Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stop and Listen: What Are People Saying about Your Language Program?

by Ann Abbott

We rush so much. The semesters are a blur. In understaffed language departments, there is a lot of motion, a lot of commotion as we attend to a myriad of tasks, sometimes pulling us away, sometimes pulling us toward our passion and our goal: to give our students an excellent education. We pass our colleagues in the hall with a quick nod and wave to students across the quad. We race through the days then disconnect during breaks.

Part of the busy-ness that makes us rush are the myriad ways in which we evaluate and asses our programs: surveys to write, administer, analyze and report; data to feed into the College's software that measures departments' strengths; annual activity reports that need to hefty enough to show you are working and meeting goals.

But sometimes, when you slow down, when you least expect it, you will hear vital feedback.

Here are some unsolicited comments I heard this semester:

  • "I love Spanish, but I don't want to major in it."
  • "I know a lot of students take all the courses in the Spanish minor except the required intro to linguistics, literature and culture courses. They only want part of the minor: the courses that focus on the language."
  • Summarizing several different students' words: students love their Spanish professor, like being in their class, but the course material doesn't resonate with them.
  • "The advanced Spanish courses are repetitive. In every class you read and discuss, read and discuss."
These people were just talking, not consciously providing feedback. They weren't filling out a survey that framed the questions and their responses in a pre-determined way. These were spontaneous comments in free-floating conversations. And while we obviously don't want to make assumptions based solely on individual comments, when you stop and listen, you'll often receive valuable feedback.

Now, what to do?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Student Reflection

by Nicole Tauster

Study Abroad – Just Do It!

Even though you have probably already heard this from everyone you know that has gone abroad, I am going to echo the sentiment that you should ABSOLUTELY spend a semester studying abroad in a foreign country!

If you think you don’t have time based on your major, 4-year-plan, or any other academic reasons, I urge you to explore your options further. At the time I went abroad, I was an education major and they really discouraged us from studying abroad. This is because most people typically study abroad their junior year and that’s when I had to take all professional sequence education courses that I couldn’t take anywhere else. So what did I do? I went abroad during the spring semester of my sophomore year. I thought I was going to be the only one who wasn’t a junior, but surprisingly enough there were several other people my age on my program. I also know people that have gone in the fall or the spring of their senior year. There are also lots of shorter programs you can do during the summer or even over winter break. If you can’t spare a whole semester, look into a 2- or 6-week program. There are some pretty cool options, like China, India, or Costa Rica. And don’t just limit yourself to looking within your major program! Check out RSOs with travel opportunities. My friend is going to India this winter break through a club at U of I! So even if you think you don’t have time to go, do yourself a favor and think again.

Another concern people have is cost, which I totally get, I was worried too! But one nice thing is that tuition is actually cheaper than normal for your semester abroad. One of my friends told me her parents joked and asked if they could send her back to Spain to save some tuition money! So that helps, but if you are still worried about your financial situation, you could consider applying for aid, grants, or scholarships. There are about a million different study abroad scholarships out there, just dive into the depths of the internet. They might require you to write an essay, but be smart about it. See if you can write one response and reuse it for different scholarship applications. Kind of like you did when you were applying to college… Don’t lie, we all did it. Aside from academic cost, you’re definitely going to want to have spending money for traveling and fun stuff, like souvenirs and snacks. If you already know you want to study abroad, be smart about your money. Start saving it up now, get a job, ask relatives for money to put towards your trip for the holidays/your birthday. All of these things can help defray the final cost.

Even if you are concerned about all things I just mentioned, I STILL urge you to explore the possibility of studying abroad. It is such a singular, unique, and incredible experience. There really is nothing like living in a foreign country for an extended period of time. You convert from being a tourist to being a resident, especially if you are there for a whole semester. You have to learn to rely on yourself and the kindness of others to survive and get by and maybe even to just get where you’re trying to go. But these are experiences everyone should have in life. Not only will you get the chance to learn about another place and culture, but you will learn about yourself. I truly hope all of you get that opportunity at some point in life. Studying abroad changed my life and it could change yours too.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Simple Gestures Mean a Lot in Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

At the end of each semester, my students write thank-you notes to their community partner. (See page 150, Lección 23 ¨¿Cómo vamos a despedirnos?¨, Activity 23-1 in Comunidades: Más allá del aula.) During finals week I mailed the cards from the last couple of semesters with a hand-written thank-you note from me, too. It felt good to get them off my hands and into the hands of the people to whom they belonged: our community partners who do so much to train, develop and teach my students when they're in the community.

I received the email below from one of my community partners, and I wanted to just make note of a few things that stood out to me:
  • Hand-written notes from students that express their thanks as well as specific examples of what they learned with the community partner are very appreciated. In a way, writing those notes during class is a simple thing to do. (Although I always work with students to help them edit their Spanish, vary their vocabulary--there is more than one way to say "gracias"--and to remember that it is always "gracias por"!) It's a small gesture, but it has real value.
  • When she reached out, Lila made a kind gesture to me, too. She told me about two new faculty members with whom I might share interests. I emailed back, told Lila that I would invite them to lunch next semester, and asked if she'd like to join, too. When you work in public engagement, networking is vital. How can you be in public engagement if you aren't engaged? So, thank you, Lila, for mentioning your new colleagues to me.
  • Stories have a big impact. The student (name changed) that Lila describes, wasn't my own student; she was in my TA's section of "Spanish in the Community." Hearing her story is powerful!

Hi Ann,

What a wonderful surprise to receive the thank-you notes from former SOAR tutors. I loved reading the notes! Thank you!

This semester [Marie] was the only student to sign up to volunteer at SOAR for her service-learning course. I believe she enjoyed the experience and benefitted from it, since she signed up to continue working with the same Spanish-speaking 2nd grader during the spring semester.  :)  [Marie] also had the opportunity to volunteer in the bilingual class during the school day for additional experience and hours. The bilingual teachers at Garden Hills are always so accommodating as they love the Spanish 232/332 students.

We have two new professors in the College of Education – Dr. Patrick Smith, Associate Professor of Bilingual Education and Literacy, and Dr. Luz AlbaMurillo, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Literacy/Reading Education. I hope you have the opportunity to meet them sometime during the spring semester, if you haven’t met them already.

