Monday, April 30, 2012

Community-based Team Project Reflections

Team members at the ECIRMAC Fundraising Dinner with Guadalupe Abreu.

Team: Danielle, Madeline, Stephanie and Christa

For our team project we collaborated with the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (AKA ECIRMAC) to help raise money and plan their Fifth Annual Refugee Center Fundraising Dinner. ECIRMAC is located in Urbana and works to aid refugees and immigrants that are settling in the area, and to help with the preservation and exchange of each person’s culture. Because ECIRMAC is a non-profit organization, they relay greatly on the community for donations in order to survive. Their largest fundraising event each year is their Fundraising Dinner. Part of our job to help the dinner included expanding awareness to the campus community and getting more students informed about the center and their mission. In order to promote ECIRMAC’s message and the event on campus, we contacted the Daily Illini and had an article written in it about the event, and what ECIRMAC is all about. We contacted the Greek community and asked for donations for the event, all the while educating this population about ECIRMAC. We also went to local businesses and asked for donations or gift cards to raffle off at the dinner.

On the actual day of the dinner we arrived at St. Patrick’s Church to assist in set-up for later that evening. The other volunteers were thankful for our contribution and the set-up went by very quickly with our help. That night we were the hosts in the silent auction, we made sure that event went smoothly and helped with any questions. The dinner was a great success, however we noticed that it was hard for students at the university to participate because the ticket price was to high for the average student. Therefore planned an event at Joe’s Brewery where students could purchase a wristband to support ECIRMAC, and enjoy a night of fun. We raised about $300 with this event, and are excited that the campus community was able to find a way to contribute to ECIRMAC without having to go to the dinner.

All the money raised from the dinner goes towards helping ECIRMAC carry out their mission and manage the daily cost of operation. The refugees and immigrants in this region will benefit from this money because ECIRMAC will now be able to fully operate all of their services. They offer job placement and job placement and supportive employment services, orientation, translation, liaison, referral, counseling, and advocacy. They provide local sponsors with liaison and translation services and resettlement information. A very important thing ECIRMAC does is the promoting preservation of language, culture, and traditions of all refugees and immigrants. The money we raised will definitely help all of these endeavors.

Looking back on the project as a whole, our group realized a few things we wish we had done differently as well as suggestions for future groups. While setting up for the dinner, we thought a few steps could have been done ahead of time to move the process along, especially with all the volunteers at the center on a daily basis. There were about 400 informational pamphlets that could have been folded before the day of. As well, there were bows that needed to be tied to vases of flowers that could have been done ahead of time. Other than that, the setup moved efficiently with all the volunteers that were able to help out.

Another problem we noticed about the dinner event was that by setting the ticket prices at 60 dollars each, it excludes a large amount of people that may want to donate and contribute to the cause but cannot afford it, especially students. Perhaps by expanding their event and moving it to a bigger venue, ECIRMAC can offer discounted ticket prices to students and less fortunate individuals. By lowering the price the event can include more people and gain more contributors, ultimately generating more profit and a more successful turnout in the end. This change would make it a lot easier for students to get involved and help ECIRMAC work towards their mission.

Our group also took it upon ourselves to raise extra funds for the center from the campus community. Our most successful event was a benefit night at Joe’s Brewery where we sold wristbands for discounted drinks on a specific night. In the future, we would have tried to get the word out about this event earlier than we were able to. By organizing this earlier we feel we could have had an even better turnout. Another idea we had, but were not able to execute, was a benefit dinner somewhere on Green Street. We were planning on contacting a local restaurant to sponsor a night where 10% of the proceeds benefited ECIRMAC. With limited time, we were unable to get this setup but in the future we feel like it would be another successful event. Lastly, start to contact businesses for donations/silent auction items as early as possible. Surprisingly, many businesses in the area are willing to donate to the center and that is all profit during the silent auction activities. We did not have much success from the Greek community as planned. If time is available, we thought of possibly doing dinner announcements to these houses to get the word out about the center for either donations or to sell wristbands for the Joe’s event.

Student Reflection

by Brianna Anderson

This past week was the last week of SOAR for the year. The students write thank-you cards for the tutors at the end of every semester—after so many semesters, the student I tutor has gotten slightly more creative than a standard “thank you” and this card included a drawing of a scary monster reading a book. He had already finished his homework for the day, so after receiving the card, my student and I went to the library to read for one last time. We grabbed his favorite book (which changes every week) from the shelf and sat down to read.

While we were reading, I thought a lot about how far my student has come—when I started working with him, he did not speak any English. I admit, we struggled with communication a little at first. Before tutoring with SOAR, I had never had an opportunity to speak Spanish with a child. Talking to a child in Spanish is completely different than speaking Spanish with an adult—the language barrier seemed much more prominent, and I think a big part of that was that it was difficult for the student to understand that at times, I had no idea what he was trying to convey.

As the focus in the classroom has switched to English, I have seen a significant improvement in my student’s reading, speaking, and writing skills. He can read a chapter book in English with ease and correctly explain, in Spanish, what has happened. Connecting both languages is an easy way to ensure that my student fully comprehends what he is reading, and isn’t just repeating words he recognizes or guessing based on scanning the letters. I have noticed an increase in the accuracy of his summaries, especially this semester.

Another big change that I have noticed is that my student has began speaking to me in English without being asked to and even at times when we aren’t reading in English. He explained to me that although it is harder for him to talk in English, but he wanted to practice. He continued to say that most of his class was able to speak and read English pretty easily and he felt a little behind when it was harder to respond in English.

