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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Do Your Spanish Community Service Learning Students Want to Ask Their Professors?

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My former "Spanish in the Community" students during a small-group discussion in class.
by Ann Abbott

One of the student teams in my "Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship" course is preparing materials to present at two upcoming poster sessions: The Public Engagement Symposium and the Service-Learning & Social Entrepreneurship Showcase.

It was interesting to see the questions that one student, Grace Larsen, from that group posed to another instructor of "Spanish in the Community" and me. Here are her questions and my answers.

-What do you feel is unique about this class in comparison with other classes you have taught or taken?
The community service learning makes the course unique. In my opinion, the consequence of that CSL component is that I see a lot of growth in most students. Of course students grow and learn in all Spanish courses, but I have observed that students increase both their confidence in speaking Spanish and they become aware of issues involving immigration that either they had never considered before or that had been "abstract" until this course.

- In a couple sentences, what do you see as the main difference between Span 322 and 232?
The structure of the courses is the same, but the content is different. In SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community," students use a textbook "Comunidades: Mas alla del aula" which is an introduction to Spanish CSL, ways to work effectively with community partners and issues regarding Latino immigration in the US. In other words, it's an introduction to several pertinent topics. In SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" the content of the course focuses solely on social entrepreneurship. Once we get the basic definitions down, the course is really about looking at many different examples of non-profit organizations that generate their own income and offer linguistically and culturally appropriate programming.

- What are some of the positive effects you have seen on your students?
Some students report that their experiences in the community have influenced their career choices. Some students report that their views on US immigration policy change after taking the course. Almost all students seem to increase their self confidence in speaking Spanish. I think it gives some students a chance to take on real responsibilities with the community partner and develop leadership skills. Many students continue to work with their community partner even after the course is over. Of course there are always some students who seem to just take the course for credit, work in the community because they have to and not grow much at all. But you never know, sometimes the change in a student can take place later.

-From your perspective, what helps a student get the most out of these classes?
Attendance! This isn't the kind of course where you can read the book, get the notes and take the test. The essence of the course is in our discussions during class, the small group work with classmates during class, the examples that we look at on-line in class. And of course, giving 100% in your CSL work. It's natural to be nervous at the beginning, but it's important to let go of that as soon as possible. Strike up conversations with people in Spanish. Suggest work projects that you would like to tackle in the organization. Soak it all up. Then, at the end, evaluate what you have done and learned in the class and use that information in your job search materials and/or applications to graduate school. Your bilingual work in a professional setting can really set you apart from other candidates.

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