Friday, June 28, 2013

Student Spotlight: Melissa Barbier

Melissa Barbier, former Spanish commuinity service learning student.
by Ann Abbott

Some students of Spanish know that they want to become high school Spanish teachers and follow the BAT program

Other students, however, never imagined that they would be interested in teaching, and yet their experiences in school settings during their Spanish community service learning work makes them change their mind.

Read about Melissa Barbier's experience. She is now teaching and doing all the advocacy that she wanted to do.

"I had SPAN 232 Spanish in the Community, Fall 2011. (I miss it so much). My experience was at Leal, tutoring students and working a little in a Spanish Bilingual classroom. During this experience, I was able to see how important it is to make connections with students outside of the classroom. I was able to see some of the struggles that bilingual students have in and out of the classroom. I also learned a lot in the course about what difficulties Spanish-speaking people have in our society, from the troubles they might have getting into the country, to the stereotypes and discrimination that they face - for citizens and undocumented citizens. This class, in conjunction with my teaching placement in a 3rd grade bilingual classroom, made me realize that I feel really strongly about the rights of Spanish-speaking citizens, particularly children. I am now an advocate for equity and quality education that encourages bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism for all Spanish-speaking students. I think it is so important for those students to keep their own culture and language while also learning English and the culture here.

"I would love for other Spanish students to contact me about anything from studying abroad to education to bilingual education and anything else:!"

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is the Value of a Spanish Community Service Learning Course...after It Is Over?

Whatever profession you enter, Spanish community service learning will serve you well.
by Ann Abbott

We measure the success of university courses by students' grades, student course evaluations, and other measures that we take during the semester.

But Spanish community service learning courses are unique. While the students might eventually forget what is the difference between a refugee and an asylee (the content of the course), they often take away much more than just bits and pieces of knowledge. Students tell me that the courses give them more confidence in their ability to speak Spanish with native speakers. More awareness about other people's perspectives. Specifically, the immigrant experience. The students carry with them experiences that they use when an interviewer asks them to talk about how they handle challenges, working on teams, working with multicultural groups, taking a leadership role, making a mistake and recovering from it. 

I received this message from a former student who, years after her Spanish CSL course with me, still felt the impact of the course.

"I hope all is well and has been well with you over the past couple of years. I am not sure if you recognize my name or not, but I was a former student of yours and graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009. I took a few courses with you and most notably participated in your Spanish and Illinois – community-based learning curriculum. During my senior year, you also supervised my Spanish Honors Thesis which was focused primarily on the community-based learning model as well. I cannot even begin to tell you how important this program has been for me in my career path. I have interned at a law firm for 6 years now and have been able to assist with a variety of tasks involving Spanish speaking. Many people comment that speaking Spanish in everyday life makes them nervous if they do not do it all the time. However, this fear does not exist in me because of the work I did at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. The children, environment, and experiences are things that I will never forget. I want to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for your guidance throughout that process and learning. While these sentiments were not the reason for my emailing you today, I felt I wanted to share anyways! I always think about my work in your classes and at Booker T. Washington, as well."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Student Spotlight: Liz (Girten) White

Liz (Girten) White, when she graduated from UIUC.
by Ann Abbott

I say it over and over again: Spanish community service learning courses provide students with unique opportunities to develop valuable professional skills.

But when former students say it, I think current students really listen.

So, listen to what one of my fabulous former students, Liz Girten White, has to say about it.

"I reached out to you a few months ago letting you know that I was looking for a new job and I just wanted to let you know that as of November 28th I have been the new HR Generalist at creative werks! It is a candy manufacturing company in the Chicago suburbs. I love my new job and the best part is, I get to use my Spanish on a daily basis. I have been in charge of payroll audits and analysis, benefit updates and distribution, and recruiting. My bilingual skills have been a big help since we have such an international staff, with most of our employees coming from Spanish speaking countries. I wanted to message you first of all to say thank you so very much for all your help! I also wanted to encourage all your current students, because I know that the job market is very competitive right now. The ability to communicate in Spanish, along with the volunteer work I have done over the years, gave me a huge advantage in my job search. Your classes gave me the skills I needed to successfully land a new job, even though it was in a field outside of my degree. I hope this letter finds you well! I am sure you are busy getting ready for the new semester, but I wanted to update you and share the good news."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Student Spotlight: Hanna Solecka

by Ann Abbott

Students of Spanish, I always say, know that they love the language, but they don't know how to integrate it into their lives and into their careers.

Now, though, I have a YouTube channel that features video interviews with former students of Spanish. They tell what they're doing now, explain how they use Spanish and give advice to current students. My hope is that the alumni in the videos will serve as examples to current students about directions they could take with their Spanish, too. It's also a way to network: if you're a current student of Spanish at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I am positive that the alums in these videos would be happy for you to contact them.