I knew that there had to be a great external pressure for my student to learn English—but I never imagined that so much of it would come from his peers. Although I have heard the other students in the class use Spanish to explain directions or homework that are originally given in English to my student, it is sometimes done with slight hesitation and often with a bit of attitude. I feel as though this can be incredibly discouraging—to be trying to learn something new and have your peers, who are learning the same new material, not being supportive. Working with my student has helped alleviate some of these pressures in my opinion. I have explained to him on more than one occasion that learning a new language takes time and no one expects him to know everything about English at this point. I have told him that I have been studying Spanish for eight years now and am still learning how to speak and read the language properly. A couple of words of encouragement and a reminder that it’s okay to make mistakes in the learning process is all it takes to keep students motivated. :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Job Interview Questions as Reflective Exercise in Spanish Community Service Learning Course

Amy Lewensky working as a Spanish & Illinois Summer Intern at Central States SER in 2006. In a job interview, how could your students talk about their Spanish CSL experiences to land the job or internship?
by Ann Abbott

Spanish community service learning (CSL) is first and foremost about the mutually beneficial relationship between community partners and students. Our students should enhance their engagement with the academic content of the course while they meet the community partner's needs. So first and foremost, our students should have a rigorous academic experience. It's about the learning.

In second place, and really close to first place, is this objective: prepare students for the realities and complexities of today's professional workplace.

Whether our Spanish CSL students work in an agency office, a classroom or a trailer converted into a community center building, they are all working in professional contexts. They are working in an organization, working for it and representing it. During their reflection, students' experiences in those professional contexts can be focused solely on an academic-centered learning experience.

We can also use structured reflection in a Spanish CSL course to prepare students to communicate their learning in a way that reflects the experiences, skills and qualities they developed that are also in high demand in professional settings.

To take this even further, I believe that the division between learning for academic purposes versus professional purposes is a false one.

Our students graduate and go on to jobs that require them to be skilled in research, synthesis, analysis, critical thinking, effective communication, multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, working in teams and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds. Many of them also use Spanish, at least occasionally, on the job. Isn't that what they do in our classrooms?
I pay a lot of attention to this pre-professional aspect of Spanish CSL.

  • In Comunidades: Más allá del aula, Lección 22 asks students to connect their work in the community to the hard and soft skills they have acquired and/or fine-tuned. Furthermore, they are asked to think about how they will communicate those skills in a job interview. In Spanish.
  • I co-authored an article about teaching students to "package" their Spanish CSL experiences into the vocabulary used in the professional world:  "Marketing Business Languages: Teaching Students to Value and Promote Their Coursework."
  • I dedicate an entire class period to how to answer job interview questions with specific examples from their Spanish CSL course experiences.
This is how I structured my class:

1. Comunidades. Students did the activities in  Lección 22 about ¿Qué importancia tiene esta experiencia para tu carrera?
2. Framework for answering interview questions. I quickly describe the STAR method for answering interview questions. (Here is a description of the STAR process with a good example. I don't agree with everything stated in this particular document, but it gives a student-based example which is helpful.)
3. I pair students. One student has to answer the question based on their CSL experiences and using the STAR method, and the other needs to analyze their response.
4. I ask interview questions. I asked students the following questions:
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to solve a problem because you spoke Spanish.
  • Tell me about a time when, despite your best efforts, you were not able to solve a situation in Spanish.
  • At our company we value diversity. Others say they do, but we truly do. Give me an example of a time when you worked on a project with someone from a different cultural background and achieved a better result because of your different perspectives.
5. Students volunteer their answers. This is where I always see that students skimp on details and answer too quickly. But the biggest problem, in my opinion, is that they do not state the results in organizational terms. 

6. Coach students in providing more complete answers. For example, one student gave the example of a time when she worked with an ESL student who didn't understand his homework because it was in English, she explained things to him in Spanish, and as a result he was able to do his homework. A better example would demonstrate that she was able to see her individual efforts as contributing to the organization's goals. So, the student was able to do his homework which contributed to the teacher accomplishing his/her learning objectives for that day. Or even better, by doing this each week throughout the semester, the student was able to be more prepared for the standardized tests against which the school is judged. Or maybe, with my homework help, the student was more engaged with his learning and improved his attendance--a goal that the school has in place for all its students.

6. Connect those results to the job at hand. Finally, I told students that they can really stand out in job interviews by connecting the results of their CSL work to the requirements for the job they are interviewing for. For example, after answering a question about using their Spanish to solve a problem, students could conclude by stating, "I know that your company has offices in several neighborhoods with a large number of Spanish speakers. I would be happy to use my Spanish to help those offices or any other time Spanish is necessary."

Answering interview questions requires reflection, synthesis, making connections, and recognizing multiple perspectives--in this case, the company's and the interviewer's. And those are all skills that good Spanish CSL work requires as well.

Community-based Team Project Reflections

by Mary Kate Chlada

Nuestro proyecto es de mejorar el uso de los medios sociales por El Centro de Refugiados. 

Brittany y yo creamos mas información en el sitio web y en la página de Facebook del Centro. Entrevistamos a los empleados del Centro y pusimos más fotos en el sitio. También quisimos conectar el Facebook con el sitio web; creamos un link entre los dos. Nuestra meta es que los voluntarios puedan conectarse con el Centro cuando ya no están trabajando allí. Nos encontramos con algunos problemas. Los empleados del Centro están muy ocupados con cosas más importantes que los medios sociales. También no hay muchas oportunidades para sacar fotos porque la gente que viene al Centro tiene problemas muy serios. Es difícil mostrar el impacto del Centro en el web.

