement partnership described in this article has sparked ideas for me.

Book review: Learning the Language of Global Citizenship: Service Learning in Applied Linguistics. Wurr, Adrian J. and Josef Hellebrandt, eds. Reviewed by Anne Reynolds-Case. This review succinctly summarizes each chapter and the book's overall focus. Josef Hellebrandt is one of the earliest figures in the practice and publishing on Spanish CSL, so it is nice to see more of his work in promoting and disseminating CSL.  The reviewer concludes by noting that the pieces in the volume do not provide "tangible results afforded by the means of language proficiency tests or similar testing instruments" (224). While it is true that that kind of study and its results would be a welcome addition to the expanding literature on foreign-language CSL and many people have noted its absence, we should be careful not to privilege that kind of study as the only one that can give us "real," "hard" data on CSL's efficacy.  Research methods within foreign language departments may be an unacknowledged part of the very difficult debates going on in many Spanish departments nowadays about what we do, what we value and what we reward.

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