Thank you for offering Spanish community service-learning students the opportunity to volunteer as tutors with the bilingual children who stay for the SOAR after-school program.

Happy Holidays!


Student Reflection

by Nicole Tauster

Give in to Wanderlust

Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire to travel or longing to wander. People often say they’ve been bitten by the travel bug; once they start they just can’t get enough and want to keep going. I am here to say I am one of those people.

Almost exactly 2 years ago I left the Chicago area to spend a semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I knew it would be amazing; I hoped I would love it and come back with great stories and even better memories, but it was greater than my wildest dreams. Not just my time in Granada, which was incredible (I’ll talk more about this in another post), but the experiences I had outside of Granada were equally important.

Traveling to other parts of Spain and other European countries was an amazing opportunity that I’m so thankful I had. I learned so much about cultures other than my own, but more importantly I learned a lot about myself. Within Spain I could use my Spanish to help me get around: I could read a map or metro schedule, I could go right up to people and ask questions if I was lost, I could even ask people to take my picture and they could understand me! Granted, the confidence to do all these things did not come right away (although I’ve never been a shy person) because I was still a bit embarrassed by my Spanish-speaking abilities. But know that the more you talk to people, even if it’s just to ask a quick question, your confidence will grow and you will feel more comfortable approaching people and initiating a conversation with them. My travels within Spain were great for this, and of course for practicing speaking and listening skills in my non-native language. 

But the times I learned the most about myself were the times I traveled by myself. Before I did that, I probably would NOT have recommended it to anyone. I mean, traveling around Europe by yourself? As a 20-year-old American girl? Some of my friends told me my stories sounded like the beginning to the movie “Taken 2”. Maybe they did, but I didn’t care anymore. I had incredible experiences, especially when things didn’t go as planned!

During our first week-long vacation I traveled with 2 other friends to Italy for a few days, but they wanted to return early and spend several days in Madrid. I wanted to keep going, keep traveling further away from Spain. I thought I’d go see my best friend who was studying abroad in Belgium, but it turned out it wasn’t a good time for her. So the day before my friends left for Madrid, I booked an entire trip to Budapest, Hungary by myself. I was nervous, but excited! And it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I met other girls my age from all over the world at my hostel and I now have places to stay if I ever want to visit Brazil or Singapore. Before they adopted me though, I ate lunch in a nearby restaurant and asked my waiter what sights I should see. I took his recommendation and crossed the Danube River via the old Chain Bridge and ascended Castle Mount. Night was falling as I did so and by the time I reached the top of the very, very large hill it was dark and the city was lit up for the night. Being up there alone, with the most incredible view, I had an epiphany: I realized I could do things like this by myself. I didn’t need anyone else with me to be able to travel to amazing places and do new things. I accomplished crossing the city, climbing this hill, and finding my way back to my hostel with a map and my own wits.

That was a defining moment for me, a freeing moment. Realizing I could successfully travel on my own gave me the confidence to do it again. I think it is something everyone needs to do. I would recommend trying it first in a country where you speak the language, then branch out when you feel comfortable. But trust me, once you start, you won’t want to stop. I’m already trying to plot my return to Europe after graduation! And then hopefully to South America, Asia, etc. I plan on giving in to my wanderlust; I hope you do too. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Student Reflection

by Nicole Tauster

A Lesson from Volunteering at ECIRMAC

This semester I volunteered at the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center in Urbana and helped with the clients that were Latino immigrants. Certainly they came to the Refugee Center for a great variety of reasons, some familiar and some foreign to me, ranging in degree of severity and difficulty. But the women who worked in the office that I interacted with—Deb, Guadalupe, Ha, and Maite—always did whatever they could to help their clients. Me? I think I was able to help about as often as I wasn’t. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t really all that helpful in fact. Sure, I could answer the phone and take a message if the caller wanted to speak to someone who was out of the office, but I didn’t necessarily have the knowledge to help some of the clients in certain situations. So I awkwardly hovered besides Guadalupe waiting for instruction, maybe pulling a file before returning to my place at an empty desk to answer the phone. I remember feeling like the clients must have thought I wasn’t a particularly useful asset to the Center since sometimes all I could do was make small talk with them in Spanish as they waited to speak with Guadalupe.

When I first began volunteering I worked with a client whose husband was picked up by the local Champaign police while he was just walking down the street. They ran his name and discovered he was an undocumented immigrant and turned him over to ICE. Scared, confused, and looking for answers, his wife came to ECIRMAC and asked Guadalupe for help locating her husband. Although I couldn’t be of much service, I was able to pull the client’s file and verify her information and her husband’s.

Another day a man that had difficulty transferring money to his brother in Mexico came to see Guadalupe about the problems he encountered. Guadalupe had yet to arrive, but was due shortly, but again I really did not have the information or knowledge to help this client either. The strange thing is I remember these two people and their situations specifically because I didn’t really help them. I could not do very much for them, and yet they still thanked me as they left. I realized all I had really done was speak with them in Spanish, even if it was just small talk or me apologizing for being unable to help them more, but I realized that was not nothing. It clearly meant something to them, and maybe something bigger than I knew, when all they heard all day long is English.

The Latino immigrants that come to the Refugee Center have come to the United States for a variety of reasons. It is possible that their native countries were unstable or dangerous, either politically and/or socially or by way of natural disasters, and they came here seeking somewhere to live where they would not have to fear for their safety. Or perhaps they simply wanted better educational or occupational opportunities for themselves and their families. Whatever their reason or motive for coming, immigrating to America is no easy task. Many citizens are suspicious of immigrants, criticizing them for not learning English, worrying that they will steal jobs from Americans and live off taxpayer money since they are here illegally. It can be exhausting, depressing, and just plain difficult to face that kind of prejudiced sentiment day in and day out. So perhaps hearing someone speak their native language to them is a pleasant surprise. Maybe it bolsters their confidence and shows them that there are some people who don’t mind them being here in America, even welcome it. There is a chance it even gives them a sense of pride to see a non-native Spanish-speaker, someone who elected to learn their mother tongue, initiate a conversation with them. So even if that is all I did to help the immigrants at ECIRMAC overcome their challenges, then I feel I accomplished.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflections on Teaching about Immigration in a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

I didn't attend the ACTFL conference in San Antonio this year, but I was slated to be on a panel did send a screencast so that my fellow panelists could share my information. Click here to see and listen to the screencast: "Reflection on Teaching Immigration." 