Los medios sociales son muy importantes para empresas sociales porque es un servicio gratis. El sitio web y el Facebook no cuestan nada pero alguien que busca el Centro en el internet pueden encontrarlo. Esto es muy importante y muestra el poder de los medios sociales. Nosotros aprendemos que el Facebook puede ser más. Es un lugar para noticias y conexiones que no existía en años pasados. Creemos que es algo muy poderoso para empresas sociales. Ojalá que el Centro siga usando el sitio web y el Facebook para conectar con voluntarios y con clientes.

Nosotros queremos que los voluntarios en el futuro usen la página de Facebook. Creo que alguien cada semestre puede ser la persona que publique por ECIRMAC. También cada voluntario puede gustar y publicar en el Facebook. Nosotros creamos un lugar en el Centro donde hay información sobre el sitio web y el Facebook. Cada voluntario puede log in y hacer cambios en el futuro. Creemos que la presencia en el web solo puede ayudar el Centro y los voluntarios que trabajan allí.

Community-based Team Project Reflections: Introduction

Darcy Lear and me at a recent conference. Whenever I think of teamwork I think of  the ways in which Darcy and I work together--officially and unofficially--on co-authored articles, curriculum design and program management. The process is not always pleasant, but the outcomes are always better than what either one of us would have achieved on our own. That's what teamwork is all about.
by Ann Abbott

I am often asked what the difference is between my "Spanish in the Community" course (SPAN 232) and my "Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship" (SPAN 332) course. Here is the answer:

SPAN 232 “Spanish in the Community”
SPAN 332 “Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship”
CSL work
28 hours
28 hours
Course content
General introduction to CSL, immigration issues, and working in professional contexts
Introduction to social entrepreneurship with focus on linguistically and culturally appropriate programming
On-line listening comprehension quizzes
On-line quizzes based on textbook content
Reflective essays
Reflective essays
Two in-class exams
Two take-home exams
Team project

Community-based team project

As you can see, structurally, the two courses are very similar. However the content differs as well as how it is treated. "Spanish in the Community" covers a very broad range of topics; with that breadth, there can only be so much depth. In "Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship" we narrow the focus to one topic--social entrepreneurship--and go deeper into subtopics--income generation, linguistically and culturally appropriate programming, etc.--using many different case studies. Furthermore, the expectations increase in "Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship." Students should have a deeper understanding of the local Latino immigrant community through their second semester of CSL work, and that should be evident in their critical analysis skills.

One totally new course element is added to "Spanish & Social Entrepreneurship": community-based team projects.

Through their regular 28 hours of CSL work, students are continuously meeting community-identified needs. The community-based team project, however, allows them to tackle a different community-identified need and/or in a different way. It also is an opportunity for students to develop their teamwork skills and take on leadership roles.

Here is an outline of how the process works in my course:

  1. Identify project-sized community-identified needs. I solicit project ideas from my community partners and combine those with project opportunities that I identify. For example, I know that every spring, one of our community partners (ECIRMAC) hosts a fundraising dinner that requires a lot of coordination, a lot of legwork and a lot of communication. So every spring, that dinner becomes one of the team projects. In that example, I identified a way to help a community partner. Other projects are ones that will help me better meet our community partners' needs. For example, forming a team that helps market our Spanish CSL courses helps me ensure that we have a large source of students--and the right kind of students--to work with our community partners. Project ideas are all around!
  2. Teach about team projects and teamwork. I dedicate one class period toward the beginning of the semester to teach students about the benefits (and bothers!) of team projects. It is a fun class in which they actually do small-scale teamwork projects. (This class is based on the ideas of Cheelan Bolin from our Center for Teaching Excellence.) At the end of the class, students vote for how they want to form their teams, and I form one "team" that analyzes the votes and communicates the results to the other students and me. (The majority always wants to form their own teams.)
  3. Allow teams to select their projects. Once students form their own teams, they then read the list of team projects I list on our course wiki and sign up for the project they choose. They can propose their own project if they want.
  4. Dedicate class time to team projects. Throughout the semester, I used some time during class for teams to sit together, talk to each other and plan. Sometimes I told them to post on our Facebook page about what they had accomplished and what they still needed to accomplish. Students need both time and accountability.
  5. Celebrate teams' work. Whenever a team completes their project, or a part of it, I post something on our Facebook page if I can and invite them to the front of the classroom to talk about their experiences and outcomes. 
  6. Grade the teams. Each team member will grade his/herself and their other team members using a common rubric. They will also upload all their finished materials (if any were produced) to our course management site. I am almost always very satisfied with students' work, even if there were some failures along the way, so the grading is usually not difficult. 
  7. Reflect on the team's process and products. During class last week I asked students to reflect critically upon their community-based team project. We used the same framework as usual: What? So what? and Now what? The team members divvied up the work and wrote for fifteen minutes on their section of the reflection essay. They submitted their individual paragraphs. Now I will compile those paragraphs into a series of reflections for this blog. I hope that the reflection process was helpful for the students who wrote them, but I also hope that they will help other Spanish CSL instructors think about the role of teamwork and projects in their own courses.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Example of a Spanish Community Service Learning Final Exam

by Ann Abbott

Writing an exam for a Spanish community service learning (CSL) course is never easy. Following the advice to "test what you teach and how you teach" carries some difficulties.

  • What I teach in the classroom is clear and the same for all students, but what they learn in the community is different for each student.
  • How I teach in the course is also clear: listening comprehension homework, task-based communicative activities in class, content from Comunidades: Más allá del aula, and reflective essays through the semester. But how do you test "how" students learn in the community during a final exam? Ideally, the test would also be experiential.
While I have been happy with the tests I have written for my "Spanish in the Community" students in past, this time I am trying something different.
  1. At home, students watch the above video of Newt Gingrich calling Spanish the language of living in the ghetto and his apology, in Spanish. (Thanks to Gillian Ward for this link.)
  2. At home, students can prepare an outline and notes for a rebuttal essay. The essay must have the following information in each paragraph: 1) write an introduction about one point from the video and your thesis statement regarding it; 2) write one paragraph supporting your thesis with information we have learned in class in Comunidades; 3) write one paragraph supporting your thesis with information from your experiences working in the community; 4) write a conclusion.
  3. In class, use your notes, outline and dictionary to write your essay.
Students take the exam today. I will update this post later with results from the exam.