One of the first students I interviewed was Hanna Solecka. So many of my students want to go to (or return to) Spain after they graduate. Hanna did just that, and the video above describes how she did that. The email below describes her time there. (In other videos, Hannah talks about her Spanish classesdescribes her current studies in a Masters in International Relations and Affairs and gives advice to current students of Spanish.

I encourage all students to consider following Hanna's path--investing some time into ESL training and then finding a job in a Spanish-speaking country.


"Hola Ann!

"I've officially completed my first 2 weeks of teaching and it has been challenging, but really great! The first week was a complete shock to the system. I met so many new students and parents every day that by Wednesday, I couldn't remember who I'd met on Monday. But, now that the time table has been set, I feel much more relaxed and confident that I'll be able to do the job.

"I teach a total of 24 hours/week, Monday through Friday. Friday is nice because it's a short day- I only teach from 5 to 7! My classes are all age ranges and levels. The youngest I teach are 7 and the oldest are adults, but I have classes of ten, eleven, and thirteen to fifteen year olds as well. I also have two private one-on-one sessions. The best classes are my 7 and 9 year olds, which was a surprise to me! They are very well behaved, eager to learn, and, in general, a pleasure to teach. My adults are wonderful too. There are only 6 of them, which makes the class intimate and productive. My worst students are my 10 year olds who are at a pre-intermediate level of English. They clearly don't want to be in class and make no effort to pay attention. It's very frustrating. The also don't know basic grammar terms like "noun", "verb" and "adjective" so it's slow going right now. But, hopefully, this situation will improve as the school year goes on.

"The school itself is very nice. Colorful, well stocked with supplies, has a small library and it has all the newest technology like a computer for each teacher, a new photocopier, and interactive white boards in all the classrooms. My bosses are efficient people who are always ready to help you out if you have a problem, which is reassuring.

"Life in Lucena is like a dream. Right now, it's about 80 degrees outside, full sun, and there's a nice breeze. The people who live in Lucena are all very friendly and love to engage you in conversation in places like the grocery store and various bars/restaurants. As a result, I'm getting loads of practice in Spanish, which is great! Cost of living here is pretty cheap. For my 3 bedroom, 1 and a half bath, fully furnished apartment, a stone's throw from the city center, that I share with a fellow teacher, I pay 150 euro. So, 300 euro all together. That's crazy! I was paying more for a smaller apartment on campus that wasn't near Green St. I'm definitely loving all the Spanish food. The jamon serrano and cheese here are wonderful. I've also sampled some traditional Spanish dishes that are quickly becoming favorites of mine, such as salmorejo and fried eggplant with honey sauce. I've been traveling some too. Yesterday, three of us went to Malaga for the day. We went to the Picasso museum and then spent some time at the beach. Very nice and relaxing. Have plans to go to Cordoba next week and Barcelona at the end of the month when we have a long holiday over Halloween and All Saints Day.

"Though my job is tiring at times, I'm loving it here and am so happy I made the decision to teach English for a year! Besides teaching and planning, I'm also finishing up graduate school applications. It's a long and tedious process, but I hope it'll prove fruitful. I'm looking to get a Masters in International Relations with a focus in Latin American educational development at either Georgetown, Syracuse, Columbia in NY, or Johns Hopkins next year."

Student Spotlight: Amy Lewensky

Amy Lewensky, former Spanish community service learning student
by Ann Abbott

For several years, several years ago, I coordinated paid summer internships for students who had taken my Spanish community service learning courses and proven to have good language skills, excellent transcultural competence and an overall entrepreneurial mindset. Unfortunately those internships ended when the funding ended.

However, the community organizations are still there. Current students who are truly entrepreneurial might be able to create their own internship.

In fact, one of my former interns (and one of my favorite people in the world), Amy Lewensky, wrote about how her first summer internship, paid through my program, later turned into an internship and job offer that I had absolutely no part of.

So read Amy's description of her experiences, and see what you can make happen for yourself!

"As an intern working at Central States SER, I was involved in many of the organization’s operations.  These included teaching ESL and GED classes, practicing interview skills with job seekers, and even being a student of the basic computer skills course taught in Spanish.  From this well-rounded experience doing a little bit of everything, I learned more about SER’s mission and its programs.  Specifically, my involvement as a GED tutor in the Youth Empowered to Succeed program helped me realize that I wanted to become a teacher.  Sadly the summer ended; but I continued to keep in contact with the people at SER.  Feeling content and impressed with my contribution to their organization last summer; they secured me a paid position for the next summer, this time as one of their own employees.  My manager felt that I found my calling with the Youth Program and hired me as the summer GED instructor for a class of 20 teenagers.  When I explained to him that I was certainly not qualified for that type of position (it called for a completion of a bachelor’s degree and teaching experience or coursework in education/curriculum), he simply stated, “I’m hiring you because you can’t get much better quality.”  Another summer seemed to fly by and sooner or later the emails started coming from my coworkers at SER asking when I was graduating.  A little later, I opened an email that read “May 12th, that’s when you can start.”  SER was offering me a full-time job.  Although this time I had to turn down the offer, having plans to continue with my graduate degree, I had an enormous sense of accomplishment.  I feel that SER probably feels the same way; making sure that I know I will always have a place there, where they will be ready to welcome me back with open arms."