Here's the description of the panel:

Infusing Immigration Dynamics in our Global Classrooms

Immigration has historically been a controversial topic and can be difficult to discuss in a respectful way in the foreign language classroom. In this session, we examine strategies to incorporate this topic in the curriculum, and teaching methods and materials to utilize in university and high school language classrooms.

Presenter(s): Katherine Fowler-Cordova, Miami University; Annie Abbott, University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign; Jennene Alexander, Monroe High School

I usually think of ACTFL as a place for me to share very concrete ideas, lesson plans, tips, etc. That way, people can leave with something very tangible in their hands, and they can even turn around and implement it in their own teaching if they want to.

This time, though, I wanted to take a broader view of things. I wanted to look back over the ten years (yes, ten years) that I have been doing Spanish community service learning and tease out some of the things that I have learned about teaching about immigration over that time. The result is the screencast above. (I have so much more to say, and so many specific examples of teach main theme, but a Jing screencast can only last five minutes.)

Here are the slides on SlideShare:

What are your thoughts about teaching language students about immigration? What successes have you had? What topics or lesson plans have flopped, and what did you learn from that? How comfortable are you teaching about immigration? Let me know in the comments.

Thank you, Katie Fowler, for your idea about having a panel on this topic, for inviting me, and for creating such a dynamic mixture of talented language educators as panelists.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Article: Spanish in the professions and in the community in the US

by Ann Abbott

I'm very happy to see one of my writing projects now published: Spanish in the professions and in the US.

Barbara Lafford was the lead author and generously asked Darcy Lear and me to co-author with her.

Here's what I wrote about the article when I shared it on Facebook:
CSL and LSP are gaining steam, but there are some core issues that need to be addressed: 1) a curriculum focused on creating informed/resourceful bilingual professionals, not always so specific; 2) integrating LSP and CSL throughout the curriculum, not just at the higher-level courses; 3) making sure faculty are well trained in the foundational, ethical principals of CSL and LSP; and 4) building a solid research base.
And here's the abstract:

Over the past two decades, Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) and Community Service Learning (CSL) in the United States (US) have gained traction in post-secondary institutions. Abbott and Lear (2010) established that CSL provides excellent opportunities for students to meet the National Foreign Language Standards. After establishing a brief historical overview of programs and research in the fields of Spanish LSP and CSL, this paper provides an overview of core issues facing the field, i.e., the need to (1) focus LSP on a new specific purpose (foundational training in professionalism) (i.e., those linguistic abilities, behaviors, skills, and manners that are vital to all professions in the target culture), (2) thread this training in professionalism throughout the curriculum (from basic language, to majors, to graduate students), (3) build interdisciplinarity among faculty through professional development, especially in the field of CSL, and (4) provide professional research training to second language acquisition scholars, graduate students, and LSP scholars/practitioners to build the research base in LSP and in experiential learning in CSL environments (Lafford 2012, 2013). This study concludes with an exploration of the challenges and rewards of implementing those LSP and CSL action items and proposes directions for future research. 

En las últimas dos décadas, la inclusión de lenguas para fines específicos (LFE) y el aprendizaje-servicio (APS) en el currículo universitario en los Estados Unidos ha ganado terreno. Abbott y Lear (2010) establecieron que el APS provee excelentes oportunidades para alcanzar los Estándares Nacionales para las Lenguas Extranjeras. Después de ofrecer un breve repaso histórico de programas e investigaciones en los campos de LFE y APS, este trabajo plantea un repaso de asuntos clave que enfrentan estos campos en torno a la necesidad de: (1) enfocar LFE hacia un nuevo propósito específico: la formación profesional básica (las habilidades, los comportamientos, las destrezas y las maneras que sean vitales para todas las profesiones en la cultura meta), (2) incorporar esta formación profesional en el curriculo (desde la lengua básica hasta el nivel de los especialistas y los estudiantes de posgrado), (3) construir un ambiente interdisciplinario entre los profesores por medio del desarrollo profesional, sobre todo en el campo de APS, y (4) proporcionar formación en técnicas de investigación a especialistas en adquisición de segundas lenguas, alumnos de posgrado y profesionales en LFE para construir una base investigadora tanto en LFE como en el aprendizaje experiencial en contextos de APS (Lafford 2012, 2013). Por último, este estudio explora los retos y los beneficios de la implementación de estos asuntos clave y propone caminos para futuras investigaciones.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Community Colleges in Illinois' New Growth Latino Communities

Infrastructures for Spanish-speakers in new growth communities are a lot like this road.
by Ann Abbott

During the next few years, I will be working with the University of Illinois' Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) on a project that they included in their grant renewal proposal and that apparently was well received by the reviewers: helping community colleges to implement Spanish community service learning.

This semester, Dara Goldman, the Director of CLACS, and I began talking and brainstorming. 

This could be, I told her, an opportunity to build a model of capacity-building, linguistic understanding and transcultural competence in new growth Latino communities.

But it's not going to be easy...

What is a new growth community? 

The executive summary of a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation explains it in this way: This report examines coverage and access to care for Hispanics living in “new growth”
communities (those with a small but rapidly growing Hispanic population) and those living in
“major Hispanic centers” (areas that traditionally have had a large Hispanic population). 

A recent Focal Point project at the University of Illinois, Responding to Immigrants, stated this on their website: Migration scholars submit that the settlement of Latino immigrants into new regions, cities, and small towns across the United States is “the most significant trend in U.S. population redistribution over the past quarter century."  (Their website also has a list of readings.)

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois is a new growth community. I haven't necessarily been framing my work with local Latino community in that way, but from now on I will. I'll do that in the following ways:

  • I will teach my CSL students about new growth communities and ask them to reflect on how they see the characteristics played out in their experiences in the community.
  • I plan to propose a set of courses--some existing but that don't count for the major, some new or newly named--with the ultimate goal of creating Spanish majors who are equipped to be bilingual professionals with the translingual and transcultural skills to be effective in community and professional settings in new-growth communities. Maybe this proposal will be a new program of study, and maybe it will just be a different "pathway" with courses for students to choose among. We'll see. But the end goal is substantively different than that of the current Spanish major.
  • I'll start integrating this viewpoint into my research and writing.
  • What took me so long?