  1. The majority of students argued that bilingual education should not be eliminated. They disagreed with almost everything in the video. Their arguments were mostly about the information on bilingual education in Comunidades; their own experiences working with children in bilingual education classes or in ESL classes; an activity we did in class questioning "success" as a purely economic and material concept; and other pertinent information.
  2. A few students agreed with the premise that immigrants need to learn English for success in the US, but they also rejected the premise that that could be accomplished by eliminating bilingual education.
  3. One student agreed with Gingrich; however he/she did not include specific information to support the statement that bilingual education prohibits success.
My thoughts:
  1. I will use this exam again. I think that it tested their knowledge of the content of the course as well as their experiences and observations during their CSL work.
  2. The ability to prepare ahead of time for the essay allowed students to do their best work. I cannot see any advantage to "surprising" them with this exam question during the exam writing period.
  3. Ideally, I would ask students to video their essays and post them to YouTube, where the original video can be found. Practically, however, it would be very time-consuming to watch all of those videos. 
  4. As a compromise, I think that I would add one more item to the test: post your thesis statement as a comment below the original video in YouTube. Throughout the semester I have done a few activities that asked students to enter into the "public discourse" on immigration reform, Spanish in the US, and other hot topics that we cover in the course. This would be one more example of adding dimension to the public discourse with fact-based statements.

Student Refleciton

by Haily Pribyl-Shay

Working with the fifth graders at Leal, I have begun to realize the challenges that come with being integrated into mainstream classrooms when a child’s native language is not English.  Every week I help students with their vocabulary and spelling homework.  Some of these students are Spanish speakers and others only speak English.  Nonetheless, I speak English with all of these students because that is how I am able to help them best in completing their work.  I usually help them with general definitions and grammar corrections.  In the first grade classroom, I try to speak in Spanish whenever I am given the opportunity.  It helps me in practicing my speaking abilities, but I feel bad when I am not able to think of a phrase or word to help a student with their assignment.  For example, there was an activity involving words to be placed under different categories describing what different animals ate, where they lived, and what they looked like.  I could not think of words like “rainforest” or “spots.”  In those types of situations, I will try and work my way around a difficult word by using my limited vocabulary to describe the concept.  Other times I will ask another volunteer in the classroom who is more proficient in speaking to help me in think of a word.  Although I am not able to always help the students with certain homework assignments, one activity that I am confident in doing is reading.

Being an elementary education major, I love reading with the students in small groups and pairs.  There are certain books that I even remember from my own childhood, such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”  When I was asked to organize the books during a recess break, I was not surprised to find that most of the books were in Spanish.  What I was more intrigued by were the books that contained both Spanish and English translations side by side.  The book in the given image is an example of a bilingual children’s book.  Sometimes the students would ask me to read in Spanish with them, and other times I would be read in English.  Helping them with the English was not as hard as I would have thought because most of the students were able to sound out words they did not know and were fairly proficient in understanding the storylines.  In reading with the students in Spanish, I felt a little self-conscious in pronouncing some of the words or reading slower than they did.  All in all, I really enjoy helping the children in practicing their English because it helps me in understanding how children develop linguistically.  This is especially important in my own career if I were to work with ESL (English as a second language) student.

It helps to destress when I am able to watch the kids at recess or observe the teachers in the classrooms.  I have learned how much work goes into being a teacher and successfully attending to each child’s needs.  Grading some of the homework one day helped me in seeing just how tedious it is to correct simple homework assignments.  I have learned so much about myself as a Spanish student and as a future leader in the classroom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Student Reflection

by April Nwatah 

If someone asked to see pictures of my work in the community, and I showed them this picture, they might stand there looking confused and think that I misunderstood them. But with the Facebook Video Project, I spend every other Friday morning right here at my desk editing videos and uploading them onto a Facebook page for Spanish speakers in the community.  

Minus a couple of goofy videos that I made in the 8th grade for some of my friends, I don’t have much experience editing videos. Although I’ve had my MacBook for about 2 years, I never explored iMovie until this class. Some people learn things like editing by reading or watching tutorials then trying out what they learn. I just kind of learn as I go. I envision what I want a certain part of the video to look like, then I play around with iMovie to make it happen. If I can’t figure it out, then I Google it. But basically, every week is a new learning experience.

Sometimes the process is frustrating and I often need to think on my feet. For example, normally I check out a flip-camera from the UGL a couple days in advance to have it ready for filming on Friday. However, a couple weeks ago I forgot to check it out in advance (whoops) and when I went in on Friday morning to check out a camera there were none left! My roommate has a smart phone with a nice camera so we used that to film a lot of video clips. But for some very strange reason iMovie did not accept the format of the video clips from her phone. So after spending a lot of time researching how to convert the files and brainstorming other options, we ended up reshooting most of out footage with a digital camera (after testing and making sure that the video clips from the digital camera would be compatible with iMovie).

I really love learning. I’m quite thankful that there are always concepts and lessons to be learned in things as seemingly small as editing videos. Although I’m graduating in a couple weeks, I’m looking forward to learning outside of the classroom through day-to-day experiences (kind of like this course, except it's every moment of every day!)

Friday, April 20, 2012

What Is at Stake in Your Spanish Community Service Learning Classroom?

by Ann Abbott

$100 were at stake in yesterday's "Spanish and Entrepreneurship" class.

