Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Summer Schedule: Selectively Working

by Ann Abbott

Yes, this gazebo is in my back yard.

Yes, this is where I plan to several hours each day. With my laptop. With a pitcher of herbal iced tea. Listening to the birds. With some privacy, while the kids are in just a few steps away in the house. Away from the phone. Alone with my work.

I'm trying to balance work and family; disconnecting from work yet advancing on projects; enjoying my creative process without burning out; keeping my family close while also claiming my own space.

Does this sound anything like your summer? Maybe the particulars are different, but do you also have to manage competing needs? Between wanting to be active and wanting to just still your mind? If you're a mother, do you want your kids to have fun yet refuse to turn yourself into a taxi driver and money machine?

Summers are a little complicated.

I hope that by limiting my summer goals, I can both accomplish something and revive my spirit.

Online course development

I am designing the fully online third-semester Spanish course. I'm excited! I plan to blog about that process, so I'll fill you in on the details as I go along.

Personal, entrepreneurial project

For some time now, I have wanted to add a "services" page to this blog and offer my consulting services. I'd like to help organizations, especially small/medium businesses and nonprofit organizations, better reach and serve Spanish speakers. That might be through bilingual social media marketing--something I teach in my Business Spanish course. Or it might be consulting on services and programs to ensure that they are linguistically- and culturally-appropriate.

And since I have a tendency to go overboard...I also really want to start a second blog. In fact, I already bought the domain name and hope to launch it this summer. It would give advice about college--from getting in, to succeeding in college, through transitioning out to the professional world. Now that I've given away my secret, I think I'll have to actually follow through... Keep me accountable, friends. Please!

Academic writing

Confession: I had a mini identity crisis these past few weeks. Although I've always been non-tenure track, within the past few years I have felt more push to "remember my place." Maybe I'm paranoid. Maybe I am reading too much into things. And maybe not. So I've been questioning: why maintain a productive research agenda and publication schedule if it's not really "my place"? 

Why? Because, I have decided, I have a lot I want to say. That I want to share. That I think deserves to enter into the scholarly conversation. And I care deeply about the topics. I think they matter. They deserve "a place" within Spanish studies.

So this summer I will write. Not at a break-neck pace. Not feeling external pressures--because there are none. Just slowly, surely, one-hour-a-day, putting my thoughts and insights into writing. I'll write-on-Skype with a good friend for both accountability and encouragement. I'll work towards these goals, but I won't fret if I don't accomplish them all:
  1. Revising and submitting a manuscript to Foreign Language Annals with data from the survey that Rejane conducted with our community service learning students.
  2. Writing and submitting a short piece to The Language Editor about teaching digital literacies through bilingual social media marketing. Due July 1.
  3. Writing and submitting a chapter for the volume related to the LSP conference. Due July 31.
  4. Drafting a short piece for the AAUSC 2017 volume.

Healthy, relaxing meals

I don't want to call it dieting. I don't want to feel restricted. So I'm trying to take an approach that focuses on slow cooking. Slow eating. Enjoyment. We always cook from scratch and include fruits and vegetables, but sometimes I get caught up in tasks and come to the kitchen late, resentful of  the labor of cooking, indecisive about what to cook. Instead, I want to come to the kitchen con calma. To eat con calma. And to clean con calma.

Lots of movement and exercise

I've bumped up my strength training from three times a week to four. I hope to find a power lifting competition and train with a mind towards that. But because I spend so much time on the computer (writing, social media, email, oh my!), I tend to live a rather sedentary life. So I want to walk more. Bike more. 

Family, fun and relaxation

Okay, the kids have been out of a school for a week, and I'm already going a little nuts. And when they do finally begin their activities (though one refuses to join any activities), I think I'm going to find myself negotiating schedules (drop-offs, pick-ups, car swaps) in three different places at once. Frankly, I think Giulia, who is sixteen, should get a scooter for the summer, but I've been out-voted due to safety concerns.

I plan to knock off all work at 3:00. Then we can go to a park, a movie, the pool, the library...wherever we want to go to do something fun. If not, we'll end up spending the whole summer in the house, in the A/C. Which now that I typed that sentence, it actually doesn't sound too bad...

Relaxation. Now that is what I'm really thinking hard about. Let me tell you my ideal scenario: One a month (June, July, August), I would have a three-day weekend all to myself. In a nice hotel. Not very far away. Maybe even here in town. But just by myself. No responsibilities. Nowhere to go. Writing. Daydreaming. Sitting in the jacuzzi. Let's see if I can make that happen...

