Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sign Up Today for SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community"

Sign up today. We need ten students in the 4:00 section!
by Ann Abbott
  • Would you like to take a Spanish course that is different from all the others?
  • Do you want some real-world experience in professional settings? 
  • Want to create a resume section titled "Bilingual Professional Experiences"and stand out on the job market?
  • Sign up now for SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community"! 
  • We especially need students in the 4:00 section. 
  • If you haven't taken SPAN 208 but you want to give this class a try, go ahead and sign up
  • If you're still not sure, watch this video in which I explain the course. (It's short; less than five minutes.)

Why should you take SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community"?

You will speak Spanish. Lots of it.

Students often complain that they take Spanish classes but rarely have the chance to actually practice Spanish in them. In class you listen to the professor and to a few students who raise their hands. There's lots of reading, and while the texts are important, they don't necessarily reflect the students' own interests. And writing? It's high-pressure, high-stakes writing for tests and papers. But where is the speaking? That's what many students really want. They want to be able to speak Spanish so that they can interact with Spanish-speakers, not just to answer questions like, "¿Qué pensaron del artículo que leyeron para hoy?"

In SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" you'll speak a lot.

In class, every student speaks in Spanish, every day. Does that sound like a lot of pressure? Actually, it's a lot of fun. You'll be sharing your ideas with your classmates who want to know what you did in the community, what you think about immigration reform, how does bilingual education actually work, *not* whether your grammar is perfect or not.

In the community, you'll use Spanish to accomplish something: help kids do their math homework or improve their reading fluency; decipher a complicated insurance claim form and explain it in Spanish to someone who was robbed; make a phone call in English on behalf of someone whose landlord won't respond to their requests; or something as simple as greet clients in Spanish and with a smile--you might be the only person that day who didn't give them dirty looks for speaking Spanish or accented-English.

You will prepare yourself to be a bilingual professional--whatever that profession might be.

Yes, you need a solid based of Spanish vocabulary and grammar to be able to use Spanish in your future profession. And all the Spanish courses at Illinois should give you that. But you need something more. You need to build some intercultural competence by actually working with people of different cultures. You need to see that you can make mistakes in Spanish and still be understood by native speakers. But you also need to see that there are some cases where you really need to get it right; and that requires you to be resourceful, to use on-the-spot quick thinking to look things up on-line, make a quick phone call to an expert, or call your supervisor over for help. 

Being a bilingual professional is all about negotiating meaning. Working among--and in between--languages. Building up confidence in your Spanish but also learning strategies for those times when you have reached your limits. Understanding that it's not just the words you speak but what they mean to the other person, because words and culture go hand in hand.

You can talk about that in a classroom. (Does anyone really talk about that in their classes though?) But you'll experience it when you work in the community in SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community."

You can bring your feelings about social justice to life. Or just think things through.

Do you think social justice is about marching? Making signs and yelling? Being self-righteously moody about trendy causes? Do you think it's about thinking critically about what's going on in the world, whether you decide to do anything about it or not? Can we tweet our way toward social justice? Can just being a student in SPAN 232, doing your work in the community and completing your assignments have an impact on some of the most vulnerable communities in Champaign-Urbana?

If you are already passionate about politics, immigration and Latin America, this course will be a perfect fit for you.

If you hate the news and never talk politics, it's still a good fit for you. We talk about study abroad, how schools work in other countries and how to figure out the rather complex Hispanic naming system. We watch music videos, write thank-you notes and analyze some census data for Illinois counties. You don't have to become a radical! You'll just come out on the other side of the semester more informed. 

You'll be in an engaging class with a professor/instructor who is a passionate, creative expert.

No boring lectures! You'll be working in groups. Sometimes you'll be walking around the class, asking your classmates questions. You'll work with partners, but never the same one all the time. You'll use your smartphone (or your partner's) in class to look up information on the web, take pictures and upload them or even make a short video.

If you sign up for the 1:00 section, you'll have Rejane Dias. She's taught the course before and has loads of experience both teaching Spanish and doing community-based work. Students love her.

