Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Lesson Plan that Illustrates Community Service Learning's Shifting Perspectives

by Ann Abbott

The first day of a new semester is always exciting. You get to meet your new students, and they get to meet you.

It's also a chance to set the tone for the whole semester. That's why I like to actually teach the first day, not just hand out the syllabus and talk about the textbook.

Here's what I did yesterday for my first day with my "Spanish in the Community" students. Feel free to use it yourself. Really, you could use it any day during the semester. It emphasizes the back-and-forth that is so fundamental to community service learning: creating connections to the people in the community yet at the same time viewing that individual's reality through a larger lens.

In other words, the academic content of the course often comes into sharp relief when connected to individual lives of the people with whom students interact in the community. However, we have to adjust the lens in the classroom and help them reframe those individual realities within the larger socio-political context in which they exist.

Day 1

1. I asked students what they thought the most pressing topic in US immigration was right now. One student replied with the answer I was looking for: children at the border. We talked a few moments about that situation.

2. We watched this video interview to get the perspective of a person who is actually experiencing the effects of this current crisis on the border.

3. Students read an interview with an expert from our campus, Prof. Ellen Moodie, to see the situation from an academic researcher's perspective.

4. In pairs, students compared and contrasted the information that was presented through each source. What did they both say? What did one say that the other didn't? What is the effect of listening to an individual talk about her own experience? What visual information did the video offer? What is the effect of reading (without hearing her voice) a professor's explanation?

5. Conclusion: this is what we must do all semester long. We have to continuously shift from the close-up view on a person's words, stories, gestures, tone, etc., to the broader perspective of the policies and practices that combine to create the circumstances that shape individuals' lives.

What did you do on the first day of class? What challenges do you think are particularly important in a CSL course? Tell me your ideas in the comments, and have a great fall 2014 semester!

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