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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.

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