If you sign up for the 4:00 section--please, please sign up for the 4:00 section because we need ten students--, I (Ann Abbott) will be your professor. Not to brag (ack! how can I say this without sounding like I am bragging?!), but I am an award-winning teacher who also shows up consistently on "the list"--you know, the list of excellent teachers based on students' ratings at the end of the semester. I write strong, detailed letters of recommendation for my students, even long after they have graduated. I love teaching, respect my students and enjoy watching my students learn and grow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Student Spotlight: Jesse Hoyt

by Ann Abbott

First things first: Jesse Hoyt was never a student in my class. But he was a student at the University of Illinois, and I ran into him a lot because of his work with La Colectiva at the University YMCA when I was more involved with CU-Immigration Forum at its beginnings.

Most importantly, I think he is a former UI student that current Spanish students should get to know. He's a role model because of the career path he followed, and he's a expert in community organizing, grassroots organizations and immigrant rights.

Here are several videos that I hope inform and inspire you. Listen carefully to find out where he worked after graduation (he has moved on now), look up the website and see if they have any job openings that could be a good fit for you.

Now listen to his talk at the University YMCA's Friday Forum from the fall of 2013. You'll learn a lot about for-private jails and immigration reform, but you'll also see how professional and experienced a person just out of college can be.

I hope you're inspired and more informed now!

Teaching Incarcerated Students about Spanish Community Service Learning

I'm excited to participate in the Education Justice Project this fall.
by Ann Abbott

I'm going to go to a prison this semester.

I've never been to a prison before. I know many people from my hometown, Clay City, Illinois, who have been to jail, mostly because of drugs. On the other hand, I also know a lot of people from Clay City who work as prison guards--one of the most coveted jobs in an area with mostly low-paying, low-security jobs.

I'll be going to the prison in Danville, Illinois to teach one class (just one day) through the Education Justice Program (EJP), run by Prof. Rebecca Ginsburg at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I have admired their work for many years, even donated small amounts to the project. (I always imagine that money going toward buying a tank of gas to drive from Champaign to Danville and back.) I have also long admired the work that Prof. Pamela Cappas-Toro (Stetson University, Florida) and Lee Ragsdale did with the program when they were a UI graduate students. Finally, I was in the front row last year to listen to Prof. Ginsburg speak about EJP in the Friday Forum at the University YMCA (you can see her talk in five parts: part 1, part 2, part 3part 4 and part 5.)

So I was delighted to receive this message from Rebecca earlier this summer:
"I'm writing to invite you to participate in the fall 2014 Discovery Series at Danville prison through the Education Justice Project (EJP). The Discovery Series is a not-for-credit course that we hold on Fridays between 5 - 8 each fall semester. The class is capped at 15. Each week we invite a different guest speaker. Speakers are free to address any topic they like--their latest publication, their research, a teaching subject they love to share…  We encourage them to distribute an appropriate reading in advance. It can be as small as an article, or an entire book. While the class lasts 3 hours, we don't expect guests to speak for 3 hours. An interactive format works much better. The classrooms are equipped with digital projectors and chalk boards."
I immediately replied yes, and here is my plan for the time I will be with these students.

Social Entrepreneurship and Service Learning: Business Concepts within Latino Contexts


  • Chapter 1 "Overview of the Social-Justice Model for Service-Learning" 
  • Chapter 3 "Becoming Committed to Social Justice"

Seminar Outline

1. Foreign Language Community Service Learning (CSL) and Social Justice
  • What is CSL and what does it look like in a Spanish class?
  • What are the connections between CSL and social justice?
  • What do students' reflections tell us about their experiences and learning outcomes? (Analyze student blog posts.)
  • What effect does CSL have on students' sense of civic engagement? (Share my research results.)
  • What do community members have to say about Spanish CSL?
2. Social Entrepreneurship and Social Justice
  • What is social entrepreneurship? (Dees' definition; my emphasis on process--identify opportunities, gather resources, produce something of value--over product.)
  • What are the connections between social entrepreneurship, CSL and Spanish? (Describe my course)
  • How do students apply the entrepreneurial process in a CSL context? (Examples of students' team projects.)
  • What are some examples of income-generating activities within nonprofit organizations? The key is to use existing capacities to generate income. (ECIRMAC,, Homeboy Industries) 
3. Business Concepts within Cultural Contexts