We did the lesson plan that I do every year in which I donte $100 to a Kiva entrepreneur.

During the first round, some students simply "gave in," and let the other Kiva entrepreneur win. But by the second round, the larger teams were really arguing for their chosen entrepreneur. "But my entrepreneur has a large family, all women, and no men around to support them," one student said. "But my entrepreneur," another student said, "has a six-month-old baby who needs an operation. This loan might save the baby's life."

I translated the conversation above, but it is really wonderful to see and hear the students using their Spanish to accomplish something, to advocate for someone--and something--that they believe in.

Would they do that if $100 of my money weren't at stake? I don't know. But this makes me want to design even more classroom activities in which something real is at stake.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Welcome to my blog about foreign language service learning!

Me, sitting in my blogging spot.
by Ann Abbott

I'm very excited that my blog is featured in an article about language educators and blogging in The Language Educator's latest issue!

Welcome, especially if you found your way here from the "Language Educator" article.

Blogging is a very important part of my teaching life. I'm passionate about foreign language community service learning (CSL). I love teaching about social entrepreneurship. I channel my inner entrepreneur through my Business Spanish course. And teaching about and through social media fits me perfectly: I love to listen and share. If you read anything about "how to blog," the first piece of advice is always to blog about something that you love. Check.

What do you blog about? What are you passionate about?

Maybe blogs for you are about reading. Me too. I like blogs that teach me how to do things. Or do them better. I confess to reading Failblog most days for some comic relief. I need blogs about simplifying, because I tend to complicate things. At home, at work and sometimes in my teaching. (Ever designed an activity with 12 steps to it? I have. Too complicated! I'm always telling myself, "Simplify it, Ann.") I read blogs about blogging or about writing in general. And I like bloggers who have a strong voice. Bloggers with an opinion. Informed opinions. Bloggers with expertise and confidence.

What blogs do you read? What do you want to get from your blog reading? I hope that you will find information here that you like to read. I hope I can solve some problems for you, too.

  • Are you just curious about what foreign langauge CSL looks like? Glancing through this blog will give you a good idea.
  • Would you like to start using CSL in your teaching? It's not as hard as it might seem! have some posts related to that, but I will post a "how-to" soon. You can also contact me ( to chat.
  • Do you have to teach in a couple of hours and you're out of fresh ideas? Look for the lesson plans I share frequently.
  • Are you researching and writing about CSL? I keep an updated Spanish community service learning bibliography on this blog.
  • Do you need to convince your skeptical colleagues that there is serious learning going on in a CSL course? Read the student reflections and cull the best examples as proof.
  • Do you want to start teaching with Facebook in the classroom? I started doing that this semester, and it has reinvigorated my teaching. Here is our Facebook pageHere is an example of how I use it.
  • Do you need a textbook for your Spanish CSL course? I've got that, too
I share all kinds of things here: book and article reviews, lesson plans, tips, my use of social media in my teaching, and my reflections.

My students share here, too. The honors students in my Spanish community service learning courses write reflective posts, and I upload them--unedited--here. It's useful, inspiring and sobering sometimes to see what your students are thinking and learning.

You can share here. I'd love to read your comments. I'd love to read your blog. I am sure I would learn a lot from you if we followed each other on Twitter and Pinterest. Those of us who want to engage foreign language students in new ways and with new content need all the support we can get, because change is not easy. But blogging is one way to challenge and change the status quo.

Thanks for coming to my blog.

Student Reflection

by Haily Pribyl-Shay

In helping out in both my classrooms at Leal Elementary School, I have learned a great deal about my strengths and weaknesses as a Spanish speaker.  Walking into the bilingual classroom for the first time was intimidating to say the least.  I did not know anything about the classroom, how it was organized, or if I was going to be able to communicate with the students and understand them.  I think I was most afraid of being accepted by the students as a new volunteer whose Spanish speaking skills were intermediate at best.  There are two other volunteers in the classroom while I am in there, and they are fluent Spanish speakers that are able to communicate easily with the students.  I try my best to observe and learn from the ways in which they use commands and interact with the children.  I knew that this was going to be an incredible opportunity for me to practice proper pronunciation, verb conjugation, and overall vocabulary development.

My very first experience involved working one on one with a girl that needed help with a rhyming worksheet. I did not know every word that was given, but I tried to help her to the best of my ability.  Although disappointed in myself for not being able to help her, I was proud of myself for being able to communicate and ask questions. While the students in the bilingual classrooms are learning English, I learn Spanish by asking them how to say certain words.  For example, the other day I was not able to think of the word for eraser, and I asked a girl how to say that word.  She smiled and said “borrador.”  Although I am still not able to understand everything that the students say, I am learning to build upon my current knowledge of key phrases and expressions in order to help the students in any way that I can.  In Spanish 232 we reviewed the basics of numbers and counting.  I was able to apply these skills to my first grade classroom at Leal.

I was asked to work one on one with another girl to help with her counting skills.  We counted by ones, twos, fives, and tens using a number chart and dry erase board.  I was surprised at how confident I became in helping the students with math because this type of tutoring involved a lot of repetition of key words and phrases.  What was most rewarding was seeing the smile on the student’s face once she completed a counting sequence correctly.  During my time in the classroom, students are assigned to various stations of different content-areas, so I usually try to pick a station that might need extra help and guidance.  Mrs. Sacco will sometimes point me in the direction she wants me to help supervise, and this helps give me direction and purpose.  She will explain that certain students are reading a book in English and they might need help with vocabulary and pronunciation or another child needs help finishing their narrative about the summer.  Other times, I am sent to help the kids concentrate and complete assignments.  It varies day to day.  But no matter the assignment, I feel happy when happy to be needed and excited to work on new activities.  My foreign language skills are slowly but surely developing and improving because of my experiences in the classrooms, and I feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn in a community-based setting such as Leal.

