Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spanish Community Service Learning Students Need to Practice BasicOffice Skills

Example of student "recado" that gives the wrong message.
by Ann Abbott

Once again I observed in my "Spanish in the Community" course that students need help with basic office tasks that they are called upon to do in their community service learning (CSL) work. 

Students may think that taking phone messages and filing documents is easy and even "beneath" them. 

My colleagues in Spanish may think that teaching this is not "intellectual." 

But semester after semester I see that doing these seemingly simple tasks reveals several things. First, we underestimate the complexity of the linguistic and cultural knowledge required to do these tasks in Spanish and with information from/about Spanish-speakers. Second, these tasks necessiate the use of many higher-order thinking skills:
  • First, students have to understand the information they hear on the phone (in the case of taking a message). This alone is difficult and requires a lot of negotiation of meaning and checking/rechecking their notes.
  • Then they have to synthesize and re-arrange the information according to the pre-determined format of a message form.
  • In the message section, they have to analyze the whole conversation in order to prioritize the information and select what information is pertinent.
  • They have to think from the perspective of the person who will read the message and ask themselves, will this person know what they need to do when they read this?
Still think that this is not what students need to be doing in a college course? Let's see some of the results from today's class.

We did the alphabetizing activity on page 86 in Comunidades. Very few students did the activity correctly. Not everyone knew that you needed to alphabetize the names by the last name. Many did not know to alphabetize by by the first last name. The majority did not know that Maria del Carmen was a first, not a last name. Only the heritage speakers--but not all of them--new the meaning of these items: Lic., Mª and Ing. 

In fact, it seemed to me that several students felt overwhelmed by this supposedly simple activity and just gave up. Other students stayed engaged with the activity but had many questions and doubts about it.

Taking messages
We did the phone messages from Lección 12 in  Comunidades. Again, even some of my very best students struggled to get complete and correct information for these activities. Half the students went out to the hall while the other half took down the message that I read. Mistakes or missing information became evident when the students from the hall had to read the messages and indicate whether they knew exactly what to do after reading the message. Many did not.

In addition to the activities in the book, I read the following to my students and asked them to take a message. Click on the photo above, read the student's message and then compare it to the text below: 

¨El 31 de marzo de 9-11 am todas las familias con hijos desde recien nacidos hasta seis años estan invitados a visitar el Crisis Nursery. Habra actividades para los niños y mucha informacion para los padres. El personal de Crisis Nursery estara disponible para responder preguntas. Este centro es un maravilloso recurso para todos aquellos que en algun momento enfrentan una emergencia y no tienen a nadie que cuide a sus hijos. Los niños pueden quedarse solo por unas horas o a pasar la noche mientras los padres resuelven su emergencia. Lo recomiendo altamente. Como las emergencias llegan sin anunciarse aprovechen esta oportunidad para conocer el centro y saber mas de este importantisimo recurso. Para mayor información, llamen al 337-2730.¨

The phone number is incorrect. The date and times have been placed in the wrong places on the message form. Most importantly, the sense of the message has been distorted. If you just read the student´s message, you would think that you needed to call this number and act immediately because there is a family with an emergency! Instead, the message was about an open-house event at an organization that exists for families when they do have a crisis.

I have good students. At this point in the semester they have been working in the community for two months. They struggle with these activities because they are much more difficult than we think.

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