Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Do Students Take a Spanish Community Service Learning Course?

On the first day of class, students explained why they were taking "Spanish in the Community."

by Ann Abbott

I know why I teach Spanish community service learning courses: I love to see students stretch themselves and increase their learning by solving real-world problems in real time with real people. 

But why do students take these courses?

At the beginning of the semester, I asked my "Spanish in the Community" course to write down their reasons. This morning I analyzed 14 of those answers, and here are the results:
  • 10: To practice Spanish. They said things like "tengo que practicar el español¨ and ¨quiero mejorar mi español."
  • 6: To help in the community.  "Quiero ayudar la comunidad" and "quiero ayudar [a] otros" were words they used to express their desire to both learn and serve.
  • 3: To prepare for my future career. One student wanted to work with children at a school because she plans to be a teacher; one student plans to be a social worker and sees the CSL work as connected to that profession; and one student said he/she wants to have a career speaking Spanish.
  • 2: To connect to international experiences. One student wanted to keep up his/her Spanish after a study-abroad experience, and another wanted to prepare for an upcoming stay in Honduras.
I'm not sure that their answers would have been different if the same question would have been asked in any other Spanish course. My experience is that students see Spanish studies primarily as language studies and they take the classes they can get. Although we may have other learning goals for them, I think we need to listen to that and integrate language learning into the entire Spanish curriculum in well-designed, explicit ways. (That may sound obvious, but research-based approaches to language learning are in fact not very well integrated into college-level Spanish programs beyond the basic language courses.)

Furthermore, we know that motivation is an important factor in second language acquisition. That's not an area of research that I am familiar with, but I'm sure that the literature would give us important insights into the connections between student motivations, Spanish CSL and learning outcomes.

But what I take away from these results is a reminder to be explicit in my teaching about the connections between students' motivations and the curriculum as I have designed it. 

Why do you teach Spanish CSL? Or why don't you teach teach it? Why do your students take it? Do you think the course you have designed matches with their learning goals? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Where can I get more info about starting a course like this?

    1. Sra. Spanglish,
      I'd be happy to talk to you about it any time. You can e-mail me at And be sure to look at the syllabus for "Spanish in the Community" that I have posted on the left navigation bar here. Finally, start small! Think of one community partner, one class and one project. Then build from there.
      Let me know if you want to talk!