Student Spotlight: Katherine Shultz

Katherine Shultz did her Spanish CSL work at Garden Hills Elementary School.
It is not infrequent that our Spanish students are also pre-med. It's a good combination. It brings together the sciences and the humanities. It hones students' transcultural compentence--something that all medical school programs are interested in. And it gives you another language in which to speak to your patients.
  • Learned about and how to communicate/interact with a diverse group of people in the community. Multicultural competency is important as all demographic need medical care.
  • Enhanced problem solving skills. To effectively teach, I had to come up with fun and engaging activities. When an activity didn't work successfully, I had to modify or come up with an alternative in order help the students learn.
  •  Leadership/ responsibility. I learned how to lead a group of 5-6 students (with short attention spans) in sessions on topics such as the alphabet, writing their names, and basic words in English. I also was in charge of supervising individual and group reading for 20 min per day. This allowed the teacher to work on grading or student progress reports. 
  • The ability to reflect and learn from experiences. Writing about my experience at Garden Hills during the exercises at the beginning of class and in essays taught me to think about the significance of volunteering and learn about myself in the process. The reflections throughout class taught me to think critically about my work, reflect about my writing process and identify areas I was strong in and areas in which I struggled."

by Ann Abbott

Spanish community service learing (CSL) gives pre-med students another advantage: real-world experience engaging with Spanish-speakers to solve problems and build relationships.

That is what Katherine Shultz did, and I it is, I hope, something that will set her apart in her med school applications.

If you are studying Spanish and planning to apply to medical school, take notice of how Katherine thoughtfully connects her Spanish CSL experiences with the qualities that medical schools look for.

Katherine's own words:

"Community Service Learning (CSL) Information
"I was at Garden Hills Elementary School in a kindergarten bilingual classroom. My main task was to help with reading and writing particularly with the four students who were struggling the most in order to give them more one on one time. It was extremely rewarding to see them progress over the course of the semester working with them twice a week. Also, working with Spanish speaking kindergarteners made me realize that even if I don’t conjugate verbs correctly or use correct grammar that I can still communicate and teach effectively (Improved my confidence).

"Other Information
What did you learn from the course and/or your CSL work that is applicable to the program or job to which you are applying?
Finally, Katherine also used her Spanish CSL experiences to demonstrate her creativity (below). I particularly want to point how how, at the very end, she credits the creativity of the teachers as well, showing that she is respectful, aware of others' talents and is part of a community of creative educators. That shows real maturity!

"I would say I have used my creativity the most while volunteering in a Spanish bilingual kindergarten classroom with 27 Spanish-speaking students.

"Attempting to teach 5-year old children that only speak Spanish can be quite a challenge when you are not fluent in the language. It takes quite a bit of creativity with words and with activities to get meanings and concepts across. Vocabulary was often a challenge for me especially when coupled with presenting concepts in a foreign language. It was often necessary for me to change the wording of an idea I had in English in order to be able to communicate. This was necessary for example when attempting to explain how to use the alphabet to sound out a word. By rewording and explaining, I was able to get my original point across to the group of students I worked with.

"While volunteering in this classroom, I saw major improvements in the student’s reading capabilities. I would use techniques from the teacher that they were responding well to as well as trying new activities based on my own past in Spanish course work to improve areas in which they were not progressing. I believe that my presence and interaction with the students gave more individualized instruction and the extra personal attention that they needed to learn in such a large classroom setting. My creative approach toward activities really helped to make a difference in some of the children’s progressions.

"Through my actions, I was able to bring about learning in these children. This is an example of my definition of creativity. I was able to overcome challenges in speaking as well as was able to come up with effective lessons to incorporate concepts in an easy and fun way to learn due to being creative. It is because of creativity from myself as well as from all teachers that these students are able to learn in an effective, stimulating and enjoyable environment."

What can you use from Katherine's examples to help you build solid, important connections between your Spanish CSL experiences and your plans for medical school?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Simple Tips for Academic Cover Letters

Reading academic job applications on-line has slightly changed the rules for how to present your academic job application materials.
Reading cover letters on the computer creates different expectations of the applicants than applications you submit in hard copies.
by Ann Abbott

I have read many cover letters for academic jobs, including those for non-tenure line teaching jobs and academic administrative jobs. I'd like to share a few tips. Some of them will seem very obvious. Others I think you can only know when you have been on the hiring side of things.