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Teaching English Abroad when You Didn't Actually Learn How to Teach

Once you find a job living abroad, teaching English, then what?
by Ann Abbott

As I have written before, many Spanish community service learning (CSL) students want to find opportunities that allow them to continue learning languages, to immerse themselves in other cultures and to live abroad. Teaching English in another country is a popular option.

In a previous post, I shared information and resources about how to find a job teaching English abroad.

Once you get the job, though, then what? Jst because you speak English doesn't mean you know how to teach. So when I talked to Kelly Klus, about her upcoming move to Barranquilla, Colombia to teach English, she asked me for ideas and resources. Here is the gist of what I told her.

Speaking English to English Learners.

Kelly will be teaching in an immersion classroom. That means that she will be teaching social studies, science and other subjects in English. So even when she's not teaching English per se, she will still need to communicate with students in English in ways that facilitate their understanding. Here are some resources and ideas.

  • Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen (Lee & VanPatten). This book will give you the fundamentals about how we actually learn a second language and what that means for how we teach. I was a graduate student at Illinois when VanPatten and Lee were there, and I learned so much from both of them. All the techniques I am about to list, I learned from them. They might seem rather obvious, but actually implementing them is harder than you would imagine. 
  • Speak English only. It's so, so hard for many people to believe that you can speak 100% English even with beginning learners. You can! You should! Incorporate the techniques below, and you will see that it is possible and beneficial.
  • Speak slowly. If you are teaching true beginners, you will need to slow down quite a bit. Furthermore, you will think that you are speaking slowly--yet you will not be speaking slowly enough! It's hard to slow down when you are speaking your own language. But you must. 
  • Speak in chunks. If you have a long or complex thought to communicate it, break it down into chunks. For example, if you are describing your mother, you might say the following. "My mother is kind. She smiles. She is happy. My mother loves people. She volunteers. My mother volunteers in a hospital. With cancer patients. She helps patients with cancer." Those are short phrases. Some are not even complete sentences. That's okay, especially with beginning language learners. Research shows we pay attention to the beginning and end of a sentence--so chunk your sentences so students don't lose what you said in the middle!
  • Repeat. You can repeat the same words, or repeat the same concept with different words. In the example above, "my mother" was repeated. "Volunteers" and "cancer" were repeated. And throughout the example, the entire concept of "kind" was repeated with specific examples. Which brings us to...
  • Use specific examples. If you are teaching about sports cars, give students examples: Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini. If you are teaching about mammals, list some: humans, whales, monkeys. When you tell students you like chick flicks (really? you do?!), tick off some titles of famous movies starring Cameron Diaz or Rachel McAdams. Your goal is for students to make "form-meaning" connections in their brains. In other words, instead of attaching "chick flick" to an equivalent in their first language, you want the word to connect directly to the concept itself.
  • Give visual cues. The visual cues reinforce what you are saying. Maybe students don't know what the word "curly" means, but if you point to a picture of a woman with curly hair and then make a "curlicue" gesture with your finger near your own hair, those visual cues will match up with the word you are saying: curly. You could also write the word "curly" on the board and draw a curlicue next to it. Those are visual cues, too. 
  • Use comprehension checks. When we want to know if students are following us, our natural tendency is to ask, "Do you understand?" Their answer to that question, though, doesn't necessarily reveal what we want to know. What if they're too polite or shy to say no? What if one person says yes, but the others just didn't say anything. In other words, you need to ask different questions to find out whether they truly understood or not. In the example about your mother, you can ask them to write down true or false and say, "1. My mother is cruel. 2. She volunteers in a school. 3. My mother has cancer." You'll really know if they understood by asking them those short, quick, ungraded questions. 

Approaches to teaching.