What about you?

What are your plans? What are your goals for the summer? Do you also have the occasional identity crisis like me? Do you crave time to yourself? Are you carving time out for yourself? I'd love to hear your plans and tips so I know that I'm not in this alone!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Writing Strategy: Don't Write, Just List

Picture of laptop, coffee mug and notepad with list of ideas to represent the writing strategy of lmaking a list
This week I found myself mildly fearful of producing a set of PowerPoint slides for a an online course I'm developing. (I still consider that a writing project because it's about developing a thesis, supporting it iwth arguments and providing evidence.) So I finally sat down yesterday morning, grabbed my pen and a small notepad (the fact that it was small made my task seem small, too) and made a messy list of my ideas. Now I have started. Now when I give myself an entire hour to work on this it won't feel like I'm beginning from ground zero. 
by Ann Abbott

Do you ever procrastinate on a writing project?

I do. Not as much as I used to, but still, it happens. Even with a relatively small writing project I sometimes feel like I need a block of time (even if it's small) that I don't have. Or I think that since it won't take long I can wait until it's closer to the due date. Or I just don't feel like I'm in the mood for writing.

So I've learned not to write. Just to list.

See, successful writing comes in large part from having strong, clear ideas with supporting evidence. That's structural. And for me, a lot of that can happen before I even write a complete sentence at all.

The trick is to know that jotting down your ideas and listing them is writing that doesn't feel like writing.

Making a list has none of the psychological pressures of "writing." Jot down. Scratch out some ideas. Let me think about this for a couple of minutes. None of those phrases cause as much anxiety as "writing."

So that's what I try to do when I feel myself procrastinating on a writing project. Just make a list. 

I often write letters to myself, and looking through some of those letters recently I came upon this advice I had given myself:

"One thing that worked well for you and always does was to jot down ideas, let those soak in and percolate for a while, then write from that list. ... Don't forget this important strategy. Long before something is due, jot down your ideas. Your brain will work on them even when you're doing other things."

Do you use this strategy? Do you have other advice for moving from the procrastination stage to the pre-writing stage? From pre-writing to writing? I think this is so important because I meet so many people with wonderful ideas, fascinating experiences, important knowledge, funny stories who could edify the world with their writing. There's nothing wrong with not writing, of course. You're still smart, funny, wise and experienced without writing anything! But if you want to write and fear holds you back from crossing the threshold between not writing and writing, then why not try to just list your ideas. See if that moves you into writing.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Welcoming New Faculty and Staff to Your Department

bouquet of roses and How to welcome new faculty to your department and build community
How do you welcome new members to your faculty?
by Ann Abbott

This past year we were lucky to hire three instructors in our department to help teach Spanish, one advisor and one Teaching Assistant Professor to direct the Portuguese language program. For a department that has not experienced the same growth in non-tenure track faculty that many other departments have, this was a big jump.

Perhaps because we were not used to hiring so many people at once, the "onboarding" (as they say in business contexts) was bumpy...and at times non-existent. Some things were out of everyone's control (e.g., late arrivals due to visa issues, problematic visa categories, etc.), but other things, in hindsight, could have been handled differently.

But when it comes down to it, people in our department work very independently, are rarely in their offices, and share no real common spaces. Building a sense of community is hard in a department that doesn't really function as...well...a community. (This is not a criticism. It's simply the way that many people in the humanities work when they are not teaching or doing committee work.)

I won't revisit the past here. Instead, I want to share some ideas for beginning to create a sense of community, at least among the non-tenure track faculty.

Write on Site Meetings. Just because a person is non-tenure track doesn't mean that they do not have research and writing projects. Perhaps a Monday and Thursday meeting each week could be a good chance for people to bring their laptops, focus on their writing and build a sense of camaraderie.

Grading "Parties." The instructors were hired to help out with any course the department needs, but mostly the composition course. I know that students write three compositions in that course, and they are graded in stages. I can find out the deadlines in that course and organize an afternoon (or evening or weekend?) grading party. I say party not because it would be fun, but because we could make it more enjoyable by sitting together in a conference room, playing nice music, ordering/bringing in food, etc. Of course it wouldn't be required, but it might be a way to make that big, daunting task a little less daunting.