The sign in the image above reminds children about appropriate hallway behavior.  It also serves as a symbol of bilingualism, which has signs represented throughout the school.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Student Reflection

by Susannah Koch

The last time that I blogged I was just getting started at Provena and now I have helped with many things, including the Latino health fair! La campaña de salud was set up by a group of M1 medical students from the UIC School of medicine. It was held at the church behind Provena on Sunday, April 15th after the Spanish church service at 1pm. Provena and the language services department was asked to help only two weeks before the day of the health fair so we had a lot of things to do in a short period of time.

Our main task, other than actually assisting with translating the day of the fair, was to translate a lot of information and brochures about the facilities that Provena has to offer. The flyers that I had to translate were difficult because so much of it was medical vocabulary and trademarked procedures and techniques that cannot be translated into another language. It took me some time to finish it and then Alejandra, Shannon (another volunteer) and I went over the translated materials in order to condense them into a smaller brochure. It was hard seeing large chucks of the information that I had spent hours translating crossed out and not used, but it was good practice! Shannon and Vince took on a lot of the work for the health fair and everything turned out really well and we were able to distribute a lot of information to the community.

The day of the health fair I arrived at the church at 1pm and could not find Shannon or any of the other volunteers. There was a lot going on inside the building because the M1 students were setting everything up and trying to get organized. Because it was the first year this was done, there were a lot of kinks in the process and many places for improvement, but overall their dedication really impressed me. Eventually everyone else arrived and we set up our table near the clinic area with all of the brochures we had translated. As I said before, there were kinks in the organization of the health fair because the man in charge needed a lot of translators (the Provena interns) all over the fair. There were only five of us available to help that day and therefore not enough to go around. I was assigned the task of helping welcome people to the fair, answering general questions, and explaining the sheet every attendee received upon entrance. There were four main stations they could visit: the vitals clinic, diabetes booth, nutrition booth, and heart health booth and when they went to each one they received a stamp on their sheet and if they got all four they could get a free meal at the end of the fair. In addition to theses booths there were many organizations present to talk about their services, face-painting and games for the children, and informational talks about various health topics.

I was nervous at the beginning of the day because there were a lot of people and not enough time to explain to everyone. Eventually I got the hang of if and actually spent some downtime talking to man named Martin. He took the opportunity practice his English and I spoke in Spanish. I learned that he had first moved from central Mexico to California, then to Texas and then to Illinois, each time in search of a job. He told me that out of the three he still loved and missed California the most, but that at least his family was with him in Illinois. He was such a sweet man with a huge smile and was so thankful for our help and kindness. I really enjoyed using my Spanish to help people on Sunday, it was a welcomed change of pace from translating documents!! 

Student Reflection

by April Nwatah defines the word “empathy” as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” My experience with the Facebook Video Project has allowed me to experience empathy in a way that I did not imagine.  

Since I’m making videos for the Latino community in Urbana-Champaign, my partner and I decided that the best method of making these videos would be going to the locations that we want to talk about and filming the location, allowing us to show the information instead of just talking about it. Since we always give bus directions in our video, we make sure to take those directions to make sure that they are correct and simple to follow. So for example, when we did a video about the Urbana Free Library, we started off at Illinois terminal, followed our directions to go to Illinois Terminal, and took photographs and video clips at the library.

Making the videos this way has enabled me to visit various parts of the Champaign-Urbana community with a new lens. Instead of going to places like the library, Salt and Light, etc for my self, I’m going with Spanish speakers in mind, paying attention to every detail of my journey and reflecting upon whether it caters to Spanish speakers or not. For example, when we went to Planned Parenthood to film, we were required to press a button to speak to someone who would let us in. Although there was a sign in Spanish telling the person to press the button, the person that spoke did not speak any Spanish and gave us instructions in English. This encounter made me feel uncomfortable, because if I did not know English I am not certain that I would have known what to do. After speaking with the receptionist about this encounter, she explained that when they get Spanish speakers they usually understand enough to know what she was saying – but what about those who don’t? What about those who, after hearing English, get discouraged, turn away, and don’t get the services that they need?

With these realizations in one hand and empathy in the other, I’m left with the question: “what do we do now?“ I haven’t answered that yet. Got any suggestions? 

CU: Volunteer Opportunity at the Latino Youth Conference

Iconic image from La Casa Cultural Latina at UIUC.
by Ann Abbott

I received this e-mail from one of my students informing me of another way for SPAN 232/332 students--or anyone, for that matter--to help in the community, use their Spanish and get their 28 hours.

Hola Profesora Abbott,

One of my co-workers at the Office of Volunteer Programs is helping organize the Latino Youth Conference this Friday and she asked if I would pass this information on to you/our class in hopes of recruiting some volunteers. It would be a great way for volunteers to work with high school students, speak Spanish,and complete more hours without leaving campus!

Here is the link to register:

Latino Youth Conference
Volunteers will lead high school students around campus.
Pre-registration is required. Register at:

Thank you for your time and let me know what you think!

Alicia Freter (Span 332)

Student Reflection

Garden Hills Elementary School, Champaign
by Brianna Anderson

In addition to practicing my spoken Spanish, volunteering with SOAR has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of the achievement gap, as well as working with students from different backgrounds.  The students that participate in SOAR are primarily from the bilingual program at Garden Hills Elementary and many of the come from low-income families.  They perform at lower reading and math levels than most of their peers and many of them are trying to learn English at the same time.  Some of the students have parents that speak little to no English themselves.