What is the connection between Illinois community colleges and new growth communities?

After talking to Dara about the service learning project and its parameters, I began to do some online research using these two website.
  1. Illinois Community College Board, for a list of a Illinois' community colleges. I hoped to find a community college within fairly easy driving distance with which to partner. I was also particularly interested in the areas that I am familiar with from growing up in Clay City, Illinois. So Effingham, Olney and a few other community colleges were top on my mind.
  2. Illinois QuickFacts from the US Census. I wanted to try to match new growth communities (cities and counties) with downstate Illinois community colleges.
Here are a few things I found.
  • I had a hunch that Effingham, Illinois was a new growth community. Indeed, the census data showed 1.8% Latino population in Effingham County contrasted with 3.2% in the town of Effingham. Unfortunately, though, there is no community college in Effingham or near enough to make it easy for Spanish students at the community college to do CSL work in Effingham.
  • There is a community college in Mattoon, Illinois. In Coles County, 2.3% of the population is Latino, but in Mattoon itself, only 1.8% are Latino.
  • Observation. If we compare/contrast these two cases, where there is a community college there is not a local new growth community, and vice versa.
  • I decided to look at the community colleges and census data in the areas nearest to my hometown.
  • First of all, the community colleges in that region work in concert (IL Eastern Community Colleges) to share programs across the sparsely populated area. They don't duplicate many programs, so, as a hypothetical example, if you want to study mechanics you have to go to one of the four community colleges, not necessarily the one closest to where you live.
  • Robinson, Illinois has a 3.6% Latino population--a real surprise to me! More than Effingham, which is, I believe, I larger town.
  • However, when I looked at the website for the local community college (Lincoln Trail College), I could find no information about Spanish. I called the office that coordinates the four community colleges, and indeed, they offer no Spanish classes there. At Olney, which is relatively nearby, they offer only one Spanish course.
  • Observation. In rural areas with relatively high new growth Latino populations, even if there is a local community college, they might not offer language classes.
  • Moving closer to home, I looked at Vermillion County, one county east of Champaign. There was a big surprise here: Danville, by far the largest town in the county, had a 2.2% Latino population but 4.7% in the county. This makes me suspect that there are factory and/or agricultural jobs in the even smaller towns in the county that are in part filled by Latino workers, but I don't know for sure. 
  • Danville has a community college, but I knew from speaking with Dara that their Spanish program--while it does at least exist--has an adjunct faculty that might hinder the establishment of a strong partnership, not because of any problems with the faculty members but because of the nature of adjunct positions.
  • Observation. The "adjunctification" of university and college faculty at all kinds of institutions has many negative consequences, only one of which would be the increased difficulty in partnering to create innovative and sustainable programs.
  • Finally, I turned to Champaign County, where we have both the University of Illinois and Parkland Community College. Parkland has a very strong Spanish program with several tenured faculty as well as adjunct faculty and a good variety of Spanish courses. I know their tenured faculty, and they are excellent professionals.
  • Looking at Champaign County, one thing immediately calls your attention: while Champaign has a 6.3% Latino population, Rantoul's is even higher--9.7%. And while Rantoul is just sixteen miles away, there are very few services for the Latinos who live there.
  • Observation/Question. If we partner with Parkland--located in Champaign--can we build a Spanish community service learning program that does what we at the University of Illinois have not been able to do: serve the needs of Rantoul?


One of the main challenges in new growth communities is the lack of infrastructures to serve the needs of these new community members and in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways. (I have a chapter in a book that addresses this issue: Creating Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health.) What is apparent to me after barely scratching the surface on this project is that community colleges are an important part of those infrastructures, especially in rural areas, but that they don't always meet those needs either. And maybe they don't/can't meet the needs of the non-immigrant community either. 

When we talk about "infrastructure" in this country, most people immediately think about our crumbling roads, aging bridges, slow trains, etc. However, we need to broaden that discussion to educational and human services infrastructures so that they can meet the needs of all our communities, immigrant or not.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Americans Initiative: A Guest Speaker in "Spanish in the Community"

by Ann Abbott

We have our first guest speaker for next semester's "Spanish in the Community" class. 

Dear Dr. Abbott,

I am reaching out to you because I am interested in presenting to your Spanish in the Community class the New Americans Initiative project, a non-profit partnership with the State of Illinois that supports immigrants who are interested in becoming US citizens, in applying for Deferred Action, and community resourcing. The overall vision of this project is to develop a proactive campaign that celebrates what immigrants contribute to our community by encouraging local institutions to adopt policies that make Champaign County an Immigrant Friendly Community.  We are currently exploring the development of an Immigrant Friendly Community task force with local governments and immigrant community leaders.

I am representing the University Y on campus which is a participating organization in The New Americans Initiative (NAI) project. The Y's NAI team is reaching out to instructors on campus who may be interested in having a guest presenter next semester to share information about community efforts in and around this project. I am also available to meet anytime early next semester to discuss the project details and presentation development further.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Megan Flowers
Project Coordinator
The New Americans Initiative
University YMCA-UIUC
Office: 217-337-1500

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Networking for Business Spanish Students: Invite Former Students to Skype into the Class

by Ann Abbott

Next time I teach this class, I will change the networking project.

For practice, I will have students look up Spanish-speaking professionals that interest them in LinkedIn and, explain why there are interested in those people, and then practice "pitching" one of them to the class as someone to invite to talk to us via Skype.

For the real thing, I will have them actually pitch then invite the winners from a list of former students that I give them. (This semester students did this for practice one day.)

Here's the list of students I provided. My current students had to Google them and find out everything they could about them. Then they had to describe what they're doing now and one thing that they personally had in common with that person. For networking, you can't just come on strong; you need to find a connection, build on that, and then (maybe!) ask for a favor.