Lunch. A few years ago, a storage room in our building was cleared out to create a faculty break room because there was no common space in our building for people to meet and build a sense of community. I don't think that this break room accomplished what it was supposed to, but at the very least there is a place to sit for lunch and also some comfortable chairs. I almost always eat lunch at my desk, but it would also be nice to see if people wanted to meet up for lunch or coffee breaks in this area.

Personal invitations. I invited all of the new people to our home for dinner toward the end of the fall semester. Not everyone was able to come, but it was a nice way to get to know each other outside of our building and offices. Although my evenings and weekends are pretty packed with the children's activities, I definitely would like to make more time for relaxing and socializing with colleagues and friends.

I hope to implement at least some of these ideas next year. It's too late to make their arrival in our department be more warm and fuzzy; that time has passed. But it's never too late to strengthen relationships and support each other as we go about this difficult and often stressful job. 

It's not my job alone to make others feel welcome in our department. Furthermore, we work independently and always will. We often work from home or cafes where you can work, uninterrupted and write freely. The truth is, to be successful in our department you need to be very independent, resourceful, and proactive.

But in the end, whatever I am able to do for and with new people, I will also be doing for myself. I sometimes feel isolated. I sometimes want someone to write with. I could use the accountability and structure of grading parties.

And what about you? How do things work in your department? Do you think that academics have a particularly difficult time of creating community? Do you feel that your department is collaborative? I'd love to know other ways of approaching this issue.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Student Reflection

Consider this a manifesto from Joey about what we need to do differently in our country regarding when we teach languages, how we teach them and what we teach in those classes. He has hit upon our country's contradictory relationship with languages and language speakers, both in terms of official language policies and in the every-day practices of language ideologies. Bravo, Joey.

by Joey Gelman

No puedo creer que ésta sea mi última entrada sobre mi experiencia con el programa de ESL en Central. Me ha encantado mi tiempo allí y he aprendido mucho sobre el tema de la educación para estudiantes que son sólo hispano-hablantes o que son recién llegados a los EE.UU. Lo más interesante pero también lo más triste que he aprendido es que nuestro sistema de educación y también la mayoría de las personas que pueden ayudar a estos estudiantes no están preparados.  Como he explicado durante mis otras entradas, la mayoría de las maestras, la facultad y también otros estudiantes no pueden hablar ni entender español. Por lo tanto, muchos de los estudiantes en ESL no tienen el apoyo suficiente para tener éxito. La culpa es nuestra.

La manera en la que nosotros aprendemos los idiomas y por lo tanto entendemos sobre las culturas asociadas con estos idiomas no es correcta en mi opinión. Por eso, no podemos tener el nivel necesario para estar acostumbrados hablando español. Nosotros  enfocamos demasiado en la gramática y perdemos el enfoque necesario de aprender el español de  manera conversacional.  Pero me voy de tema. Pero nuestra falta en esta categoría no nos permite mantener nuestras habilidades de español después de la escuela secundaria por ejemplo, mientras que otros países tienen un sistema diferente que permite a los estudiantes a retener las habilidades de saber otros idiomas mejores

Esta idea de la manera en la que nos enseñan el español es la prueba de por qué el programa en Central no puede lograr las cimas que necesita.  Por ejemplo, la mayoría de los estudiantes que toman las clases de español en  el programa regular en Central no han aprendido suficiente español para interactuar con los estudiantes en ESL. No es su culpa ni la culpa del Central, pero es el sistema en todo el país. Además, en mi experiencia, sólo hay un par de maestros que son hispano-hablantes y para el grupo en el que trabajo, sólo hay un maestro para 20 estudiantes por casi todo el día. En otras palabras, sólo hay pocas oportunidades para los estudiantes de ESL para hablar, interactuar etc. afuera de su propio grupo en lo que están en clase. No existe la oportunidad necesaria para dar a estos estudiantes un ambiente cómodo en la “vida normal” con el resto de la escuela.

Por ejemplo, ya sean los maestros sustitutos o administradores del programa, casi nadie habla español. ¿Cómo puede ser administrador/a de un programa de estudiantes que son hispano-hablantes y no tiene la habilidad para hablar en español? Ésa es una idea inpensable para mí. Sin embargo, esta situación refleja la deficiencia en otros idiomas que los EE.UU tienen. Otra vez, no quiero decir que es la culpa de los individuos, pero es la culpa del sistema que nosotros no somos preparadas para encontrar a personas que hablan otros idiomas. 