I am no expert in elementary or secondary education. If you didn't take any education classes in college, and you suddenly find yourself in the role of a teacher, you'll want to do the following.
  • Reflect on what types of teaching kept you engaged. I told Kelly to think about what classes she liked. What did teachers do differently in those classes to engage her? Were there any specific class periods/activities/assignments that stood out in her memory? If you and all your roommates complained about boring lecture classes, then don't stand up in front of students and lecture them. Do what worked.
  • Read what teachers read. Edutopia has everything from "big-picture" issue-based essays to specific curricular materials.
  • Project Based Learning. Personally, I think that PBL is one of the best approaches to teaching. It engages students in their learning like little I have ever seen and culminates in the application of that knowledge. That's a great way to learn and retain what you learn. 
  • Pinterest. There are so many wonderful resources in the Education section of Pinterest. (Yes, you have to skip past the myriad posts about decorating your classroom.) You might be interested in looking through my boards, too
  • Sometimes you need ideas and inspiration, and the ideas above can give you that. Other times, you need something concrete to do in class--and fast. This is a good site for those moments. Consider posting and selling your own work, too.
I hope that some of these ideas and resources are helpful to you. It's just a start, of course. And please leave a comment to share and tips and resources you have developed while teaching English abroad, either in a school or in private classes. 

Student Spotlight: Kelly Klus

Kelly Klus, just one week before departing for Barranquilla.
by Ann Abbott

It was a delight to have Kelly Klus in both my "Spanish in the Community" course and in "Spanish & Entrepreneurship." She was interested, engaged, smart, responsible and I sincerely enjoyed reading her reflexiones and listening to what she had to say in class. She worked at SOAR in my class, and she did her study abroad in Ecuador

She emailed me a few days ago and told me her big news:

"I accepted a year-long job assistant teaching in Barranquilla, Colombia. I've been meaning to email you since I accepted it; I'm super excited to go. I've been doing some reading and trying to give myself some crash courses on teaching English as a second language in a classroom. If you have any time this week I'd love to pick your brain about what you've learned about teaching languages and any resources that would be good in exchange for a coffee or lunch :) I'm going to be with third graders, a long shot from crazy college kids (ok, so they're just big kids) but I'd still love to hear any advice you have for me."

Kelly's experience: networking

First I asked her how she found this opportunity to work in Colombia. She told me that she told a friend who works in AIESEC that she was interested in living and working abroad. Her friend said, "You should apply for a paid internship through Shape Colombia." She did.

Take-away for all students

Clarify what you want. Name it! Claim it! Then tell everyone you know what you are looking for. Post it clearly and simply on Facebook. Make an announcement at your family reunion this summer. Send an email blast to your high school teachers and college professors. The more people you tell what job/internship/program you're interested in, the more likely it is that someone will be able to help you.

Kelly's experience: persistence and determination

She had to apply for the internship along with all the other people from the US *and* abroad who were also interested. Not only that, she then needed to be matched with one of the many programs within Colombia that participated in the program. In other words, there were many layers to the process. Many people with whom to communicate. And most importantly: many chances for her application to get lost in the shuffle. Kelly told me that every couple of weeks, if she hadn't heard anything, she would follow up with all the people with whom she had been corresponding to say, "Hey, I'm still here. I'm still interested."

Take-away for all students

Be persistent. Think about the process from the other person's point of view. They're juggling lots of work, lots of projects, lots of candidates. Maybe they meant to get back to you but got backlogged. They didn't get back to your email when they intended to, and now it's buried under 100 new emails. Give them a reminder. Or several. If they don't want to contact you, they won't. But if they do, it will refresh their memory.

Kelly's experience: the interview

She will be working in a private English-immersion school in Baranquilla. In the interview, the interviewer simply confirmed that Kelly spoke Spanish while conducting the interview in English. Most of her questions were about Kelly's experiences working at SOAR (which she did for her service learning work in my class) and at Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana. Kelly was able to talk about the many ways in which she kept children on-task, focused and learning.