  • Hanna Solecka
  • Kelley Sheehan
  • Jessie Fauss
  • Benjamin Brodner
  • Jill Kruidenier
  • Mark Wehling
  • Amanda Peña
  • Julio Costa
  • Dave Mackinson
  • Sarah Leone
  • Tara Reifsteck
What can you find out about these former students? Would you like to network with them? Know someone whom should I add to the list?
by Ann Abbott

In keeping with my previous posts this semester about how to use a traditional textbook in non-traditional ways, I'd like to describe how my students and I worked on the last chapter we covered.

Students choose which chapter to study

I cannot cover all the chapters of the textbook (Exito comercial) because I also allot time for student projects. So I allow students to choose some of the chapters that we cover.

This semester I allowed them to choose the last chapter, and they chose the very last chapter of the book: #14 "Las perspectivas para el futuro."

It's not very often that students get such a voice in what is covered in a course, and they responded very well to it. So don't just cover all the chapters that you think are important: ask them what they want to study!

Connect the chapter information to students' context

The information in that last chapter included thoughts about what and how colleges should teach to prepare students to be leaders in the changing world (pp. 500-502): 
  1. Perspicacia.
  2. Integración de las asignaturas académicas.
  3. Habilidades interpersonales y comunicativas.
Students read this section of the chapter at home. In class, I gave each of them three sticky notes. In each sticky note they had to write one example of how the education at the University of Illinois did or did not reflect what the textbook was calling for. After writing, they stuck their sticky notes on the board with a "+" for positive examples or the board with a "-" for ways that the university does not address those needs or does so badly.

I'm happy to say that the vast majority of the sticky notes contained positive examples.

Positive examples:

Study abroad: semester-long programs (e.g., Granada, Spain) and short-term courses (Business' trips to Brazil and Costa Rica)
Classes on social justice.
Requirements of the major: "Actuarial Science requires courses in finance, economics and computer science."  
The Career Center
Experiential learning: "SPAN 202 work with La Línea"
There are many international students on our campus.
Specific courses: 
  • COMM 112 
  • SPAN 202 (hurray!) 
  • BADM 382
  • GLBL 100
  • Global Marketing
  • BADM 380 (specifically the projects)
  • SPAN 305 (they worked in teams)
  • BADM 350 (technology)
  • SPAN 232 (another hurray!)
  • LAS 101 ("ayuda con conexiones con las personas mayores cuando estás en el primer año¨)

Negative examples

I'm not going to call out any specific courses or programs here, but students mentioned:
More colleges/programs should requires courses about languages and cultures.
You can satisfy Advanced Comp with a class about math that doesn't help you learn to write well.
Exams don't test students' interpersonal abilities.
They don't have courses about how to work with people from different cultures.
You can only take Business Spanish, not Business French, Business Italian or other languages.

Are you surprised by anything that the students wrote? Do you think your univerisity is doing a good job of preparing students to have the leadership skills necessary for our changing world? What do you do in your classes that addresses the complexity and interconnectedness of the world we live in? Let me know in a comment!

Taking Phone Messages in a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

I already know that some (most?) of my colleagues think that community service learning and languages for specific purposes are not intellectual enough. Not theoretical enough. They've even used the term "Mickey Mouse" to describe the work.

If they only knew that I have my students practice taking phone messages over and over!

Why? Because it's difficult. It requires high levels of listening comprehension. They need complete accuracy. From all the information that is thrown at them, they have to understand it, re-arrange it, evaluate it, prioritize it and then re-write it for the message reader.

That's hard! 

And it's necessary for their work in the community. Absolutely necessary.

So despite what my colleagues would say if they knew (maybe they do know...), I spend time on this each semester. You can't help in the community if you get phone numbers wrong, misspell names, give incomplete information or leave unclear instructions.

I have really smart students. I have students who are very good at being students. But you'll see from the samples below how challenging this exercise is for them. 

The original message: "BUSCANDO a alguien que pinte cuadros al oleo, acuarela o lapiz dentro de la comunidad Guatemalteca. Hay un evento en un museo de campus y quisieramos su participacion. Tambien si alguien toca algun tipo de musica Maya seria bueno que se comunicaran conmigo por inbox al [telephone number] (Mauricio last name) Gracias"

Incomplete information

Despite the fact that we talk about and do activities about how important it is to have complete information on a message, this message is missing the date, time, and the checks in the boxes beside the actions.

In a busy, cramped office, what happens if this message gets dropped? If someone finds it, how will they know if the information is still timely?

And what does the last sentence mean: "Alguien que toca"? 

Incorrect information

The first sentence in the message area is incorrect; it makes it sound as if he is looking for someone who will paint Guatemalans.

Incomplete information

Again we have the incomplete top and middle portions of the message. The telephone number is at the bottom of the pad instead of the place toward the middle where it should go.

Incorrect Information

The name (Mauricio Salinas) is spelled incorrectly.

The first part of the message section is too confusing.

It is great, though, that they wrote down "tocan música maya." That is correct. But the sense of the message is lost. He is looking for people in the community who can play Mayan music.

Finally, the telephone number is incorrect. This person wrote 7933 instead of 6933--a very common mistake!

Incomplete information

The top part of this message is incomplete, but the information in the message section is much better. It is more complete and more understandable.

Incorrect information

There is no incorrect information here! The student first wrote a "7" instead of a "6" in the last four digits of the telephone number but then corrected it. 

This was one of the very best messages. This student has studied abroad for a semester and has previous experience working in professional environments taking messages.

Incomplete information

All the possible parts of message form are complete! (I didn't tell them who the message was for, so they didn't have a name to put in the top space.)

Incorrect information

The phone number is totally off and doesn't have the correct number of digits.

The information in the message pad is difficult to understand. Here is the test: will the person who receives the message understand what they are supposed to do next and will they be able to do it with the information you provided? 

That might sound simple, but it is extremely difficult as we see by the difficulties that these very smart students had.

Incomplete information

This message is missing the date and the check marks in the middle section.

I think it might also be a little difficult for the reader to understand the handwriting of the name.

Incorrect information

The message is not for Mauricio Salinas. It is from him.

The phone number is incorrect.

The information in the message section doesn't really accurately represent the information from the original message.

This is a very good message, up until the very last line: "está interesado en música may debe llamarle." It needs to be re-written in more formal style, and the word "maya" needs to be written completely. What kind of interest? Who needs to call him? 

