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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to Prepare Service-Learning Lesson Plans: Synthesizing Best Practices

by Ann Abbott

The ACTFL 2011 Annual Convention will take place November 18-20, 2011 in Denver, Colorado, and I received the message yesterday that my session proposal was accepted. I hope to see many of my friends and colleagues there.

My session will focus on lesson planning in foreign language community service learning (CSL). At first I thought that I would present my data about how CSL students choose their community partners. Or maybe some preliminary research findings and interpretations about students' higher-level critical thinking skills in reflective essays. But then I remembered what happened at the 2010 ACTFL in Boston...

I was part of a well-attended plenary session on "The Lost 'C': The Communities Goal Area." Each person in the plenary session had an individual follow-up session, and for each session attendance dropped.  By the time my individual session on "The Communities-Classroom Cycle: Smoothing Service Learning's Transitions" came around, I had great people in the room with me, but only about 20. Thomas Sauer came in for his session afterward and told me, "Everyone went to the lesson-planning session."

So if lesson planning is what interests people, that is what I will speak about this year. I do think that that solid lesson plans are very, very important. Whenever I have my classes well planned-out (which is not 100% of the time, I must confess), there is a well-defined outcome I want to achieve by the end of the class period, and I plan my activities "backward" so that students have the language, cultural knowledge and content knowledge they need to achieve the outcome. So I do think it's important, and I don't think it's easy to achieve. So below is the information that I submitted to ACTFL. I hope to see you there.

Title
How to Prepare Service-Learning Lesson Plans: Synthesizing Best Practices

Description
In service learning (SL), students work in the community; but what happens in class? This session presents a lesson-planning model that weaves SL pedagogy into the same task-based, communicative activities foreign language instructors

Content
Instructors may feel that service learning (SL) requires them to totally transform what and how they teach. On the contrary, once the SL work has been added to a course design, successful lesson plans incorporate the same, familiar elements they already use: vocabulary building, grammar instruction, the 5 C’s, the four skills, communicative and task-based activities, etc.  The trick is to adapt the content of those activities to reflect students’ experiences in the community. 

We illustrate the lesson-planning model with a sample lesson plan designed for the intermediate level and based on a common foreign language SL scenario: students working as ESL tutors.  Activities include listening, speaking, reading and writing. The vocabulary relates to basic tutoring activities; grammar instruction focuses on formal commands; students read about ESL pedagogy; finally, students prepare a poster with good tutoring “commands” to be displayed in the tutoring space.

Methods
The session will begin with a brief interview activity related to the very first time the participants taught a class. Because students feel the same way when they first do service learning (SL), we will transition into a short introduction on why lesson planning and classroom support is so vital for foreign language SL students. Participants will then receive two handouts: 1) a SL lesson planning template that uses a backward design and a checklist of foreign language and service learning best practices, and 2) a sample lesson plan that uses that template. We will analyze the sample lesson plan as well as do some of the activities themselves. Finally, we will show examples of how existing lesson plans within popular intermediate-level textbooks can be tweaked to incorporate SL content and reflection. The last 15 minutes will be reserved for audience questions and discussions.

Outcomes
Following the session, participants will be able to 1) implement the sample service learning (SL) lesson plan with their own students, 2) create novel SL lesson plans following the template and 3) tweak textbook lessons to incorporate service learning content and guided reflection activities.

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