Take-away for all students

Take classes that give you experience. The interviewer was interested in Kelly's experience. Her hands-on experiences in real-world work environments. She wanted to know what strategies Kelly had learned, how she handled challenges, if she was ready to jump into the job in her school. Take all the CSL courses you can. Look for internships. When you study abroad, do something besides attending classes and hanging out with American friends.

I hope Kelly's experiences inspire you. And speaking of networking, don't forget that if you are my student, there is only one degree of separation between you and Kelly. Connect with her! Introduce yourself as an Illinois Spanish student who is inspired by her choices, who shares her passion for languages and cultures. Follow her time in Colombia. Learn from what she learns and shares. Network so that you, too, will be able to find your path after graduation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Student Spotlight: Maggie O'Connor

by Ann Abbott

Maggie studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador and was a volunteer English teacher at a local elementary school. She did her CSL work as a classroom aid in the bilingual kindergarten classroom at Garden Hills Elementary as well as the SOAR tutoring program there. In addition, she worked at the Wesley food pantry.

Here are some of her reflections about her CSL work and her application for a Fulbright:

"The main thing that I learned from CSL that I will apply to law school and/or the Fulbright Scholarship should I receive it is that I know a heck of a lot less than I think I do. In other words, you are never really done learning something. 

"For example, I thought going into SPAN 232 that I knew all there was to know about community service learning after being a volunteer tutor already in Champaign and working at a local food pantry during high school. However, when we had group discussions about different forms of ESL, I was completely blown away that I had never understood why a class at an American school should be taught completely in Spanish when the students were supposed to be learning English. It totally made sense why students were struggling to learn math: they were learning it in English, and it was a concept they could hardly grasp in their native language. The concepts are much easier to translate once they are understood.

"I learned the importance of cultural influences and implications when speaking to someone in a different language; for example, one of the students I was trying to tutor hardly looked me in the eyes, which I just interpreted as being shy, but it turned out that she was Guatemalan, which [could have] meant that looking into an adult’s eyes was a sign of disrespect. It was not a language barrier but a cultural misunderstanding, and considering that angle helped me to work with her better and understand that she needed a little bit of extra help coming out of her shell.

"These are very broad generalizations, but overall I will definitely use the lessons of humility about how much I have to learn (especially when it comes to learning outside the classroom) and of how important it is to consider what lies beneath the surface of an issue or a cultural barrier. I used to think it was enough to be able to speak Spanish; when I go to Mexico or am studying law, I will remember that it takes exploration beyond the text to truly understand something and that considering something through another’s lens can entirely revolutionize your perception of a word, behavior, or action."  

Redesigning Spanish Programs for the 21st Century: Bibliography

by Ann Abbott

Dwindling majors in language programs.

Upper-level courses that don't make.

Parents who discourage students from majoring in Spanish. "I'm not paying $100,000 for four years just so that you can have fun."

Students who want to study abroad but take business classes.
Or engineering classes.
Or environmental studies.
Photography. Animal sciences. Econ. Internships.

Students who do the Spanish major and love it, but wonder, as graduation draws near, what in the world are they supposed to do now?

Faculty committed to their students' learning but questioning of new directions and expectations.

This is a partial description of the challenges college-level Spanish programs are facing today. And while our departments are filled with smart and creative faculty, grad students and undergrad students, our solutions sometimes are too small-scale or too close to what we're already doing to be effective.

As a first step, let's put together a bibliography that can guide our thinking. Personally, I think this is about a new architecture, not new pictures on the wall. But let's see what you think.


Please add pertinent citations in a comment, and I will update this list.

Alonso, Carlos. "Spanish: The Foreign National Language." Profession (2007): 218-28.

del Pino, José M. "Hacia un modelo de coexistencia en la enseñanza subgraduada del español." Hispania 97.2 (2014): 182-83.

Lord, Gillian & Cristina Isabelli-García. "Program Articulation and Management." In Manel Lacorte (Ed) The Handbook of Hispanic Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge, 2014. 150-67.

Miñana, Rogelio. "The New Mission and Location of United States Spanish Depart­ments: The Mount Holyoke College Experi­ence." Profession. Web.