Again, this student's message shows the process of listening, making mistakes, trying to correct them.

It's not my intention to show that students write bad telephone messages. Not at all! I want to show how difficult this task is, even for advanced and experienced learners of Spanish. 

Yet it is one of the most common things they will have to do in any professional context, no matter what professional path they pursue after college.

When we do CSL and think about the kinds of language and knowledge that they need to succeed outside of the classroom, this is one thing that obviously needs more work and practice.

I can assure you that all these students are excellent essay writers. They've been practicing that for years in their roles as students! 

They need the same time and practice for something as apparently "Mickey Mouse" as this. But if we never put language students into professional contexts and ask them to use their language skills to accomplish "real-world" tasks, we'll never know what their gaps are.

Spanish Community Service Learning Students: What They Learned, Want to Learn

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by Ann Abbott

How do you know what your students have learned? When do you know it?

We can give them tests to find out if they learned the answers to the questions we decide to put on the test. They can write essays, and we will know--among other things--if they know how to write essays. We can give quizzes and find out, sometimes, if they guessed correctly.

I'm not saying we shouldn't assess students' learning through quizzes, tests and essays, although sometimes those tools seems designed as "gotchas" or they show more about what students have learned along the way--e.g., how to structure an essay that receives an A--than what they have learned with us, in one semester, those short 15 weeks.

What I am saying is that we can also give students some control. Some voice. Let's just ask them!

One day this semester, I asked my "Spanish in the Community" students two questions:

  1. What have you learned through your work in the community so far?
  2. What more would you like to learn? 
Here are their answers.

What have you learned?

  • Spanish-speaking immigrants in our community deal with very difficult things: for example, a woman came to the office who husband had been detained and she knew nothing more than that.
  • You can be detained for something very simple, like a traffic stop.
  • The small things that lead to big things (like detention) have huge ripple effects on the entire family.
  • What dual language education is and that these programs exist in Champaign-Urbana.
  • Many of the students in school have problems in their lives outside of school. For example, they are thinking about money, like not having enough money to own a pet.
  • The Refugee Center does so much for the local community, and they learn that from their conversations with the people who work at the Center.
  • By working at Crisis Nursery, they have understood more about the problem of domestic violence in the local Latino community.

What do you want to learn?

  • What are all the services the Refugee Center offers? I want to learn that so that I can help even more when I work there.
  • What do students in the dual language programs do after grade school? Do these programs exist in middle school and high school?
  • What is it like for non-native Spanish-speaking students in the dual language program?
  • How do children (not adolescents/adults) actually learn a second language?
  • What Spanish (vocabulary, grammar) do I need to know to be able to be of even more help?
My job is to put this into a larger context. To deepen/broaden what they have already learned. 

And although some of the things they mentioned might seem obvious to professors, if they said that they learned these things, that means that they did not know them before. They aren't learning these things in other classes. I emphasize this because we often take for granted that the "little" things don't really matter, aren't really academic or intellectual. But if students don't have this base, what is theory attached to? What foundation do the high-level analyses rest upon?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My (Almost) Daily Writing Practice: What I Have Learned So Far

My morning: caffé, reflecting, blogging.
by Ann Abbott

This semester I finally found what I had been looking for: a write-on-site group.

I write quite a bit already. I've published articles and two textbooks. I count my blogging as writing, even if it might not count in the university's eyes.

I know how to write. Sure, I can always improve and benefit from constructive criticism, but I knew I didn't need a writing coach to tell me how to write and to critique what I wrote. It's taken me many years, but I think I know a lot about the writing process, my particular writing process, and even what the final written product should be like. I didn't need a writing coach.

You can hire a writing nag, too. They keep you accountable, keep you on schedule. Yes, in a way I needed help staying on a timeline, meeting deadlines. But it wasn't that I didn't meet deadlines because I didn't have someone nagging me. In fact, I don't want anyone nagging me.

I wanted camaraderie. I wanted to look forward to writing sessions because of the people. I wanted to not feel alone and lonely at the keyboard. I wanted to know that if I didn't keep my writing appointment, someone would know. Someone would care.

And this semester I found it! I have been meeting with my friends and colleagues Glen Goodman and Dara Goldman. I like seeing their smiling faces on Skype at the appointed hour. I miss them on the rare occasion when they can't make it. (And I am not as productive on my own.) It has worked so well that I have written and submitted two article/chapter manuscripts this semester. I'm working on the third.

Here are some of my reflections about this new way (for me) of approaching daily writing. I wrote these thoughts on a recent flight, in the little notebook I keep in my purse (in the photo above).

It takes longer than you imagine to write an article or chapter, even when you already know it takes longer than you imagine.

Plan better, I told myself. Plan differently. Map out carefully what you have to write, what parts need research (which takes extra time), and how much you can actually accomplish in a writing session.

Leave plenty of wiggle room for thinking days, brainstorming days, reading days.

They are necessary. First, sometimes your brain needs to work in a different mode. Secondly, those days can relieve some of the pressure. I have to write! Write, write, write! Well, actually, no. Today I just have to list. Today I can work on writing up the bibliography in the correct style. Today I am going to just write a very detailed outline of this section. This subsection. This paragraph. That's easy. Those days are necessary escape valves.

Ask for help.

Glen helps me, of course. Just keeping these appointments (11:00-12:00 every work day) with me is a huge help. He sends me emails that are encouraging with a touch of prodding. Those help. I want to ask Darcy to comment on my title. Just the title. In other words: be specific about help I need. I don't really need much read-and-critique help at this moment. But I do need moral support. I need positive feedback, aka praise. (Yes, I do.) I need someone who will celebrate the big and small successes with me. I have to ask for those things when I need them. 

There comes a crunch time.

There comes a time when you have to push, push hard to finish and turn it in. You have to do that. Push all aside so you can push the writing. Writing an hour each day will get you far. But you need to push once in a while and always (maybe always?) at the end.

It's really, really good to map your article onto word count limits before you start writing.

It's a great idea because you will know how much you can or can't cover. You are forced to decide if you want to go broad or deep (fewer subsections but more detailed analysis).

You can change your map.

In my push to finish the Global Business Languages article manuscript, I looked at my original outline and eliminated one subsection and combined two others. That meant that there were things I left unsaid, unwritten, but I finished. I submitted. And my main ideas will be shared (hopefully) with the world.

