Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lesson Plan: Connect Classroom Learning with Community Service Learning Experiences

My students working in small groups.
by Ann Abbott

Sure sign that you taught with the Atlas complex: You leave the classroom and go straight to the water fountain to remedy your cotton-mouth.

Sure sign that you taught without the Atlas complex: You spoke little in class, mostly to give instructions and to answer student groups' questions while circulating through the room.

When we teach with Spanish community service learning, we are automatically giving up the Atlas complex. We know that we do not shoulder the entire burden for students' learning--they learn in the community and from the community members even when we are not around. 

But when the students are in the classroom with you, do you feel the need to be at the center of the classroom--literally and figuratively? We want to help students prepare for and then learn from their work in the community. But our classroom activities should be as hands-on, collaborative and student-centered as their work in the community.

Here is one example of how I set up one of my "Spanish in the Community" classes in a way that took me out of the center. Each student received a note-card at the beginning of class, and then we did the following activities.

1. Classroom-Community Connections. Write one example of a piece of information presented in the classroom that had a real-world connection to your community service learning work. Students had a few minutes to think, write and then share. Here were some of their (slightly edited) answers:

  • Escuché sobre una mujer que tiene miedo de ser deportada y en la clase aprendimos sobre los recursos para los inmigrantes.
  • Hablamos sobre las diferencias entre culturas en el aula. Varias veces noto estas diferencias en el salón de clase donde presto servicio. Por ejemplo, la maestra siempre dice las notas de los estudiantes en frente de toda la clase.
  • Lo que aprendi sobre los inmigrantes y sus derechos y el proceso para ser un ciudadano me ha ayudado a entender lo que está pasando en el Centro cuando vienen personas con estos problemas.
  • En la clase hablamos de como contestar el teléfono en una oficina. Este fue un buen ejercicio para mi trabajo en el Centro porque todos están muy ocupados cuando trabajo y tengo que contestar el teléfono mucho. (Several students wrote about the work we did in class about talking on the phone, taking messages, etc.)
Then students had to choose one of these statements:
  • Siempre hay una conexión directa entre la información que aprendemos en el aula y nuestro trabajo en la comunidad.
  • No siempre hay una conexión directa entre la información que aprendemos en el aula y nuestro trabajo en la comunidad.
The second statement won. (And that´s okay!) 

My role throughout this first step was to simply ask the question, tell students when their time to answer was up, and then ask them to share their answers. 

2. Student-Student Connections. On the other side of the note-card, write something you struggle with in your work in the community that our classroom activities have not answered for you. Again, students had a few minutes to think and write. Then I told everyone, ¨Stand up! Go around to your classmates, one by one, and tell them the issue that you struggle with/wonder about/etc. Ask them if they know the answer or can tell you how to find it." Here are some examples of issues they had not figured out yet:
  • From a student who worked at a health clinic: Palabras de medicina y cómo hablar en español con alguien que no sabe inglés ni mucho español (las personas de Guatemala). We have a large community of Guatemalans who spoke only or mostly their indigenous language.
  • From a student who worked at a human services office: A veces tengo dudas durante una conversación sobre el vocabulario de asuntos legales.
  • No entiendo por qué hay tantos inmigrantes en Champaign.
  • Tengo dudas sobre la diferencia entre el trabajo de ECIRMAC y La Línea. Parece que estamos haciendo la misma cosa. (This is very interesting because it gets at the ¨meta¨ level of how our human service agencies overlap. In this case, they do not, but that isn´t clear to the student.)
  • ¿Cuales son los requisitos para recibir una tarjeta verde? (Students--and you--can learn more about this topic by watching one of the videos from my textbook: From the left navigation bar, click on "Videos" and then click on the video " 10-2 ¿Cómo se consigue una visa?")
  • From a student who worked at a human services office: ¿Por que los archivos son de un sistema muy viejo? ¿Por qué no usan los ordenadores? ¿No hay suficiente dinero? ¿No saben cómo organizarlos? (Again, this is very interesting because it shows that the students are thinking about their partner organizations as organizations, not just the service recipients.)
  • From a student who worked at a school, in a bilingual education classroom: ¿Hay momentos cuando los estudiantes hispanohablantes pasan tiempo con los otros estudiantes? Después del segundo grado, ¿qué tipo de cosas hace la escuela para ayudar a los estudiantes a mantener su lengua materna?
Because the students worked in different organizations or had different experiences with the same organization, many of the students were able to have their questions answered by other students. That was exactly what I had hoped for! It showed that I was not the only "expert" in the room. Here is one example:

Student 1: When clients come to the Refugee Center, I help a lot of them fill a form for "la tarjeta médica." Even though I am perfectly able to help them fill out the form, I don't really know what a "tarjeta médica" is.

Student 2: I know! That's the card people have to show us at the Frances Nelson Health Clinic. It shows us that they qualify for our services.

Conclusion. Although we weren't able to answer every single question that students had, the activity served several purposes. It removed me from the "center" of the classroom and allowed the students to perform the roles of both learners (questioners) and experts. It revealed gaps in the curriculum so that I could decide what materials I should add for the following semester. It pointed towards questions that students could easily find the answers for themselves by talking to their supervisors in the community or with a simple Google search--because I, the instructor, am not Atlas.

Do you struggle with the Atlas complex when you teach? Do you have classroom techniques or activities that successfully take you out of "the center" of your students' learning? Do you think you might try the above lesson with your own students? Let's share our knowledge and our struggles, just like my students did!

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