Monday, May 7, 2012

Comunidades Activity Teaches Services Learning Students a "Headline" Skill

My students' thank-you notes, ready to send to our community partners.
by Ann Abbott

I recently read this article about the importance of writing a follow-up note after a job interview.  Basically, the conclusion is that if you do not send a thank you message, you will not get the job.

I'm happy to say that my Spanish community service learning (CSL) textbook, Comunidades: Más allá del aula, includes an activity in the very last Lección that requires students to write a thank you note to their supervisors in the community. There are specific instructions about what information to include, because I found over the years that students did not always know what made a compelling note. They need to include specific details to support an over-arching statement of what they have learned by working at the organization. Not only is this professionally important, it is also culturally important. 

I always tell students that in most contexts in Hispanic cultures, it is very important to both say hello and then goodbye to everyone in the room, the office or the home. Students nod as if this information was perfectly obvious. Yet if they actually observed their own behavior or that of their friends, they would probably find that they do not always do this. For example, many people from Hispanic cultures who live in the United States note with surprise that when their children´s friends come to their house to visit, they sometimes knock on the door, go off to play with their kids and never say hello or even look the adults in the eye. With their thank you notes, students are in effect ¨saying goodbye.¨

Furthermore, I would say that people in Latino cultures tend to be more ¨detallista¨ than the majority of people from the U.S. Sending a handwritten note card is a ¨detalle¨ that sends an important message of respect and attention.

So I was very pleased when I received this message the other day from one of our community partners:

"Hi Ann-
It was a pleasure meeting your students on campus for their orientations and then seeing them come to Central. Several stopped by to say hello to me which I really appreciated! Having them write personal notes is so appreciated and a wonderful skill for them to use as they enter their prospective jobs."

And another message:

"I have enjoyed working with your students all semester long. Honestly, I think they’re the best batch we’ve had so far! All very smart, helpful and respectful. I had a blast reading all the thank you letters…I will be putting them up in my classroom so the students can read them too. I also look forward to another great group of tutors from you next fall!"

Spanish CSL is an opportunity to teach our students about translingual and transcultural competence. Writing thank you notes is an important part of working in the Latino community in culturally appropriate ways.

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