What's your writing practice? What are your reflections on writing? Do you have a write-on-site group?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thank-You Notes to the Community and from the Community

Audrey, a "Spanish in the Community" student, received this card from the young girl she worked with all semester.
by Ann Abbott

During the last day of each semester, my "Spanish in the Community" students write a thank-you note to the person/people they have worked with in the community. They have to show their appreciation and mention something specific they have learned from them and their time in the organization.

It seems that the students in SOAR, the after-school tutoring program where several of my students work, also sends thank-you notes at the end of the semester.

Rejane Dias, my TA, send me the following message and the pictures in this post:

Hi Ann,

One of my students received this card from the elementary student she helped out while volunteering for the class. She shared about it with class this Wednesday. I told her to send a picture of it to me and we may put it on the blog. I thought it could be another way to show how this course really reaches out to our community and help the Latino children, and how college students taking Span 232 make a contribution to society.The little girl she helped is from Mexico. They're adorable pics. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

If you think everyone should just obey the law and respect authority...

by Ann Abbott

I hate allegories. I'm going to write one, though. Dedicated to everyone who thinks it's all about obeying authority...

You own a campus bar. (Substitute almost any small business; I just happen to be sitting on campus right now.) You become successful. You provide something that students enjoy, and you reap good financial rewards for what you have created. You're proud. You create jobs. You give back to the community. You and your family have a very comfortable lifestyle.

Suddenly, the cops start spending a lot of time at your bar. They come in. They don't necessarily do anything, but they come in. Uniformed. They also sit in their cars outside your bar. Watching. Just watching. But sitting there. They stand outside the door. On the sidewalk. They talk to each other. If there's just one, he even interacts with people on the sidewalk. Just saying hi. How's it going? Uniformed. Friendly. There.

It gives you the heebie jeebies. It gives your clients the heebie jeebies. Crowds at the bar start to thin.

Then the cops start handing out tickets. Students cross the street to your bar, cops ticket them  for jaywalking. A group of girls stand outside waiting for their friend to arrive before they go in, the cop gives them a ticket for loitering. Your bar is non-smoking (it's the law), and kids drop their cigarettes on the sidewalk before entering. Littering. Tickets. It keeps happening.

Business suffers.

You notice that the cops don't do this to any of the other bars on campus.

You try to talk to the cops. They end up yelling in your face and backing you into the wall. Well, that escalated quickly.

Whoa! What did you do? All you wanted to do was talk.

You go to the city council to complain. They tell you that cops are there to enforce the laws. Jaywalking is against the law. Loitering is against the law. You don't want tickets? Don't break the law. And you should be thankful for the work they do: they risk their lives every day for your safety. To keep your nice home in your nice neighborhood safe.

Now every evening they come into your bar and check ids. You've become hyper vigilant, but sometimes there's a kid who slips in with a fake id. The kid gets ticketed. Your bar gets fined. You're losing money. And you're losing more clients.

You talk to the mayor. You tell him that you know that other campus bars have underage students in there drinking. Why are the cops picking on you?

The mayor tells you that if you didn't break the law, you wouldn't have any problems. Besides, the cops just rounded up underage drinkers in all the other campus bars last weekend and levied hefty fines to the bars. Everyone is held to the same standards in this town!

But you know the routine. You used to live by the routine. You used to profit by the routine. The bar owners take a calculated risk by letting in a few students whose ids kind of look fake. They take a calculated risk to let in a few too many people and go over capacity. If they get caught, they'll pay the fine. (You're right, officer. This is our mistake. Happy to pay the fine.) They can pay the fine. They're making plenty of money the other nights when the cops don't come.  The weeks when the cops don't come. Maybe months go by and cops don't show up.

But now you don't have any calculated risks to take. They are on you all the time. For everything. Everything is a risk. There's nothing to calculate.

But they're not on the other bars like that. Just once in a while.

The other bar owners, the ones who take their lumps from the cops and city from time to time, tell you that your business model must be wrong. They even offer to help you come up with a new strategic plan. For a percentage. When you tell them that your business plan is just fine--it's just like theirs!--they tell you you're defensive. One of them tells you that he's successful because he knows how to get the best deals out of the distributors and up his margins; you need to drive a harder bargain. Another one tells you that you're losing money because you have no training system. Another: you're out of touch with today's college students. All of them tell you (and each other) that your business is failing because of something you are doing wrong.

When you tell them, no, you obviously know how to run a successful business, it's just that the cops are treating you differently, they tell you that the law is the law. What are police officers supposed to do? Not enforce the law? You want less trouble from the cops? Stop breaking the law! Maybe you need a civics course.

Your business has flatlined. You can't afford the same lifestyle for your family. The city offers you free attendance in a small business success program they offer. Hopefully it can help you learn how to better run a business. Your old colleagues tell you about a money management seminar that might help you better understand how to handle your personal finances. You downsized your home; you must have made poor money choices.

What's the ending? I don't have an ending. I think we know how this goes. You end up angry. Bitter. Incredulous when people tell you that you are to blame for your business' demise. Angry when they tell you to fix problems that are not the real problem. Frustrated that they deny you were treated differently. Confident that if this happened to them they wouldn't stand for it. Distrustful of law enforcement. Outraged at the system. Jaded to the very idea of law and order. Ready to scream the next time someone tells you that all you need to do is obey.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Engaging students in collaborative reading: Spanish in the Community class through democratic pedagogy

by Rejane Goncalves Dias

This semester, I teach one section of "Spanish in the Community" and Rejane Goncalves Dias teaches the other. She has taught the course before, she is a PhD student in the College of Education, and she is passionate about community service learning. Below you will find the description of class activity she built around a reading we have students do. Thank you, Rejane, for your creativity, energy, research, and commitment to Spanish community service learning. --Ann Abbott

Collaborative reading helps students to use comprehension strategies while working cooperatively. Both of these aspects were highlighted when students worked together on their Lectura Académica: Latin AmericanMigrations to the U.S. Heartland. Changing Social Landscapes in Middle America”(Allegro & Wood, 2013). Collaborative reading was used for two reasons:

1.    - I wanted students to get a deep understanding of Allegro & Wood’s (2013) insightful discussions of issues related to the migrant Latino population in Mid U.S. over the years.