Yo sé que nunca entenderé lo que los estudiantes de ESL necesitan hacer para llegar a este país y las situaciones que eran tan difíciles e inconcebibles.  Sin embargo, cuando ellos llegaron o cuando otros estudiantes lleguen, ¿no deberíamos estar listos para ayudarlos? No puedo imaginar las dificultades para estos estudiantes en sus propias transiciones a los EE. UU, pero una de las únicas cosas que puede conectarnos es un idioma común: el español. Después de mi tiempo en este programa, esto es claro a mí que como una sociedad, no podemos ofrecerles una sensación pequeña de la comodidad porque no tomamos el tiempo suficiente para prepáranos  a hablar con personas que no hablan inglés. Otra vez quiero aclarar que no es una reflexión sobre el sistema en particular en Central, pero Central sirve como un ejemplo de muchas escuelas en todo el país que no pueden ayudar a estos estudiantes de la mejor habilidad porque como un país, no tenemos las habilidades básicas para ser serviciales a un grupo de personas, en este caso los estudiantes en ESL de Central que solo están pidiendo una oportunidad para mejorar sus vidas, y la hacemos cada vez más difícil con el hueco de los idiomas. 

Entiendo que esta entrada es sobre un tema que es mucho más grande que yo. Sin  embargo, mi trabajo en Central me ha expuesto a los defectos de la manera en la que nosotros intentamos ser el hogar de muchos; no importa sus idiomas, orígines o culturas, pero la pregunta es: ¿estamos listos para tener esta responsabilidad? En este momento, creo que no.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Student Reflection

As you read Joey's reflection, think about this situation from many angles. The students' perspectives (as he shares in the second paragraph). The volunteers' perspectives. The schools' perspective. And others. What was your high school experience like? Was it "do or die"? Or did you have a feeling that high school flowed into simply another stage for you? Do you think it's easier or harder to learn a language under high pressure? Do you think these students would have used more English if more English-speaking kids befriended them? 

by Joey Gelman

Para  esta semana yo quiero enfocar mi entrada en el compromiso de hablar español  o inglés durante el día por los estudiantes.  Como he dicho antes, la mayoría de los estudiantes son de Guatemala, y su lengua materna no es español sino Q'anjob'al. Por lo tanto, cuando los estudiantes no necesitan hablar con el profesor, o no quieren que los maestros sepan lo que ellos dicen, ellos usan Q'anjob'al. Esta práctica instinta tiene algunos problemas. Primero, muchos de estos estudiantes, ya tienen 17 ó 18 años así que después de que este semestre habrán terminado con la escuela, y también con una oportunidad consistente para practicar sus habilidades con los idiomas. Me parece que estos estudiantes no se den cuenta de lo que la realidad de lo difícil que será en algunos meses. Después de junio, muchos de estos estudiantes deben depender de si mismos para encontrar trabajo, empezar una vida saludable, etc. Pero en las clases, ellos no aprovechan la oportunidad para obtener una habilidad básica de hablar ni trabajar en un ambiente que está lleno con inglés. También para estos estudiantes, ellos no tienen fluidez con español en términos de escribir. Por lo tanto, si ellos siguen hablando en Q'anjob'al, y no mejoran sus habilidades en inglés ni español, ellos estarán en problemas. 

Aunque hablo de los defectos de los estudiantes, también necesito recordar la situación en la que los estudiantes están. Por la mayoría, como el profesor en Central se refiere, estos estudiantes están en una situación como la película el “Hunger Games.” Ellos han estado escogidos por sus familias para encontrar una vida mejor en los EE.UU y es el reto de la idea de la “sobre-vivencia del más apto.” Esta es una responsabilidad increíble y uno que yo nunca podría entender. Entonces, me parece que una de las maneras que ellos pueden sentir cómodos en su nuevo ambiente difícil e incómodo, es hablar en su propia dialecto. Aunque ellos necesitan entender cómo hablar en otros idiomas para sobrevivir en los EE.UU, necesitamos recordar que aunque ellos tienen 18 años, todavía son niños. Muchos de ellos todavía tienen las características de niños y aunque ellos necesitan ser “adultos” pronto, las expectaciones que estarán en los estudiantes son enormes e injustos. Sin embargo, esa es la realidad y una reflexión que tiene dos lados, porque ellos necesitan entender y hablar inglés y español para sobrevivir, pero también necesitan encontrar una comodidad en sus nuevas vidas en el ambiente duro que es los EE.UU.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Community Service Learning Students and the Peace Corps

Take your engagement with cultures and languages even further: consider the Peace Corps.
by Ann Abbott

I know several students who have gone to the Peace Corps after a college experience filled with travel, language learning and transcultural encounters. It's a fantastic experience, and they come back with unique perspectives and skills.