1. Don't use bullet points in your cover letter. In an academic setting you have to show that you can put your thoughts together into cohesive paragraphs. In my experience, bullet points in a cover letter usually indicate poor writing and lazy thinking. Use judiciously, if at all.

2. Name your documents wisely. Many, maybe most, academic job searches are conducted online nowadays. Some things that never would have mattered before, now matter. The search committee will see how you have named your documents. This file--"applicationfinalversion.doc"--gives a bad impression. "Cover letter," is better because it tells me exactly what to expect when I open that document. "Cover Letter Abbott" is even better because it helps me put all the pieces together--type of document and from whom--before I even open the document.

3. Create and upload one pdf. This is more of an idea for you to toy around with than a firm to-do. Reading all the documents from all the applicants for a search (and there are usually many, maybe even hundreds) requires a lot of clicks. If you can save me the bother of opening up a lot of separate documents, I will appreciate it. However, I do see the advantage of the focus that separate files brings. If at all possible, you might upload everything as separate files and then create a combined file that you name "All Application Materials Abbott" and upload.

4. Make your cover letter do the search committee's work for them. In other words, a cover letter that maps neatly over the job ad makes the search committee's work easier. Let me explain. The search committee is going to be using a review criteria because the law stipulates that you have to compare everyone in the same manner and that you have to follow the criteria that you stated in your job ad. So the search committee is going to read your letter and at the same time be looking at a form and ticking off some boxes or assigning a rating (1, 2, 3) alongside each criteria. If your cover letter jumps all over the place or leaves gaps, then the committee members will need to spend extra time looking in other documents to try to fill in the gaps. Why make them do that? For example, if the job ad says that you need five years experience teaching at the college level, a simple phrase like, "In my ten years of teaching at the University of X,..." makes ticking off that box so much easier. (However, this does not mean that search committee members don't read all your materials and won't catch any misrepresentations of the facts. They do and they will.)

5. Use two pages. In the corporate world, the advice says that cover letters should never exceed one page. In the academic world, you need more than that. Up to two pages is fine--as long as you are using that space to  map out your qualifications against the job ad and using specific examples to showcase your expertise.

I hope this information will be helpful to some of you!
Update: This piece offers specific wording in a long list of points that should be included in a cover letter. It advocates writing a cover letter of two and a half pages. I said to write two pages, and that was mostly a warning against people who think that a cover letter should only be one page. As a frequent reader of cover letters, I still think that two pages is enough and all I want to see/read.

Spanish Community Service Learning and Issues of Accessibility

This image shows the reader how to add alt text to images in Blogger.
This screen capture shows how to add alt-text to the images you use in Power Point.

by Ann Abbott

I chair a campus sub-committee on Information Technology and Engagement, and this past year has been a whirlwind of learning through stimulating dialogues and expert presentations. This past week, we were lucky to have Brad Hedrick, Director of DRES, give a presentation about accessibility to our committee. Here are a few of the points I took away from his presentation, simple things that you and I can do:
  • In documents, including Word, use headings so that screen readers can make sense of the information.
  • In videos, go ahead and use the automatic captioning in YouTube but always double-check it and clean it up. It never gets it 100% correct.
  • In PowerPoints (and any document with images), write the description of the image and most importantly, the meaning that you want it to convey. 
These are some simple habits we can all form ourselves. We can also instill them in our students in order to benefit an ever-growing group of people with accessibility issues. Why not simply require that all assignments that students turn in to you use headings and alt text? You'll make accesibility something that students think about, and improve their learning. For example, writing good alt text for images makes you really think about why you have included that image and the meaning you intend for it to convey. (You can't just lazily put in a pretty picture.)

In foreign-language community service learning (CSL), there are a few more issues to consider:
  • Many CSL projects include deliverables that are documents, web pages, blog posts, Power Point presentations, etc. CSL projects, especially, should be cognizant of the special needs communities and make our information accessible to them.
  • By making our information accessible in Spanish, we are breaking down another barrier: language accessibility for people who are not fluent English speakers.
  • When providing information to recent immigrant communities, some of those community members might have low literacy levels in their first language and might benefit from screen reading because of that.
Here are some more reasons to think about accessibility, from my friend and colleague, Colleen Cook: "It makes a big difference for a number of audiences- not just students that need it for accessibility reasons. It also supports learners with diverse learning styles, and it's very popular for international audiences still becoming more familiar with the English language. Not to mention the benefits when harvesting the metadata to quickly search and find terms to review. Very happy to have you on board, Ann!"

Finally, I realized that I couldn't add a picture to this blog post without creating some alt text for it. But I didn't know how to do that! I clicked around without success. I googled, "How to create alt text in Blogger" and came up with these answers:
  • Click on the picture.
  • Click on "Properties."
  • Type in the image's title text and alt text.