These differences can present several challenges—if the family has a lower income, the parents may have to work more and as a result, are around less to help the child with school work.  Or, perhaps they are just learning or refining English and may struggle assisting the child.  Sometimes these at-home challenges are mistaken for an environment in which the parents do not care.  This is one of the biggest fallacies related to the achievement gap—it’s not that the parents in low income families don’t value the education of their child, but often they lack resources that inhibit them from being able to fully support the academic advancement of their child the same way a middle class family could. 

Areas in which the majority of the population is low income frequently struggle maintaining teaching staff in their schools.  Days are long and demanding and I'm sure it often seems as though there is no progress being made.  For these reasons, among others, there are many regions in need of teachers.  Teach for America is an organization that seeks to fill these vacancies.  Next fall, I will be teaching science in a high school in Alabama with Teach for America.  After tutoring with SOAR, I developed a strong desire to work in an educational environment.  This is quite the change-- I entered my freshman year with the intention of one day attending medical school and absolutely no desire to teach.  Through working with the students at SOAR, I have seen the difference that dedication and hard work can make in the lives of students.  One of my friends tutors a student that was new to the program last year and the amount of progress this child has made in amazing.  I never would have guessed that one person could have such a positive impact on another’s life, but I have seen it first hand through the student-tutor pairs.  The students are always so excited to see the tutors and the tutors serve as positive role models in the students’ lives. 

I hope to take this experience and create a similar environment in my classroom.  I know that teaching will be challenging—not every day will be a good day and there will be times when I will feel like I’m not making a difference.  But with perseverance and the right attitude, I know I will succeed in helping my students. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Student Reflection

by Susannah Koch

After many weeks of filling out applications and getting various medical clearances, I am a volunteer/intern with the language services department at Provena Hospital. I was getting nervous for a while about whether or not everything would get figured out in time for me to get my 28 hours. Now that I have started to help at Provena, I know that I will definitely get all the hours that I need because there is a lot to do. As volunteers/interns, our job is to help the language services department get its feet off the ground with our supervisor Alejandra Coronel. The program is relatively new in terms of having a larger presence in the hospital and making translation services more accessible to patients. It is something that most of us do not have to think about, being able to understand the nurses and doctors taking care of us, but there are numerous people in the Champaign-Urbana area who need the assistance of a translator in order to feel more comfortable with their medical care. There is already an element of stress when a patient or their family comes to the hospital, but we can help alleviate some of that stress by having resources available in languages other than English.

My first day of volunteering I met with Alejandra in her office after running to Provena from my Physics lab that had taken longer than usual. We sat down and she explained the program and what our goal was for the semester and long-term. After learning about what her expectations were and what things I could work on while at home, I filled out some contact information and completed some secretarial tasks in the office. One of our first tasks as a group of volunteers was to translate all of the signs in the hospital into Spanish. I was surprised that this had not already been done, but then I realized the large cost of the additional signs. The following week I compiled a list of medical documents that needed to be updated and then translated into Spanish. I am quickly realizing how much time these simple tasks take and how much of a help it is to have students with less experience helping complete them so that the program is more efficient and can help a larger number of patients. The next big project that we have coming up is helping with a health fair in the Latino community, so we will be busy translating materials for two weeks before the event happens on April 15th.

Although I have not had any contact with patients at the hospital, Alejandra and I talk in Spanish most of the time. Her accent is a bit difficult to understand, but she is helping me get over my “stage-fright” of speaking Spanish with native-speakers. I get very nervous when I need to communicate and speaking conversationally with her has helped me get over some of those nerves. This position is not what I initially expected, but it has opened my eyes to how important language services can be to a growing hospital. 

UIUC: Learn about about Issues Concerning Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia

La Diablada from Photo Vocab: Spanish Word of the Day.
by Ann Abbott

There are so many interesting and important events that are pertinent to Spanish community service learning (CSL) happening on our UIUC campus in the next few weeks.

When we work in the community, it is important to distinguish between Spanish--the language--and Latin American--a geographical construct. We have Latin American immigrants in our local community who are not Hispanic and not Spanish speakers. Rather, they are from indigenous cultures and speak indigenous languages.

That is why I am so interested and excited about the visit and talks by this visiting scholar:

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui
Bolivian sociologist, historian, activist, filmmaker and public intellectual of Aymara descent.

Founding Director of the Andean Oral History Workshop, she is a leading scholar of postcolonialtiy and indigeneity in the Andes. She published the classic, Oppressed but Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles Among the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia, 1910-1980, and numerous essays on subaltern critiques of neoliberalism. A Professor of Sociology a the Universidad Mayor de San Andres in La Paz, she has lectured widely throughout the hemisphere.

Click here to see more information about the events at which she will be speaking:

  1. The Ch'ixi Gaze: Sociology of the Image as a Decolonizing PracticeTuesday, April 17, 2012
    4:00 pm
    Gregory Hall, Rm 319

  2. The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Bolivia and the Government of Evo Morales
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012
    Lucy Ellis Lounge
  3. Allegories of the Andean Fiesta: Screening and Discussion of Silvia Rivera's Films 
    Wednesday, April 18, 2012 
    66 Library

Community Partner Speaking on Campus

by Ann Abbott

It is so important that our community partners have a voice on campus. 

Our community-campus relationships must be mutually beneficial and mutually respectful. In part, we accomplish that by engaging our students in activities that meet a community-identified need. In part, we show our respect when we teach our students to view their community supervisors as experts.

But when we invite them to campus to share their expert voices among our faculty, we are inviting them into our "spaces" for our intellectual and academic benefit.

