Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spanish Community Service Learning: How to Pull Your Students Back in after a Long Break

by Ann Abbott

Spring break seemed to arrive late this year. So yesterday was the first class I had with my students after the break. It felt like we hadn't seen each other in a long time, so I wanted to get down to basics with them again--rev up their Spanish after some time away, remind them how to actually be helpful in their work in the community and bring them back to Champaign-Urbana and our local Latino community.

For my Spanish in the Community class, we did the following:

Transition back to Spanish

I put them in pairs and told them to talk about their spring break for five minutes without stopping.


I wrote on the board "Igual a ___, ____" and "A diferencia de ___, ___". 

I asked one person to report on something interesting about their partner's spring break. The next person I called on had to start their sentence about their partner's spring break with one of the two phrases above. Example: "A diferencia de Clarissa [the previous person's partner], Corey [their partner] hizo un viaje dentro de EEUU." This meant that they had to listen to what the other people were saying so that they could use it as a connector. The students did a great job making connections, listening to each other, and speaking in Spanish.

Transition back to Spanish in our local community.

I told them that I was going to read them some messages, and they had to take down the information onto a pink telephone message pad. (This is something I do frequently and have blogged about several times already.) I told them that the first message contained a lot of infomration. Too much information! So they needed to go through the following steps:
  1. Escuchar y entender.
  2. Aclarar. (Hacer preguntas específicas para tener un recado correcto.)
  3. Evaluar la información y prioritizarla. There are two kinds of information you absolutely need in your message so that it is useful to the person who receives it.
    • Action items.
    • Sufficient context.

Message #1

Like I always say, this seems easy...until you actually have to do it. I read them the following message from a Facebook group that I belong to: 

"IMPORTANTE: Algunas personas han recibido llamadas de un area (855) diciendoles que tienen una demanda por un prestamo que no han pagado, por un cheque que escribieron sin fondos, porque le deben al IRS (Oficina recaudadora de impuestos), por que le van a cortar la luz sino hace un deposito o por varias otras razones. TODO esto es un FRAUDE, NO se dejen convencer o intimidar por esta gente y no den iformacion personal. Esta gente fraudulenta esta tratando de usar muchas formas para abusar de los demas. Si reciben llamadas de numeros desconocido lo mejor sera no contestar. Desafortunadamente no se puede levantar una demanda con la policia si no hay perdidas materiales. Hay que tener cuidado con estos ladrones!"


Would you know how to put that together in a coherent, clear way on a small pink message pad? 
Would you know what information is imprescindible and what information is prescindible
Would you know what information you can summarize in your own words and what information should be taken down word by word? 
The students asked me questions to clarify what was going on--and they asked excellent questions that got at precisely the information that they needed to be repeated or clarified. However, a couple of students did this, not all. Knowing what questions to ask is so important!


I put the students in pairs and they compared and contrasted their messages. Then we talked about how they made their decisions. They did a great job, but it's something that they all need to continue working on. 

Message #2

I passed out more pink message slips, and I told them that this message was different than the first. It had a lot of detailed information that needed to be written very precisely--error free--by them. And I read this:

"¿Egg hunt en el agua? Sábado 4 de abril en el centro acuático de Urbana. Para niños de 2 a 10 años únicamente. Se requiere registro previo. El costo puede ser de $6 - $8 depende del lugar donde vivan e incluye el pase por ese día para usar la alberca. Pueden registrarse en el numero 217.367.1544 o en el Phillips Recreación Center. 
Horario (muy importante llegar a tiempo) : 
2-3 años --10:00am
4-5 años -- 10:30am
6-8 años -- 11:00am
9-10 años -- 11:30am"


Again, they had to ask me very precise questions (not just "repita, por favor") to ensure they had the information down correctly. As usual, the numbers were the most difficult thing for them to understand and write down correctly.


I put the students in different pairs and they compared and contrasted their messages. 

More messages

We did the same thing with the next two messages: 

"West Side Park
Para niños de 2 a 10 años únicamente el sábado 4 de abril. No se requiere registro previo pero es muy importante que lleguen con bastante tiempo de anticipación porque generalmente hay problemas de estacionamiento. Paseos gratuitos en carretas con paja entre las 10 y las 10:45 am.
El egg hunt comienza a las 11 am en punto. 
West Side Park – 400 W. University, Champaign."

"CU Recreation (organización que provee programas recreativos y servicios a personas con habilidades diferentes) esta llevando a cabo también un egg hunt.
Domingo 29 de marzo a las 3 pm en Eisner Park – 1311 W. Church Champaign 
Niños de 2 a 10 años únicamente
Registro : Hays Recreation Center, 1311 W. Church St. en Champaign.
Código del programa (para registro) 415554-A1."


Finally, I told students that we had just practiced listening for details and focusing on individual messages and pieces of information. Now I put them into new pairs and asked them to change their perspective on the messages, to look up and see a bigger picture: what do these messages tell you about our local Latino community? 

Students came up with good ideas:
  • They have a way of communicating and informing each other about events.
  • They like to participate in fun activities just like everyone else.
  • Our community can be more inclusive if everyone is informed about events in a language they understand.
  • Still, this is a vulnerable community, and they can be easily preyed upon because of their precarious situations.
It was wonderful to be back with my students. And it was wonderful to see them so active, engaged and participatory in this lesson plan that required them to push their language skills forward and learn more about our Spanish-speaking community.

Feel free to try this or a variation of it with your students. Let me know how it goes! And please share with me your lesson plan ideas that get students back into the groove of things after a long break.

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