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Showing posts from March, 2014

Lose the Atlas Complex and Embrace Spanish Community Service Learning

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by Ann Abbott

I'm not going to lie: building, expanding and maintaining a Spanish community service learning program is not easy. 

But it's doable. I did it. Others have done it. 

Many people I meet, though, while genuinely interested in this pedagogy, stop short of actually putting the pieces together. Of getting started.

The Atlas Complex, I've now come to realize, is at least part of the reason people are afraid to take the final step and get the CSL course going.

The Atlas Complex is the belief that many educators have that they, like Atlas, have to carry the entire weight of students' learning on their shoulders. Finkel & Monk explain it very clearly with examples in "Teachers and Learning Groups: Dissolution of the Atlas Complex." Jim Lee and Bill VanPatten start the very first chapter of Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen with an explanation of the Atlas Complex. It's that important. And insidious. Unconscious.

Here are some questions I…

How to Teach ESL in the US or Abroad

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by Ann Abbott
[This post is about how to prepare and find a job teaching English abroad. You might also be interested in reading my post about what to do once you actually get the job and have to start teaching.]

Students often ask me how they can live and work abroad. After a pivotal study-abroad experience they want to return to that country. Or explore a new country. They love languages. They love other cultures. They don't want to step right from college into a "traditional" job.
Here's the latest request for information I received: "I am looking into getting certification to teach English to non-English speaking students. Do you know what certification is needed to be able to teach ESL here in the states and what is required to live and teach English abroad? Is it the TEFL? I am looking into the CELTA, too. There is also a certificate call the TESOL, too. I did a web search, but there seems to be a lot of mis-information out there, too." Because this semest…

Give Your Spanish Community Service Learning Students' Reflections an Authentic, Global Audience

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by Ann Abbott
As much as I love social media, I just can't seem to integrate Twitter fully into my life. 
When I joined Twitter several years ago, I would tweet after each class I taught, summarizing what I had done with students. It was a nice way to share my approach to community service learning (CSL) and to promote my textbook, Comunidades: Más allá del aula. But then I got out of the habit.
At this point, Twitter is a place where I go every couple of weeks to be inspired by others.
I was delighted that Carolina Egúsquiza @cegusquiza reached out to me via Twitter this past week. 
First, she shared the link to my blog and specifically called out how much she liked reading the students' posts:
Blogging can feel kind of lonely. Even though you see the stats and know that people are reading what you post, few people leave comments. You don't get the instant feedback that Facebook or Twitter provide. So this tweet from Carolina meant a lot to me.
Then Carolina reached out a…

Spanish Community Service Learning Students Interpreting at Parent-Teacher Conferences

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by Ann Abbott

Parent-Teacher conferences are a crucial opportunity for families to communicate with the teachers and make concrete plans for their children's academic success. As a parent myself, I sometimes think of parent-teacher conferences as a way for us to influence how the teachers see and interact with our children: they know that behind each of children are two parents who are interested in their children's success, engaged in supporting their success at home, respectful of the teachers' work, and committed to advocating for our children.
Imagine if you couldn't talk to your kids' teachers because you didn't speak the same language.
What information about your child would you miss out on? What consequences might that have for your child? How might you be judged as a parent?
Each semester, several of my students help at Central High School's parent-teacher conference. It's really important that someone be there to help bridge the language gap.
Here&#…

What's the Value of Learning a Foreign Language in College?

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by Ann Abbott

Some people complain about Facebook and say, "I don't care what the people I went to high school with had for lunch."

Facebook is so compelling for me because I have a wonderful group of friends who entertain and educate me with their posts. Because they are wonderful thinkers and conversationalists in real life, this also transfers over to their Facebook interactions.

Valerie Wilhite is one of my favorite Facebook friends. We were both graduate students at the University of Illinois, and she shares her passions for language, cultures, literatures and histories with the students of the University of Oregon. (I highly encourage you to read Valerie's bio; she tells wonderful stories about the powers of language, cultures and people.)

A few days ago, she posted this Freakonomics podcast "Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?"


