Monday, September 16, 2013

How Students Can Choose the Textbook Chapters They Want to Cover in a Semester

by Ann Abbott

I´m teaching Business Spanish this semester, and it feels like I'm teaching two different courses in one. First, all my students are working in teams as social media marketing consultants for a real-life client. Secondly, I still want to cover some of the fundamentals of a traditional Business Spanish course.

Exito comercial is the go-to book for any Business Spanish course. But it's a monster! There is so much content, that even if you are not also teaching social media marketing (was I crazy?), you would still need to be selective about the content that you cover in one semester.

I asked students to select the chapters that they want to cover, following the set of activities in the pictures below. If you'd like a pdf of the lesson plan, just e-mail me (, and I will send it to you.

Tally results below the pictures.

Top 4 chapters
Bottom 4 chapters ("La empresa" received the fewest votes of all.)

You might have different results with your students, but I found this very interesting. It gives us insight into what interests and does not interest students. I would not have predicted these results. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Example of the Long-Term Impacts of Spanish Community Service Learning

Seeing your students succeed is a true pleasure. Today I received an e-mail from a former student who just accepted a job offer. I was a reference for her. The company was eager to hire her before she accepted an offer from anyone else. When I spoke glowingly of her, I was simply confirming the impression the company had already formed of her. I can honestly say that everything they wanted her for were qualities that I had already seen when she was my student in my Spanish course on social entrepreneurship that involves community service learning.

And here's the kicker: she was my student seven and a half years ago.

7 1/2 years. 

Seven and half years later, she still remembers what we did in that course. She still remembers the 1-page business plan assignment. She still remembers her work in the community--in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago.

Of course, I'm not saying my course made her successful. I am saying, though, that this kind of course reveals talents that are never put to use in traditional classes. It shows students in a different light. It lets students develop different "muscles." It lets the professor (who will eventually become a recommendation letter writer) see more facets of the student.

Just read her note, and you will get a sense of how long out Spanish community service learning's effects can be.
Dear Ann,
 I received and accepted a job offer today for ContextMedia, a company providing healthcare education. Thank you for your recommendation! I'm beyond excited about this opportunity and because it's a small company growing rapidly I'm looking forward to putting my entrepreneurial spirit in action!
 So many aspects of this company caught my attention. A few I want to share with you! First, from my experience working with so many groups of people (esp. Spanish speakers/Latinos) they will consider me a valued resource in making content culturally relevant to patients. This interests me so much! They want my opinion! Also, they (like you) totally understand media/technology's role in education, up to making it personalized and all. It will be very cool to be a part of the innovation process and product development.
 Ann, the experiences that I had as a student in your class and assisting with the internship program were so valuable and something I think about a lot. The excitement I feel now reminds me of the way I felt as a student in Spanish for Business coming up with my One Page Business plan, a bilingual literacy having gone through higher ed courses in Education plus teaching experience, I'm sure I would change it a lot... BUT I loved the idea and loved being an entrepreneur because I was passionate about education and I was passionate about understanding people and culture. I'm back at that happy place again.
 Katie, the HR manager, shared a few things with me about your conversation. It feels wonderful to have someone that I admire so much speak so highly of me. I'm grateful and I appreciate you Ann!
 She's especially talented, yes. And this is what her new bosses tweeted about her, right after her interview.

Rishi Shah @RishiShah10 Sep
I loved a candidate so much today I walked out and hugged our talent manager. For real :) #theyAREoutthere #dontsettle

Shradha Agarwal @shr4dha10 Sep
My biggest high in life = meeting amazing candidates I feel like hiring on the spot and bringing into our @contextmediainc family!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing a Mission Statement for the Spanish and Portuguese Language Programs

by Ann Abbott
Brenden Carollo started the ball rolling, and by writing it on the board we were able to brainstorm and edit efficiently.
In my role as Director of Undergraduate Studies, I have the privilege of working with a team of people who all have unique and very important perspectives about our students.

  • Melanie Waters directs the very first language courses that most students take. In many ways, she holds the key to the first impressions we make on students. She is also key in training our TAs so that they provide excellent teaching to students in whatever course they eventually teach.
  • Brenden Carollo directs the fourth-semester courses, when students have choices. They can take a grammar-based course or a Spanish in the Professions course. In many ways, he holds the key to helping students decide if they will continue with Spanish or not.
  • Florencia Henshaw stepped into the new role of coordinating all the "skills" courses for our majors and minors--Reading, Review of Grammar, Oral Spanish and Composition. She has a lot (!) of work, but by overseeing all these courses she can see how they work together (or not!) to build a foundation of language proficiency and cultural knowledge that is necessary for higher-level courses. 
  • Beth Chasco is the Spanish advisor, so she can zoom in to see what particular areas are troublesome for students and zoom out to see how the entire major or minor hangs together.
  • Nola Senna runs the Portuguese language program. She has insights into why students study languages other than Spanish and why some students decide to study both Spanish and Portuguese. Now that we are working together as a team, we hope that students will also see Spanish and Portuguese as a "team" of languages that will serve them well.
Together, I think that we can make the learning experience for our students more seamless, efficient and friendly.