I'm so happy to see that Deb Hlavna, Co-Director of the Refugee Center, is speaking at a forum on our University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus. Here is the information:

image of Illinois logo
Surviving the Economic Crisis: Latina/o Migrants in the U.S. Heartland
A Forum of faculty, students, and community agencies working with Latina/o migrants
Thursday, April 19th
Levis Faculty Center-Music Room

Intersectional Approaches to Immigrant Health Research
Edna Viruell-Fuentes, Asst. Professor, Latina/o Studies
Strength and Challenges of Latino Families in Central Illinois
Angela Wiley, Assoc. Professor, Human and Community Development
Latinas/os in Champaign County: Current Issues
Deborah Hlavna, Co-Director, East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC)
A Capability Approach to Latina/o Migrants’ Adaptation to the Economic Crisis
Paola León-Ross, PhD Candidate in Social Work Gale Summerfield, Director, WGGP and Assoc. Professor, Human and Community Development Mary Arends-Kuenning, Interim Director, Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies and Assoc. Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Champaign-Urbana: Upcoming Conference on "Responding to Immigrants"

by Ann Abbott

I just received the program schedule for an upcoming conference at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Responding to Immigrants: Bridging Research and Practice to Meet the Needs of immigrants in New Growth Communities. It will be very difficult to decide which sessions to attend because so many of them look interesting.

I will give an hour and a half "how-to" workshop about using service-learning: 

  1. How to establish a community partnership.
  2. How to explicitly connect the academic content to students' work in the community.
  3. How to incorporate structured reflection.
  4. How to assess and maintain your community partnerships.
Do you plan to attend the conference? Are there any points that you think I should cover in the workshop? Leave a comment and let me know. And even if you can't make it to the conference, be sure to check out the many useful links and readings on the project's web site.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

10 Language Magazine Articles Pertinent to Spanish Community Service Learning

Language Magazine is a good resource for all language educators.
by Ann Abbott
I've been a language educator for two decades, but I didn't know about "Language Magazine" until I met one of the women from their booth at the 2011 ACTFL in Denver. Here are some articles that I found of interest.

1. A Day in the Life of a Learner. Although the focus of this piece has nothing to do with Spanish community service learning (CSL), I am very intrigued by the idea of shadowing Spanish CSL students in the classroom and/or in the community. The focus could still be on academic language. Or the focus coud be on any other issue: target language production; communication modes utilized (interpersonal, interpretative, and presentational); professional skills developed; etc.

2. Creating Your Own Space. This article about wikis gives some good suggestions for how a wiki can be used in a language class. Those are good ideas to use as starting points for brainstorming. A wiki saved my life. That's not much of an exaggeration. I use a wiki as the administrative basis of my Spanish CSL courses. With it, students can self-schedule, community partners can edit the information about their organizations, and I can assign students to create or edit information on the wiki for next semester's students. Using a wiki makes delegation possible.

3. Talking in the Library. Have you considered your local public library as a potential community partner? I had never considered using an on-line language-learning system as one component of a CSL ESL tutoring program. On the other hand, could your CSL students do a research project then present their findings in a helpful way to local Spanish-speakers at the public library? Or maybe they could give a class on immigration myths and facts that would be open to all community members.
Spanish CSL textbook.
4. Recognizing the Learner. This article focuses on the cultural differences between education in China and in the US. This is a really good entrée into a discussion about cultural differences in education between the US and Latin American cultures. I cover this in Leccion 6 of Comunidades: Más allá del aula, ¿Sabemos cómo trabajar en la comunidad de manera culturalmente apropriada? But because the differences between Chinese cultures and our own may be more "visible" to students, that can be a good way of leading them to look for more subtle differences in their education-based Spanish CSL work.

5. Teachers Doin' It for Themselves. Is our profession preparing foreign language educators to use CSL? As a pedagogy, CSL seems to be absent from bachelor's degrees that prepare students to be K-12 foreign language teachers. Even in the pedagogy course we use to train the graduate student teaching assistants in our program only introduces CSL because I give a guest lecture on it. So, no, it seems that we are not giving pre-professional training on CSL to our language educators. Therefore, professional development opportunities regarding foreign language CSL are vital. You can't "wing it" in CSL. But you can use CSL enhance your students' learning and reinvigorate your own relationship with the language, culture and teaching itself. Perhaps we need to have a conversation at the national level about what the professional development should look like. This article talks about the importance of professional development for language educators while presenting the advocacy efforts of the NEA and the MLA to transform our profession.

6. Crossing the Cultural Divide. To teach transcultural competence to our students, we must be transculturally competent ourselves. This article puts forth one model of transcultural competence that is not just about national/ethnic cultures, and I find that inspiring. I was also inspired by the anecdote about the teacher who involved her students in a project that resulted in the acquisition of new classroom furniture to replace the broken ones. It made me think about this: how about if my students analyzed the Daily Illini, our campus newspaper, for the use of the i word (illegal). Depending on what they find, perhaps they could write an op-ed educating students about the word and calling on the paper to use the word undocumented instead.

7. Spotlight on Service Learning. The title says it all.

8. Taking Teaching to Task. A very intelligent critique of approaches to language teaching. My favorite quote: " What if instead of teaching Spanish I, II, III, and IV, etc, we teach Spanish for business, Spanish for public services, Spanish for traveling, Spanish for medical professionals, etc." Yes!

9. The Digital N8tives Are Restless. I was especially interested in this article's approach toward hybrid learning, not as face-to-face or on-line but as face-to-face AND on-line. That is what I do in most of my classes. I walk into class, look my students in the eye, and then say, "Turn on your cell phones." Our classes are then a combination of face-to-face and on-line that, I think, makes them a richer learning expeirence.

10. Learning in the Active Voice. Examples of international service learning opportunities.