2.    - Although the article was in English, it was long and dense; and our 50-minute class discussion would be in Spanish.

So, how did the collaborative reading work?

- Students had skimmed through the reading prior to coming to class as it was assigned.

In class:

-I spread two sets of index cards across the room (one with the some of the article’s major subheadings ‘themes’ and another one with specific ‘topics’ covered under other ‘themes’). The themes and topics in the index cards were not related to each other.

- I told students that there were some cards referring to major themes in the article and other cards referring to specific topics under other themes discussed in the text.

-I supplied them with paper and colored markers.

-Their task was to work with partners or in groups identifying the cards that referred to the themes and which ones referred to specific topics. They walked around the room negotiating their understanding in Spanish and deciding how they wanted to organize these cards and present their findings. During the activity, they were also checking their printed or online versions of the article for confirmation. (There was a dynamic Spanish(oral)-English(written) interaction going on!)

-After they had finished organizing all the cards, I then reviewed the article with the whole class based on this display.

Students were so engaged with the text and the task, that only at the end of the activity, they realized that all the cards written in green were major themes and the ones in red ink were topics!

Students shared that this activity has helped them to gain a better understanding of migrant Latinos contributions to the country and the injustices this population has faced due to complicated political reforms.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Student Reflection: Nicole Tauster

by Nicole Tauster

So you've decided to major in Spanish… Now what?

Maybe you already know, but for those of you (like me) that are still unsure about what to do with your degree in the future, I am here to share my humble insight.

As a senior—and someone that changed their major to Spanish in April of junior year (yes, it can be done!)—I have been getting that dreaded question more and more frequently: “Spanish, huh? So what are you going to do with that?” It’s one that used to make me panic because I did not know, I did not have an answer. But recently I have come to terms with that and realized that maybe I don’t know exactly what I want to with my degree in Spanish, but I am OKAY with not knowing!

Sure, I have ideas, but nothing concrete. The whole concept of career fairs, submitting resumes, and applying for “real-world” jobs is foreign to me; I used to be an elementary education major and we didn't have to worry about any of that stuff! So my senior year has been somewhat of a learning experience, but it has showed me something incredibly important: I love the Spanish language. Taking only Spanish classes and speaking it and listening to it reminded me how much I enjoyed it. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain over a year and a half ago and didn't take any Spanish classes last year. This year I realized how much I missed them! But it’s funny, it’s like riding a bike, or at least it was for me. I thought my Spanish skills would be super rusty, but they surprisingly came right back on the first day of classes as I listened to my Literature teacher explain the syllabus—and I realized I understood everything she said! I think it’s moments like this that you should pay attention to…

My advice? Think about speaking Spanish, or hearing it, and all of your experiences with the language. Then think about what you were doing. Were you talking casually to someone? Were you using Spanish at work? Were you helping people? Now think about how those moments made you feel. Happy? Confident? Fulfilled? If you can connect a positive emotion to a specific experience perhaps you will find a clue as to what you should be doing.

I personally have felt happy when I can help someone, even if it’s just by speaking Spanish to them. Back at home my summer job was at a hardware store and my manager was a total jerk about my major choice and constantly questioned what I could do with it. But I was able to talk to our (very few) Spanish-speaking customers and help them find what they were looking for, something my manager could not do. And my success with those customers made his abuse worth it! So if you have even an inkling of what you might want to do, I urge you to go for it. Do what you want to do and don’t worry about how anyone else might feel about it. I was recently discussing the waiting abyss that is the future and my lack of concrete plans for it with a very good friend of mine. He is in the same boat in a way; he is a saxophone performance major and jokes he will be a starving artist, maybe playing gigs here and there. People judge his choice of major just like they judge mine, but he told me something really important, his latest epiphany: "Forget everyone else. Do what YOU want to do." Seems simple enough, right? But it's often easier said than done. In life we get so caught up in what other people think of us or what they may want for us or expect of us.

So you've decided to major in Spanish… Now what? Forget your manager that gives you a hard time, forget those probing adults that make you feel bad for not knowing the answer yet, forget your family members that judge you and pressure you to have a plan for the future. Even if they are helping you through school financially (and emotionally), forget your parents for just a minute because when May rolls around and they hand you that diploma, it will have YOUR name on it, not theirs, because YOU put in the work and YOU earned it. So shouldn't you be the one to decide what you do with your life? Even if you don’t know exactly what that may be yet…!

Monday, December 1, 2014

First Day Back: We Must Discuss Ferguson

by Ann Abbott

There's no way I could have stepped into a classroom today and not discussed the decision by the grand jury not to indict the policeman who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

1. Message: #BlackAndBrownLivesMatter

I asked students to look at the image below and take a couple of minutes to compose their thoughts, their reactions.

2. You: What Are Your Thoughts?

While they thought about things, I wrote #BlackAndBrownLivesMatter on the chalkboard. I handed each student a piece of chalk and asked them to go to the board and write down something they were thinking/feeling.

3. React: Dialogue, even in a small way, with your classmates

Each student picked up their chalk again and put a "heart" by the phrase that they liked, agreed with, were struck by, etc.

4. Share: Expand the dialogue, move to face-to-face interactions

It's not easy to talk to people about Ferguson, Mike Brown and the policeman. You don't know where they are. But I asked students to do the following for five minutes: 1) share their thoughts and 2) talk about what this has to do with our class, Spanish for Business.

5. I shared, too

I told them that I was bothered by people who were more upset about damage to private property than to systemic, institutional racism that leads to death. I shared that I understand the anger, and that if it has no channel toward change then it's obvious that it will erupt in other ways.

6. Contextualize this globally

There's a whole world out there that is fed up and making their voice heard. We watched the video for "Somos Sur" by Ana Tijoux. Afterward I asked them what the tone of the video and song are: anger, they said. What else caught your attention? Spanish and Arabic, many countries mentioned, indigenous cultures, united against injustice.

7. Listen. Really, really listen.

Students then looked up the lyrics of "Somos Sur" and we heard it again. We need to listen. Understand. Work in solidarity with the people whose language we are learning.

Let's spread this!