One way to react to the feedback is to simply dismiss the notion of assigning economic value to everything.
Should w…

Student Reflection: Kelsey Marquez

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by Kelsey Marquez
When people asked me what my native language is, I didn’t always know how to respond. My parents are Mexican immigrants and do not speak English very well. They speak to me in Spanish but my two older sisters have always spoken to me in English. When I first started school, my mom enrolled me in an English-only kindergarten class. Up until college, I had never taken a Spanish class. Therefore, my English was a lot better than my Spanish, even though I could speak both fluently. But when it came down to my which one was my native language, wouldn’t it be the one that I knew best (English)?
When I came to the University and began taking Spanish classes, I was always referred to as the “native speaker”. This was interesting to me because up until then, I considered myself a native English speaker. As I took more and more Spanish/ language classes, I realized that I did not need to know everything about a language in order to call it my native language. In fact, no one k…

How To Translate a Community Partner's Document in the Classroom

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by Ann Abbott

Translating gives me a headache.

It's too hard. I never feel sure of myself. And even though I know that according to the rules you're supposed to translate from your second language (Spanish or Italian, for me) into your first language (English, for me), I also know that what our community needs desperately are translations from English to Spanish.

My colleague Prof. Anna María Escobar received a request from a community organization for a translation. She asked if my students might be able to do it. Normally I would have said no, but instead I planned the lesson below.

Note: One of my students (Cassie Grimm) is involved with a student start-up called StudyCloud. I love to support student entrepreneurs, so this semester I am using StudyCloud as my course management system. As you'll see from the screen shots below, it works like Facebook in many ways and provides a much more visually-engaging learning experience than Blackboard.

#1. First I had students explore …

Student Reflection: Matt Campion

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by Matt Campion


Hola!! My name is Matt Campion, and I am senior in LAS. I am graduating in May with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. I took Spanish for four years in high school, and at the time, felt that was adequate. However, upon coming to the University of Illinois, I decided that I was still very interested in Spanish and felt that it would be a very useful language to continue learning. Beginning in the fall of my sophomore year, I started the process of getting my Spanish minor beginning with Spanish 141. Twenty-four Spanish credits later, I have greatly improved my ability to understand and speak the Spanish language. It wasn’t until my junior year when I really decided to get serious about Spanish and applied to study abroad in Costa Rica for a month in the summer. Even with all the classes I had been taking, I really wanted to immerse myself in a culture that only spoke Spanish. I felt this would be the best way to learn and experience the language. My m…

Student Reflection: Nicole Mathes

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by Nicole Mathes
An Intimidated Spanish Speaker  
My name is Nicole and I am a senior at the University of Illinois, double-majoring in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Communication. Currently I work on campus in the office of admissions as an Illinois Student Admissions Representative (ISTAR) and at Car Pool, a “rent-a-car” for faculty members. I am also heavily involved with research in both the Department of Psychology and the Department of Communication. In my psychology lab, we look at the cognitive development of children ages 3.5-8 by playing “games” with them and coding their responses. In my communication research team, we look at the Facebooks of high school students and their identity development. My experiences at the University of Illinois have led me to further my education and pursue a career as doctor of school psychology.
I was first exposed to Spanish when I was in sixth grade. At first, I was a bit reluctant to learn the language; I had been taking afterschool F…

Teaching Spanish Community Service Learning Students How to Participate in the Political Process

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by Ann Abbott

My "Spanish in the Community" students took their midterm exam last week, and now I am framing the second half of the semester in a slightly different way. I want to build a wider perspective into the class (looking at local, regional, national, and global dimensions of immigration) and most importantly:
show students that the knowledge we gain in classes (and life) can be put to use to do something.So here's how today's class was structured. I shared  Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Refugee Rights' press release about Senator Dirk Durbin's Call for Administrative Relief from Deportations, and asked students to simply read it.Unless you are fully steeped in immigration reform and the issues that surround it, the press release raises questions. So I put students into pairs and told them to generate a list of at least ten questions they had about the information in the press release. I chose the number ten because that forces you to go beyond the m…

The Truth Nobody Told You about Speaking Spanish

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My "Spanish in the Community" students wrote their first reflective essay, and Justin Sandler focused his on what it's really like to learn Spanish and communicate with native-speakers. I was struck by his insightful understanding of what our language education took years to understand: communication, not perfection is the key. I asked Justin if I could share his essay, and he graciously agreed. He translated it to English and made some changes here to make it less about his specific experiences doing community service learning, and more about what it really means to use a language to construct understanding between two individuals, two cultures. --Ann

The Truth Nobody Told You about Speaking Spanish by Justin Sandler
It has consistently interested me that so many students say that they can understand Spanish and know a lot of vocabulary and grammar, yet they are so afraid to speak it. Often times these types of students are even Spanish minors and majors.  I feel that stu…