Scrolling through LinkedIn this morning, I came upon a blog that my former student, Andrew Piotrowski has contributed to. His posts are about El Salvador, and I just loved reading them. I admire the way he presents his experiences, the people who he worked with, and the way the he sees things now that he is back in the US. I encourage you to read them on Peace Corps Volunteers: Stories about the Toughest Job You'll Ever Love.

If you search through this blog, you'll find old posts from Andrew. Here is what he wrote to me after I told him I much I loved his blog posts.

Thank you Annie! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I feel like I got my start blogging by writing articles for your blog to earn that extra credit hour I needed back at U of I. That was a great experience, and I'm grateful that you helped me reach others through writing!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Language Teaching Tips: The First in a Series of Short, Focused Tips

by Ann Abbott

On this blog I usually tackle "big picture" items. I think a lot about what a Spanish major should look like in the US today. I use it as a platform to hopefully make Spanish community service learning more accessible to anyone thinking about teaching with it. I want to share my students' reflections so they have a strong voice in how we construct (or don't) our courses. I'd love it if Business Spanish and specific topics like social entrepreneurship and bilingual social media marketing gained resonance in our field.

But I started out, many years ago, as a course supervisor. Of SPAN 101 and 102. That was my first gig.

I worked on the syllabus, did classroom observations, put together tests, soaked up ideas from my professors and mentors, and much more. I had to pay attention to the little things that make classes work. And even more specifically, that make language learning work.

I'm not sure how many classroom observations I've done over the years and how many TAs and instructors I've talked to about their teaching. It's a lot! Scores. So it recently occurred to me that I should share some of that knowledge on my blog and other sharing sites.

Here is my first of what I hope is many: "Giving Instructions One at a Time." Because sometimes just the way you set up an activity determines how much students take away from it.

End of Academic Year: Time for Reflection

Annie Abbott, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
It was nice to have my picture taken by a professional photographer.
by Ann Abbott

As the spring semester and the academic year come to a close, it's a good time to reflect. Last week I handed in my annual activity report, and that forces you to reflect on the products of your work within a structured (and hierarchical) format. Some of the highlights from that list include:


Incorporating New Areas of Business into Business LanguageStudies: Social Media Marketing.” Global Business Languages 19 (2014): 71-84.  
This was my only piece of writing that appeared in print this year. In it, I use Radio Ambulante as a case study to exemplify linguistically- and culturally-appropriate social media marketing. So it combines two things that I love: the creativity of social media marketing and Radio Ambulante's masterful storytelling--in their podcasts and in their marketing. I'm also happy to say that the article cracked Global Business Language's list of its most popular papers.

I have four other pieces in press, one abstract awaiting word of acceptance or not, and one article manuscript that I'm currently drafting. That was a pretty good writing year for me.


For the first time in decades, I taught a 100-level Spanish class--and it was good! I taught two sections of SPAN 142, one of our fourth-semester Spanish courses that fulfills the language requirement. The students were delightful! I used Dia a dia: De lo personal a lo profesional, the textbook that Holly Nibert and I wrote and published a year ago. It was a great chance to put all that work into a real context, with real students. But most importantly, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to have students at that level do some community service learning. The response to that was overwhelmingly positive!

Director of Undergraduate Studies

My happiest accomplishment in this category was the redesign and simplification of our webpage for Spanish undergraduate studies. This summer I will continue to evaluate and perhaps add to the page, but for now I'm just happy to have a "fresh face" for our page.


I don't know of a better way to end the year than with very meaningful awards. I received two, and they make me very proud--not for me, but to be a part of a community that respects and enacts engaged scholarship and teaching.

Other categories for reflection

Now that that official reflective task is finished, I'll set aside some hours this week or next to reflect on categories that matter to me and that aren't on the official form. How can I improve student learning? How can I set important, pertinent new learning objectives for my students? What "stretch project" should I focus on? Is there more that I can share on social media (including this blog) that would be helpful? I'll let you know the answers...

What are your accomplishments from this academic year? What do reflect upon? Have you set any goals for next year? I'd love to hear from you and learn from you.