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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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

Students formulated their own questions, then answered them.
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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 most obvious questions and formulate some questions that are deeper, broader. The students spoke a lot and collaborated very nicely.
  3. I asked each group to rank their questions from the most vital in order to understand the issues (#1) to the least vital, but still important (#10). The pairs shared their top question with the whole class. Some of them were factual: "How many people have been deported in the past X years?" Some questions were more complex: "What are the effects of deportations?"
  4. I then formed different student pairs. That meant that each pair had two different sets of ranked questions. Students had to choose only one of the two #1 questions and then use their phones, laptops and tablets to find the answers to that question. Then they had to choose one of the two #2 questions and find the answer on the internet. And so forth.
  5. We stopped for a few minutes to analyze the kind of information they were finding. Students indicated that there was a lot of (too much?) information, some of it was contradictory, it was difficult to evaluate the quality of the sources, and most of the information they found was in English. 
  6. I told them that YouTube is the second most frequently used search engine on the web, and asked them to now switch to YouTube and search for the same question. Is the information you find in videos, on YouTube, any different than what you found using Google? They indicated that there was more in Spanish and that much of the information had more of a person, story-telling slant.
  7. Finally, I told them that once you become more informed about a topic, you can decide to do something with that information. I gave them the link to Senator Dick Durbin's contact page, and asked them to write him a message. I told them that they didn't have to click send if they didn't want to, but that they could. I didn't check, but I think that several students did send him a message.
  8. I concluded by saying that I cannot directly change the law. My students cannot either. But that we absolutely can influence the politicians who make the laws. Contacting our Senators and Representatives with informed opinions is one very real way to put our new knowledge to use.
  9. Some students chose to write a comment on our Facebook Page instead of writing directly to Senator Durbin.

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