Still, we haven't worked together as a team until this semester. So today's meeting was dedicated to developing a mission statement. In the picture above you can see what we ended up with after about 15-20 minutes. We'll take a break from it, get some distance and revisit it later. 

One thing that came out of our discussion is the question of who will read the mission statement? We will! We are articulating who we are, what we do, why we do it. We still have work to do on the mission statement, but we needed to find out who we are together. What unites us. Who we are working for--the students.

What is your language program's mission statement? Why do you do what you do? Do you work as a team, everybody rowing in the same direction?

Small Touches Have Big Impact When Promoting Your Language Programs

Creating eye-catching informational displays is very important.
by Ann Abbott

I am so happy about everything that I am learning from my friends and colleagues in the less commonly taught languages. Today they showed me the power of creating displays that capture students' attention.

As I walked through the lobby of our Foreign Languages Building earlier today, I saw tables set up with lots of flyers, suckers, chocolates and signs that said things like: "Take a flyer, take a piece of candy." There were at least 100 pieces of candy lying on the tables. The flyers were colorful, arranged in neat stacks, displayed at curious angles and skirted the entire table. There was no one manning the booth at the time, but the table was so intriguing that I wanted to go look at their information, even though I am not a student.

Later in the day when I passed by, Mithilesh Mishra who teaches Hindi was behind the booth, talking to many students who were surrounding the booth. The pictures here don't capture the number of students who were there, and only about half of the candy is still sitting on the table.

The display worked! Mithilesh and others were promoting their winter study-abroad courses, and they got a lot of student interest.
What could you do in the lobby of your building to capture students' attention? How can you promote your programs in very visible ways? What is eye-catching in person and what is eye-catching on-line?

Help at the Parent Teacher Conferences at Central High School

Our students have the language skills and cultural know-how to really help our community members.
by Ann Abbott

I just received another e-mail from the administrative staff at a local school, showing how much our students' Spanish skills are needed in the community.

Let's help them out again this semester!
We are once again in need of volunteers to help with Spanish translating during our parent teacher conferences next month.  Last semester your student’s help was a godsend.

I am hoping you can help us out again this semester?  Our conferences are Thursday, October 24th from 5:00pm to 8:00pm and Friday, October 25th from 8:00am to 12:00pm.  If you know of anyone that might be interested in helping, could you please have them email me at

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can send my way.
Joan I. Strater
Main Office Secretary
Champaign Central High School
(217) 351-3911
(217) 351-3919 Fax

Community Partner Relationships: An Acknowledgement of Spanish Students' Impact

Have you communicated with your community partners lately?
by Ann Abbott

One of the volunteer coordinators at a local school with whom I have worked for many years is handing over her duties at that school to a new coordinator. I sent her a message wishing her well in her new role and thanking her for everything that she has done to help both me and my students over the years.

Her reply:
 Thanks you for the kind words.  I will miss working with you and your students!  What a blessing you all have been to our bilingual students and teachers.   You were the first group of volunteers I was fortunate enough to work with, and you're still my favorite.
 Take care,  
When we do Spanish community service learning, we fill real community-identified needs. Our work is important, in big and small ways.

Communication is the key to successful community-campus partnerships. Communicate often with your partners. Communicate in order to celebrate good things. Communicate so that everyone is in the loop about challenges, too. Communicate because that is how we form and maintain relationships.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Career Coaching for Foreign Language Students: Our second "Mi Carrera" workshop for Fall 2013

Dr. Darcy Lear will help you highlight the extremely valuable skills that your Spanish major gave you but that often remain hidden in students' resumes, cover letters and interview answers.
by Ann Abbott

Dr. Darcy Lear will be a special guest speaker at our "Mi Carrera" series on Wednesday, September 18 at 4:00 in the Lucy Ellis Lounge of the Foreign Languages Building at the Unversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. You can read her blog to get lots of in-depth advice about how to highlight your language skills and cultural-know how. But if you come to the workshop, you will get personalized advice based on your own study-abroad experience, coursework, community service learning, business Spanish coursework and all other pertinent experiences. Freshman or senior, it's never too early or too late to position yourself to stand out in the crowded job market.